FleaCircus

Small Missing History

When I tried to find the work of Humberto Ricaldo online, I got nothing....maybe it's because it was made in 1978, yes, that's before the convenience of the inter-webs. I did the next best thing and searched the online catalog of work from the Tropenmuseum, where I discovered Ricaldo's work - that search also lead to a big zero.I want to know more about Ricaldo because I was moved by his work, so while I am searching for more information somewhere, here's what I DO know of Humberto Ricaldo - he is an artist from Mexico and in 1978 he was making these very tiny figures from balsa wood and paint:

Humberto Ricaldo, Dancer With Animal Mask
Humberto Ricaldo, Dancer With Animal Mask
Humberto Ricaldo, Carnival Figures
Humberto Ricaldo, Carnival Figures
Humberto Ricaldo, Folk Dress
Humberto Ricaldo, Folk Dress

Here's their actual size:

I have emailed the museum to see what they might have on record about Ricaldo. His genre of work though, is not so mysterious, it's called Pulgas Vestidas (Clothed Fleas) and sprang to life in the early 1900's. Most of the original Pulgas Vestidas' used real fleas in the the composition, usually just the heads mounted on tiny adorned little bodies. Though I have some issues about taxidermy in art, I have killed many fleas and enjoy the thought of their demise resulting in a curious work of art. Here's a great example:

Dressed Fleas from Xavi Puk website, http://magicpuk.blogspot.nl/
Dressed Fleas from Xavi Puk website, http://magicpuk.blogspot.nl/

It's believed that this tradition started with the Aztecs, though documentation is scarce. Mostly it seems Nuns in Mexican convents contributed to the art which seems to have lead to the ever popular flea circus - a tradition that is still alive and well today. Obviously this needs a lot more research, but here are a few places to start:

WorthPoint - this article by Maggie Turnipseed in 2009 gave a great summary of how the dressed flea came to become part of Mexican culture - as well as how much an original display would be valued at today.

MatitaTaller - worth a translate, Carmen Loyola tells the story of a collection of Pulgas Vestidas that was rescued from the Museo del Chopo when the building was demolished, some of these were later micro-photographed.

And then there's the Flea Circus Research Library a stunning collection of facts and trivia. Apparently the Aztecs had a special place for the flea in their culture, as it appears in many statues.

Regardless of history, Humberto Ricaldo choose not to use real fleas in his work, but kept to other dynamics of Pulgas Vestidas intact, namely the representation of the cultural traditions of Mexico. It took him about six hours to complete each figure, which I image to be back breaking work with little room for error... and again I have to ask myself, why? Why chose this medium and format over anything else. How did Ricaldo discover that he had talent for this? I may never find out, but I am determined to try - hopefully I will hear back from the Tropenmuseum, but for now, I have stumbled into the world of Micro Artists - you can check out some of my favorites here.