My wife Rachel and I visited Oaxaca in late December 2010. It was an inspiring visit on many levels. We found delicious, inventive food everywhere we turned; we visited nearby villages that specialize in vibrant, soulful crafts – weavings, pottery, hand-made knives, etc. – it’s a region alive with creativity.
So it shouldn’t have come as a huge surprise when we found ourselves touring the huge installation of unusual sculptures made entirely of large radishes in the zocalo (town square) in the heart of Oaxaca city. “Noche de los Rabanos” (Night of the Radishes) is an annual holiday tradition (on December 23 each year) in Oaxaca and attracts a gigantic crowd of admirers who wait in line for as long as two hours to tour the impressive spectacle. The night we attended also saw a visit from the governor of the state of Oaxaca, which involved stopping holding back all other viewers until he had passed through and making for an even longer wait. Fortunately we squeaked through before he arrived.
There were well over fifty of these elaborate installations in all, made by skilled craftsmen and craftswomen from all over Oaxaca. Many of them depict political uprisings or other events of historical significance. Some render actual buildings in exacting detail. Others are of various animals, farm work, saints, traditional ceremonies and nativity scenes. Then there were oddball ones like a huge dragon, a chessboard with pieces, Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and a funny gnome-like fellow. There are also scenes created using dried flowers and corn husks, some of which are included in the photo gallery (link below), but the radishes stand out.
Special red radishes are grown for the event that can measure up to twenty inches in length. What I marveled at was the fleeting, temporal nature of these sculptures. The more elaborate ones take a team of people up to forty-eight hours to create, and they work non-stop in shifts throughout the day and night due to the high perishability factor. Someone is always misting the radishes to keep them from wilting, and of course it doesn’t help that daytime temperatures are quite warm. A first prize winner is chosen and for all their work they get their picture in the local paper. No cash prize, no special ceremony – art for art’s sake! We watched a few groups feverishly rushing to finish in the hours leading up to the event and there’s no question that the reward is in the process, not the end result. There was a joyous, engaged energy coming from everyone involved – lots of laughing, joking and good times. And two years later, a whimsical radish couple grace our NYE poster, bringing with them the spirit of this uniquely Oaxacan event.