Saturday, July 23, 2022

Destejidas (Unwoven) by Marianela de la Hoz: A brilliant revisioning of old stories at the newly remodeled Timken Museum

By Lonnie Burstein Hewitt. Photos by Maurice Hewitt

Marianela de la Hoz with Cassandra, the mythical Trojan princess who had the gift of prophecy and the curse of never being believed. See the facial similarities? Marianela used her daughter Mariana as her model for the woman whose unheeded warnings about how to avert future disasters led to the fall of Troy. “The same thing happens today,” says the artist. “The warning about the impending destruction of our planet by climate change is not heeded. Birds of ill omen fly over the horizon.”

Closeup of Cassandra

Balboa Park's Timken Museumof Art, best known for its collection of Old Masters, now has a new look, and a new exhibition to celebrate its reopening: Destejidas (Unwoven), a series of 21 small but brilliant paintings by contemporary master Marianela de la Hoz

Marianela, who uses the ancient medium of egg tempera to express her distinctive views of the world we live in, revisits classic myths, religious texts, fairy tales, historical characters and her own family history to inspire her artworks. About Destejidas she says: "I unweave the stories of women who have accompanied me since childhood, and then I reweave them, and let them address contemporary issues too." 

She begins with Penelope, wife of the titular hero in Homer's Odyssey, who put off a mob of aggressive suitors - 108 of them - while waiting 20 years for her husband to make his way home from the Trojan War.

Here's the original story: Every day, Penelope went to her loom, saying she was weaving a shroud for Odysseus' father and could only remarry once it was finished; every night, she unwove all the work she had done. Weaving, unweaving, reweaving until Odysseus finally returned, disguised as a beggar, and she set all the men a challenge: she'd marry the one who could skillfully shoot with her husband's great bow. Only the real Odysseus could do that, then he and their son Telemachus killed all the suitors, and Penelope ended up with one small adjective to define her: faithful. Wasn't she more than that - endlessly smart and creative? Not just a minor character in an epic poem?

Here’s Marianela’s Penelope, barefoot at her loom, with young Telemachus and Argos, the faithful dog who, in old age, recognized his master in beggar’s disguise. “Penelope weaves life and death, light and darkness, hate and love,” says the artist. “All the opposites we face in our lives.”

Among the other women she honors are Lilith, Adam’s first wife, who refused to be subservient to Adam and was demonized for it; and Eve, biblically recorded as the first woman, who dared to eat from the tree of knowledge and was forever held responsible for original sin. 
Eve, Prometheus’s Teacher

There’s another Eve too: our 200,000-year-old African ancestor who passed on her DNA to all living humans and was named after the original Eve — the science of genetics referencing Genesis. Marianela calls her “something like our great-great-great-…(× 8000) grandmother.”

Mitochondrial Eve, with a nod to Da Vinci’s Vitruvian Man and the female fossil named Lucy, discovered in 1974.

Marianela also portrays historical characters, some of whom you (like me) may never have heard of, such as Margaret Jones, a midwife, herbalist and physician who was the first person executed for witchcraft in 17th-century Massachusetts. And she envisions a special heaven for Hypatia, a gifted mathematician, astronomer and philosopher in 5th Century Alexandria who was brutally murdered by a gang of Christian fanatics. We see her holding a compass like the one she perfected “in that sky that she loved so much, where the asteroid 238 Hypatia and the lunar crater Hypatia pay her eternal tribute.”

Hypatia’s Heaven

Catherine the Great was one women who managed to triumph over all enemies and detractors and get what she wanted. Best known for an apocryphal horse story, Marianela sees her as a hugely influential figure, a ruler who modernized Russia and surrounded herself with lovers, artists, scientists and philosophers.

The Bigger the Slander, the More Catherine Grew.

And then there’s a much-slandered indigenous woman from Marianela’s native country: Malinche, the Nahuatl princess still labeled a traitor for having been the translator and consort of the conquistador Hernán Cortés. Sold into slavery as a young girl, she was passed from hand to hand, acquiring several languages along the way, and was just in her teens when she was given to Cortés in 1519. Their son Martin Cortés was the first mestizo to carry the name of a non-native father. 

Me Too. “I have friends in Mexico who call me a Malinchista because I chose to live in the USA!” Marianela said. 

Even closer to home is Marianela’s portrayal of her grandmother Mercedes, a docile woman overshadowed by an abusive husband. She spent her life serving others, never having time to find out who she was or what she wanted. 


Destejidas concludes on a hopeful note, with Penelope’s hands weaving an image of the phoenix, a mythical bird able to be reborn from its own ashes.  In these times of worldwide crises, Marianela encourages us all to find our own ways to rise from adversity and create a new and better world.  

This is a show you won’t want to rush through, with so much to see, think and talk about. There’s also music in the gallery, selections from contemporary women composers curated by Nuvi Mehta, artistic director of San Diego Symphony, though I confess I was so involved with the art that I never noticed the music until afterwards. If you have time, browse through one of the two books in the gallery that contain Marianela’s written thoughts about the paintings on view. It’s a great way to top off your visit.


Destejidas (Unwoven) by Marianela de la Hoz
On view through September 4, 2022
Timken Museumof Art
1500 El Prado, Balboa Park
San Diego, CA 92101

Open Wednesday-Sunday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
Free admission.

Lonnie Burstein Hewitt is an award-winning author/lyricist/playwright who has been writing about arts and lifestyles in San Diego County for over a dozen years. You can reach her at

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