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What is an alebrije? Alebrije History as a recent Mexican folk art tradition.

Posted on April 24 2019

What is an alebrije? Alebrije History as a recent Mexican folk art tradition.

Paper mache dragon alebrije from Mexico City


What is an Alebrije?

Alebrijes are One of the most popular and relatively recent manifestations of Mexican Folk artAlebrijes are surreal creatures from an oneiric world that were "brought to life" by Pedro Linares Lopez (906-1992), a paper Maché artist from Mexico City, renowned for making big figures for easter’s eve called Judas. Mr Linares job as cartonero or paper mache artist was so good that Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo used to collect his creations, even before he made the first alebrijes. 

History, origin and meaning of Alebrijes

In 1936, Pedro Linares fell sick and had severe hallucinations where he saw fantastic figures like a donkey with wings, a frog with a rooster’s head and so many other creatures that repeatedly said: Alebrije, alebrije, alebrije! But, what does the word Alebrije mean? Fortunately, Mr Linares recovered from his illness before the definition of the word alebrije was revealed to him. Hence, there is not a precise meaning nor an etymology for the word alebrije. Despite the lack of linguistic explanation to the word alebrije, Mr. Linares gave significance to his visions by representing the creatures he saw using his paper maché skills. When the first customer saw them and asked: “what is that figure?”, Mr. Linares simply said: It is an Alebrije.

Paper mache  dragon Alebrije standing  facing left

Alebrije's evolution: Coco & Oaxacan wood carvings

Since the midst of the 30’s decade when Mr. Linares got sick and created the first sculptures, alebrijes have evolved;  they are not only made of Paper Maché, but there are also wood carvings form oaxaca called alebrijes. Coco, the movie has a modern representation with 3D computer animated alebrijes based on a thorough research of Mexican traditions. Now Dante and Pepita are cherished alebrije characters.  One thing is for sure: after the first alebrije was crafted, a whole new Mexican folk art tradition was born. A tradition that emerged not only out of the incredible imagination of Mr. Pedro Linares López, but also from the enormous cultural baggage that made André Breton say that Mexico is the most surrealist country in the world.

Rabbit Alebrije Oaxacan wood carving


  • Erika Mendoza: September 15, 2021

    Love your website

  • Gerald Wasser: February 14, 2021

    After reading this I appreciate my collection of alebrijes even more!

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