by Shirle Gottlieb


(Museum of Latin American Art, Long Beach) You may not be familiar with the work of Laura Hernandez, but once you have seen Omnia: A Trip into the Realm of Myth and Dreams you will never forget her.
An incredibly vibrant, affirmative voyage through life and death, this extraordinary exhibit comes to Long Beach directly from Bochum, Germany, where it was conceived and created. Five years in the making, Hernandez' project is so enormous it fills the entire 10,000 foot expansion of the Museum.

As the name implies, Omnia covers "everything" in the universe based on ancient Mayan concepts: the creation of the world with all its creatures, the demons of the dark, and celestial beings from the heavens. Who would have thought that such a young Oaxacan artist could create this nourishing feast for the soul?

After walking through the Ometeotl (a dark passage, suggesting death, where a hundred ceramic skulls are embedded in rocks and sand), you find yourself outside the first exhibition gallery. Here, you encounter 2 de Noviembre, Hernandez' powerful, mythological scene of life and ritual in the underworld.

Inside the gallery, wrapped completely around the space, are four monumental murals that depict Los 4 Elementos. Measuring 47-by-395 inches each, they are full of fantasmigorico imagery of Fuego (fire), Tiera (earth), Agua (water), and Aire (air).

"The Four Elements (detail #1 for
Elemento Aire)," watercolor on
paper,47 x 394", 1994.

The Four Elements (detail #2 for
Elemento Aire)
, watercolor
on paper, 47 x 394", 1994.


"El Abecedario (The Alphabet),"
oil on linen, 39 1/2 x 31 1/2", 1997.

"Suenos de Amor (Dreams of Love),"
oil on papier mache, 1997.

Trees take on human form; frogs become birds become animals becomes faces; plumed serpents fly through the clouds. In Escher-esque fashion, everything is one continuous tapestry of being and becoming, of past, present, and future woven together as one. Standing in the midst of this spiritual imagery you don't think, you don't reason, you just feel. The magic of Hernandez' artistic imagination surrounds you and time stands still.

On display in the second gallery are a variety of huge, colorful, wall-sized paintings that include The Dance of Life (reminiscent of Matisse); Adam in Paradise (surrounded by all the beasts of creation); and El Hacedor (The Creator)--a magnificent composition of masked faces, glyphs, rapture and love, all dove-tailed together like a Cubist jig-saw puzzle.

Vying for your attention in this space are seven gigantic papier mache heads that stand eight feet tall. Some of them have frogs for a nose, fish for lips, and snails for eyes. Others have hearts and bird bonnets on their heads, dove's wings for eyebrows, and smiling serpents winding around their necks. In addition, there is a series of 52 Alphabet paintings that serve as a visual Mesoamerican version of Genesis.