FESTIBA 2008 kicks off with "Lost Cutures: The Aztecs" exhibit opening
Posted: 03/25/2008
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The rhythmic sound of beating drums, a dazzling display of ceremonial Aztec dances by the Ballet Folklórico and the opening of an exhibit celebrating the descendants of an ancient and highly accomplished civilization kicked off the first day of FESTIBA (Festival of International Books and Arts) March 24 at The University of Texas-Pan American.

Documentary photographer Wesley Billingslea was welcomed by the University community on the first day of his exhibit of black and white photographs titled "Lost Cultures: The Aztecs" which will be on display until June 1, 2008 in the UTPA Visitors Center.

Members of the UTPA Ballet Folklórico entertained guests at the opening of the exhibit "Lost Cultures: The Aztecs" during the first day of FESTIBA 2008 March 24.
Billingslea, who divides his time between California and Mexico City, where his wife is from, spent almost six years in and around the Mexico capital city, site of the ancient Aztec capital Tenochtitlan, to gain the trust of and to collaborate with the descendants of this indigenous population - the Mexihcahs - in order to complete his documentary photos. According to official Census figures, Billingslea said, there are approximately 12 million descendants.

"This project you view today is clearly an opportunity for the Aztecs to tell their own story," he said, stating his goal was to provide cultural education and to raise awareness of social injustice.

Billingslea said his expertise in black and white photography grew in the late 1990s and while he had an interest in ancient cultures and the beauty and complexity of some of their creations that remained, he knew little about the Aztecs prior to this project. He described the lengthy and difficult process of transforming their very metaphorical philosophy and language - Nahuatl - into terms that people in America can understand.

"This was really a process of negotiating the collaboration - what are the values, what is the process going to be and getting me to understand what they meant by their values and process," he said.

In January 2007, Billingslea's WesleyImages, in partnership with Teotl Publishing, launched the book "Lost Cultures: The Aztecs" - the first of six books Billingslea will publish focusing on raising awareness of this and other indigenous cultures. Billingslea, who will speak to UTPA students during FESTIBA week, will publish his next, primarily photography book titled "Lost Cultures: The Aztec Photos," featuring all new photos in August 2008.

Documentary photographer Wesley Billingslea spoke at the opening of his exhibit "Lost Cultures: The Aztecs," which will be on display in the UTPA Visitors Center until June 1, 2008. Billingslea will also speak to student groups during FESTIBA held March 24-29 at the University.
"As I look at the photographs I think how difficult it must be for these people to maintain their heritage and their culture. Here in South Texas we are all about culture and tradition," said Dr. Dahlia Guerra, dean of the College of Arts and Humanities, who greeted other FESTIBA participants and sponsors at the reception and described other FESTIBA events being held during the week.

Dr. John Edwards, vice president for Enrollment and Student Services, also welcomed guests to the exhibit opening, the eighth since the Visitors Center's opening in fall 2003. Edwards extolled UTPA's use of its Visitors Center not only to serve as a welcoming "front door" to the University but also an area for outstanding exhibits for UTPA students, teachers and community members, particularly young people.

"Students will learn about the exhibit subjects, in this case the Aztecs, but just as important they will learn more about the importance of going to college. Even more important, we hope they begin to feel as if they are at home on our college campus ... and begin to take steps to prepare themselves for success in college," Edwards said. "We have these same goals for FESTIBA - engaging young people in reading, music, art knowing they will learn even more to prepare for success."

On Tuesday, March 25 award-winning author and playwright Denise Chávez will be featured in the Distinguished Speaker Series, which is open to the public at 7:30 p.m. in the Student Union Auditorium. Texas Book Festival Reading Rock Star authors will be visiting Rio Grande Valley schools in all three congressional districts March 25 and 26 and read from their works. Reading is Fundamental, a partner in this year's FESTIBA, will also be distributing 30,000 books to Rio Grande Valley school children. To learn about other events during the week culminating in Community Day, Saturday, March 29, visit the FESTIBA Web site at