I spent my New Years weekend in the Mexican town of Aguascalientes, capital of the state with the same name. As you would expect from its name, the area is famous for its thermal hot-springs, and its regional speciality of birria, goat meat prepared in an earth oven. I was kinda hoping to collect material to post about these, however during the two days spent there we didn’t get to sample either of these delights. Not that it wasn’t time well spent, by any means. There was a (partial) reunion of my wife’s family, lots of catching up with known relatives, meeting new ones (there are always some family members I hadn’t met before), with plenty of food, drinks, music, and fiesta, as we celebrated the new year together.
Now that we’re back, I’m looking at the photos I took, realizing that there IS ample material to write about: the local murals of the barrio we stayed in. The appearance of the buildings they are painted on offer an idea of the type of neighborhood we’re talking about. Even the locals refer to it as “muy barrio” meaning that it is not exactly the playground of the wealthy. (Although, it was hardly as bad as it looks, at least over the few days we spent there.) One thing is certain, though: it has lots of character.
Pride of the Barrio
Apart from expressing artistic skill, many murals show important cultural images. This is especially true on the one with the black background, showing the two famous faces of the Mexican Revolution, Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata. To their left a scroll of paper reads the famous quote attributed to Zapata: “It’s better to die on your feet than live your life on your knees.” Above the scroll is the state of Aguascalientes.
The faces in the center I don’t recognize. Maybe the legendary Adelita, a symbolic revolutionary woman, known from folk songs of the period? The other one must be an indigenous leader, though I couldn’t tell which one. Under the pyramid (looking suspiciously like the one in Chichen Itza, located on the Yucatan, not anywhere around Aguascalientes) the lettering of Atzlan recalls the mythical homeland of the Aztecs, somewhere to the North (in Arizona, or maybe even in Aguascalientes). The most important feature of this mural is of course the Virgin of Guadalupe, bathed in bright colors, with the words “bless my neighborhood, my mother” written around her.
José Guadalupe Posada
Other murals pay homage to probably the most famous person Aguascalientes has brought forth, the artist from the turn of the century, José Guadalupe Posada, who is most famous for his socio-politically critical etchings of skeletons, including the Catrina, an iconic skeleton woman in fancy clothes.
Celebrating a hundred years of his fame, many murals in the town focus on Posada’s work. The skeleton with the bottle is one of his most renown ones, while the mural with the blue background even features Posada himself, next to his picture of the tram rolling through the cemetery.
Of course, many murals are nothing more than graffiti tags, so ubiquitous in most major cities… or are they? Some of them are extremely intricate combinations of letters and imagery, which are actually pleasant to look at. Others almost look like arabesque designs. I wonder if they are actually readable Arabic words, and if so, whether they make any sense.
The Big Boy of Mexican Muralism
Finally, let me close this post with the picture of a mural I took at the “National Museum of the Dead” we actually did visit in the center of Aguascalientes. This famous piece was painted by no one less than Diego Rivera, and is titled A Sunday Afternoon’s Dream at the Alameda.
Entire books have been written about this mural, so let me not go into too much detail. Suffice to say, it is a combination of Rivera’s childhood memories with famous personages from Mexican history, including former presidents Benito Juarez and Porfirio Diaz, as well as young Diego himself, standing next to Posada’s Catrina, who in turn is wearing the feathered serpent Quetzalcoatl as a feather boa.
So while I may not have gotten to see too much of Aguascalientes, I hope that these wall paintings have made the place appear worth a visit. Next time I’ll make sure to check out some of the famous hot-springs!