As Part II of our coverage of street artist Mantra painting Monarch butterflies in an astounding natural biosphere located in Mexico, we speak today with the artist about his original investigation into the region, his interactions with the local scientific community and the people who live in these areas, and his experience with documentarian photographer Martha Cooper and her travel companion and cousin, Sally.
“We had a really good time,” says Mantra. “It was quite perfect weather for what we wanted to see and we had a few happy surprises, including this celebration that was taking place in one village I painted in.”
Brooklyn Street Art: Can you tell us why you were in this part of Mexico at this time of the year?
Mantra: As you know, from my entire life path and professional path, I always have been mesmerized and attracted and curious of the living – especially insects and butterflies. However, I have never had the opportunity to create a body of work that speaks about monarch butterflies.
Last year after my solo show in Miami, I really felt that it was the moment to start to study and investigate this beautiful insect.
In January 2022 when I was in Mexico City, I decided to travel to the area where the main migration of monarch butterflies in the world settle for the winter.
So I went there via Mexico City to the nearby region in Michoacán to try to understand all the smaller details and mysteries about this migration – and it mesmerized me. Not only did I go with a scientific state of mind and this kind of spirit, but I was also interested in assuming an anthropologic approach to learn what was happening in this territory.
During different journeys in 2022, I met with so many different communities that are part of a patchwork of communities living in this lens. And I made these connections with the great help of an NGO named Alternare, and its director Ismael Venegasa at their headquarters in Zitacuaro.
They connected me with the ongoing main investigation on Monarch butterflies in Mexico happening at the University of Morelia. I learned with students from the university
I had the opportunity to investigate in a restricted area that must be approached carefully because of sensitivity to their protection. I have talked with Martha many times about her coming to see this, and this year we just turned this old wish into a reality.
Brooklyn Street Art: You had the opportunity to paint murals in a few locations. How did you decide which butterflies were appropriate for the walls?
Mantra: It’s an NGO that builds bridges between communities and institutions to try to assist the community and its relationship with the institutions, which means not only focusing on the scientific and biological aspects but also recognizing and respecting the social patterns that we can find.
My intention was to provide Martha and Sally the greatest experience I could, girded by the knowledge I gained last year from all my visits on-site with the different communities and inside the different monarch colonies. Martha is always saying she and Sally like to see how people are living. So with all of us animated by this same spirit, like really an anthropologic point of view, we were happy to make this journey together.
Brooklyn Street Art: Can you describe the local culture and the environment for painting that you experienced?
Mantra: Well, honestly, in each location, I painted a monarch butterfly; a male and another female – from my collection of photos.
We spent one afternoon with Martha and Sally in front of a small wall of a beautiful family house that I just walked to and knocked on the door and asked permission to paint on their wall. They accepted my request, and it turned into a really beautiful and sweet afternoon for the girls and for me. For this family of five people (plus a dog), I just wanted to paint monarch butterflies because it’s the main butterfly, and it is really emblematic of the city and the region.
The second location was inside a village and really high in the mountain at nearly 10,000 feet in elevation. Because of the height, the village of one of the communities that earn the right to visit the second main butterfly colony, which is Sierra Chincua (on Cerro Prieto community territory).
I would say that my experience in this environment with the local culture that people are really warm, open, kind, and humble. They welcome you as part of their community as long they understand your vision – and that you are coming in peace and in a friendly way.
They teach you about the community they are living in, they bring you food, and they invite you to be part of their traditional celebrations. It’s amazing to see how they feel you part of their community once you share a vision with them.
This journey with Martha and Sally was for me the second year there, and I kept some of the friendships and I hope to keep those friendships naturally growing. I can’t wait to come back next year when the Monarch is back.
Monarch Butterfly Biosphere Reserve (Reserva de la Biosfera de la Mariposa Monarca – RBMM)
Main city : Zitacurato
Name of the sanctuary they visited :
– El Rosario (on El Rosario community territory)
– Sierra Chincua (on Cerro Prieto community territory)
The first mural was painted in Zitacuaro downtown.
The second mural was painted on the wall of the 2nd school, “Lazaro Cardenas del Rio” in Cerro Prieto.
Read our first part of Mantra’s murals in the Monarch Butterfly Reserve HERE
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