Today I want to look at another free mural, meaning it was probably painted without permission and thus without remuneration... or who knows, it may have been. What is certain though, is that for the last five years I've known it, it has never been painted over, not even by graffiti tags. That is quite interesting, as it is located on a wall facing a narrow and not so well frequented street, giving easy access to it. The exact location is Calle General Juan Cano, between the cross streets Gobernador Luis G. Vieyra and Gobernador Jose Guadalupe Covarrubias, in the same Colonia San Miguel Chapultepec, where the murals from my previous posts can be found. So what keeps this mural from being tagged over? I would say it's the picture itself.
Respect for the Motives and What They Represent
The picture on the extreme left, painted on the entry gate is one of the many colorful gods of the Aztecs. The image is probably taken from their representation in the codices, and the human skull suggests that it may be Mictlantecuhtli, the lord of the underworld, Mictlan. Not unlike its Greek counterpart Hades, he was in charge over the deceased. Unlike in European perception, however, death, and all its symbols (bones, skulls) represented life and fertility to the prehispanic cultures of this region, which can still be seen to a certain extent in contemporary Mexican culture.
Death is an Accepted Part of Life
We mortal beings reside only a short while on this earth. When we die, our remains go back to the earth, replenishing it with fertility, and giving life to those still around, and the ones to come. These truths of life are not just acknowledged here, but fully celebrated. One only needs to think of the day-of-the-dead festivities. (Yes, there will be a post about that when the time comes.) In light of this, it is nothing shocking to see the ruler of Mictlan exude some type of cloud of death onto the lady to its right, turning her half into a skeleton. It's just a friendly reminder to value life while it lasts, because sooner or later we all are going to be residents of the underworld.
But First We Live ...
In the next segment we see an image of life: Two women, a young and an old one. The older lady is holding an incense burner with a big cloud of copal smoke flowing up from it. Copal is a type of resin that is still used for ceremonial and aesthetic purposes by indigenous and non-native people alike. The younger woman to her side is taking a defiant stance, with her arm crossed in front of her, and a look on her face marked by a mix of hope and desperation. The images behind her are obscured and hard to make out, but they suggest suffering, destruction, probably violence and forced migration, all parts of the Mexican reality, especially to native and rural women. The inscription zona autónoma refers to certain Zapatista communities in the southern state of Chiapas, which declared themselves autonomous zones in the 1990s. So while death is a certainty in the future, life does not necessarily mean happiness.
The Old and the Young
Moving on to the right side of the mural, past the four colored ears of maize, important native symbols for the four winds (among other things), we see two types of rebels: the pachuco on the left and the skateboarder on the right. Pachuco was a controversially popular style in the 1930's, made famous by the comedian Tin-Tan. Its characteristics included baggy tailored zoot-suits, wide brimmed hats with long feathers in it, long key-chains, and similar dashing attire. They were often considered troublemakers for their non-conformist outfits and all the other negative attributes associated with it. Similarly today, skater kids are also often put in the same basket as vandals, drug addicts, and criminals, usually for no more than their appearance. This may be why in this mural he is exchanging a fiery hand-tag with the pachuco, the rebel from days past. Interestingly, his skateboard features the letters EZLN, the acronym of the Zapatista army Ejército Zapatista para la Liberación Nacional, representing the struggle that marks the lives of many Mexicans today. His face, however, has also been touched by Mictlantecuhtli's breath, and as all living things, is destined to die. But not without putting up a righteous fight first, or if nothing else, at least a tough attitude.
With all these images taken straight from the Mexican experience, especially of the lower classes, it is no wonder that this mural is generally respected by taggers and property owners alike. I would not be surprised if traces of it were still visible, after it has mostly faded away slowly, into the realms of Mictlan. Until then, it can still be visited and admired.