A New Mural With a Strong Message
Strolling through my neighborhood of San Miguel Chapultepec, I stumbled onto an interesting new mural. It is located on the corner of Gral. Antonio León and Gral. Pedro Antonio de los Santos, just next to the metro stop Juanacatlan. The building itself is home to a glass shop for picture frames, and it has been the site of many great murals in the past years. Also, the name of the artist Axel F. Espinoza Olin is proudly featured above the entrance, so it can be assumed that he was invited, and probably paid, to express himself on that wall.
Political Murals – Art and Protest the Mexican Way
A good mural is much more than just some color on an otherwise boring wall. Its images are there to tell a story, and usually it doesn't take more than simple awareness of the situation at hand to understand them.
In this case, the artist used the corner of the building to illustrate the two sides of the Mexican experience: one looking back at a glorious past, the other marked by the brutality of the present. In the middle a huge tree separates the two, spreading equally onto both sides, providing a neat spacial image from across the street.
Memories of the Past
The image on the right side of the tree illustrates how the pre-colombian past is a conscious and living part of the contemporary Mexican identity, even though it lies more than 500 years back. Especially in the last couple of generations there has been a great deal of popular interest in pre-hispanic art, Nahuatl and other indigenous languages, and many other aspects of the civilizations of this land, before the Spanish conquest.
On the right side of the shop's entrance the painting shows people in traditional attire burning copal as part of a ceremony to honor the spirits. Behind them one of the famous causeways leads across the lake to the city of Tenochtitlan, as this city used to be called before the arrival of Cortez. Further back, a lush landscape suggests how beautiful this country must have been before it was conquered. This idea continues above the entrance, with some of the most common and typical animals: a jaguar and macaws, both of which have become so rare that they are unlikely to be seen outside of a zoo, followed by the coyote and deer, which are not that endangered, though they still don't get in front of your headlights as often as in the US.
Honoring Traditions in Midst of the Struggle for Survival
The people right under the tree are modern Mexicans, who take great pride in their ancestry, whether by dressing in ceremonial garb, or wearing modern clothes with ancient patterns. The child sitting behind the desk is even holding a book about the Mexica, the name the Aztecs used to refer to themselves, and is also where this country's name comes from. However, at this point it becomes apparent that what is going on here is much more than just being nostalgic towards the past. These people are engaged in a life-and-death struggle.
The sign and the shirt of the protesters bear their demand for freedom for Mexico and honest work. The lady on the left seems to be holding something on the other side of the corner. Behind her, another protester is lying injured, riddled with bullet holes.
The Reason for the Struggle
Looking around the corner, one can see that the lady is holding onto a child, trying to pull him towards her. Another character with pills on his shirt, and Mafia tattooed on his forearm, is trying to pull him away from her. The smiley-face on the kid's shirt stands in stark contrast to the look of panic on his face. The beggars and the person lying on the street completes the picture of desolation. Further to the left cops in riot gear form a blood-splattered barrier between the riff-raff and the corporate structures in the back.
Mexico is Sold
México Vendido, says the lettering on top of the corporate building, of which the 'O' has already fallen off. The various windows of the building illustrate the priorities that seem to be most important for the current leadership: violence and distraction, sex and alcohol, the dollar is going up, so is everything else. Chipster fashion, party-party, dancing stars, T&A, blindness, comedy, and most of all POWER is what the public experience seems to be about in Mexico at the moment.
On the extreme left the young and handsome President Enrique Peña-Nieto can be seen waving to his faceless supporters, really ghost-like figures with an eye-in-a-pyramid on their foreheads. Behind and under him skulls and sacks of money are stacked high, symbolizing the money him and his cronies have stolen and the people they've (had) murdered, just like his devil-horned mentor Carlos Salinas de Gortari, frequently considered one of the most corrupt presidents in recent decades.
Returning to the tree, the city-scape offers a bit of explanation to the latest things that have been stolen: education and the oil industry have been privatized, and are standing like skyscrapers next to the shacks of the poor. Most of all, there is no nature to be seen whatsoever. Other than the tree on the corner, there are only stumps to be seen, as a reminder of how our natural resources are being sold off so a small sliver of elite can profit.
For those of you who are visiting Mexico City, it is certainly worth a detour to look at this mural. Especially if you happen to pass by the pink metro line, getting out for a quick visit at Juanacatlan will only cost you five minutes and five pesos to re-enter, but will guarantee an amazing artistic experience. Chances are the image will be a different one, given enough time, but I'm fairly certain it will still be something worth seeing.
If you liked this, check out my developing series on Mexican Murals: