In a town with a stultifying 112 murals and only 400 inhabitants, you already know that your work will be judged by experts – since everyone is looking and communing with multiple murals in the course of one day all over their city. This unusual urban occurrence is thanks to the Gar Gar Festival which has invited local and international artists for six years under the curatorship of the duo Binomic, formed by Maria del Mar López and Jordi Solana.
For the MEXPANIA installation, the artists Paola Delfín, Sixe Paredes, Pilar Cárdenas AKA Fusca and Daniel Muñoz all joined ranks to symbolically relocate a mosaic painted on Pino Suárez street in Mexico City – itself a reproduction of an original work made by Juan Correa in the 17th century. Joining languages, histories, and iconography, this unique enterprise could have ended in disaster, yet here presents a unified composition that speaks with poetry and authority.
To appreciate the work completely, we asked curators Arcadi Poch and Édgar Sánchez to describe it for BSA readers.
“The two main characters are Moctezuma and Hernán Cortés, who have been transformed into two symmetrical doors, crowned by two divided suns. The floor of the scene is transformed into a map that collects a series of migratory paths through the history of humanity. Two surrendered horses fall on the map, followed by two eagles, meant to represent the fall of the symbols related to all the warlike and racist conflicts that occurred 500 years ago. The play speaks to the public about the richness of the past to inspire us to build a reunion and hence a future of greater integration.”
Édgar Sánchez and Arcadi Poch may not simply be curators of the new initiative called Mexpania that merges the cultures of Mexico and Spain. They are social scientists, anthropologists, historians, and some may say, alchemists. With the inaugural installations of this auspicious project primarily created inside the entrance and with only 4 national/international artists, you may be curious how these foundational works will influence future curatorial choices for this ever-growing museum dedicated to urban art, or arte urbano.
The Museo de Arte Urbano de México (MARUM) has been steadily and organically evolving these last ten years into a bonified attraction in the center of Querétaro thanks to the existing remarkable architecture and the driving force of the visionary Sánchez. Now with a partnership focused on the 500-year history of the Spanish migration to ancient Mexico, the opportunities to visually capture and illustrate the modern identity of a common culture must be daunting, but they have begun.
“We are the fruit of migration and miscegenation, of love and conflict that led to the mixing of our blood,” say the authors of Mexpania’s manifesto. “From that union was born an uncountable multitude of identities, ways of being, thinking, and believing.”
As an inaugural set of events and art-making, Mexpania presents what can only be considered an initial attempt to draw upon those themes and present an opening salvo. A calculated project to establish this entrance to the formalized museum, one that proposes to document and celebrate the movement of monumental art through streets and cities. The selections are a deliberate mixture of styles, histories, and identities that confront our ability to parse differences and similarities and emerge with one unique voice.
“The feeling is like entering a contemporary temple, which transports you to a sacred place dedicated to the mestizo and migrant nature of humanity,” say the two curators of the freshly combined works on the MARUM campus, as they call it. “It has not been an easy task to generate what we understand as a single piece by making such different artistic languages coexist and getting them to dialogue in harmony.” Just reviewing the 33 muralists on the exterior spaces of the campus gives one an opportunity to consider the richness of this locally grown, now globally expanded, multi-voiced culture.
BSA is proud to be the first to present the new works in their new home and to welcome readers to regard these fresh murals in context inside an institution dedicated to urban art now rooting into the soil of one of the original forbears of the modern mural movement a century ago, Mexico. In a city visited on the streets by modern street art internationalists like ROA, Stinkfish, Jaz, Elian, Sens, Sego, Alexis Dias, Entes, Enter, Ever Siempre, and others – this too is the land that gave birth to the great muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco, David Alfaro Siqueiros, Rufino Tamayo, Aurora Reyes Flores, Elena Huerta Muzquiz, and Rina Lazo.
“Inside the venue, directly to the left, we see the introductory text to the project, calligraphed by the hand of the Mexican artist Jassiel Rivera and written by the two curators. Above the text, in the large circular niche, there is a joint work by four artists. It is a large X that represents Mexpania and defines the four elements of the whole being.”
“Our ancestors traveled the world and in different eras or by different routes, they arrived in what we now call Mexico. … Mexpania seeks to respect and question these identities, to propose cultural freedom as a path to urban peace. While observing human chaos, this work raises the banner of the dynamic beauty of our cultures. We believe that there is no absolute truth or a pure lineage and that the charm of life is born of our differences. 500 years after the first Spanish migration to ancient Mexico, we are privileged to explore the cultures that bequeathed us, create our own identities, and lift each other up toward a future of cultural freedom.” – Édgar Sánchez and Arcadi Poch. Curators.
“Sixe, an artist of Catalan origin, occupies the two walls corresponding to the main entrances, the entrance, and the exit, with a numerical representation that occupies the entire surface. The enormous network in black and red is a symbolic and abstract representation of the data and events, loves and hates, pains, and hopes that emerged as a result of the great encounter between the multiple cultures of both continents. It is a contemporary codex, an abstract framework, in which the symbols of death are represented by skulls, the cross of the Catholic religion imposed by the Spanish, and other symbols that represent the balance of the cosmos, the new sun, and the eclipse of the civilization of ancient Mexico. We can also observe the gold coins that Daniel Muñoz incorporates in Sixe’s work, generating a dialogue between these two works.”
“On the front side and on the right we find the wall by Daniel Muñoz, a conceptual work with a great load of social reflection and critical thinking. Daniel talks about the power of money around domination and how it is able to make our cultures invisible. The large coin that presides over his work seems to cover the American continent and around the great circle, there are representations of the globe seen from different perspectives, creating a cartography of money. Behind the plaque that commemorates the inauguration of this space, and that contains an extract from the Florentine Codex, we observe a group of invisible indigenous women. Using these and other symbols, Daniel creates a representation of money as a motivation towards domination, but reinterprets its value with the phrase he writes around the central coin of the mural: ‘The Earth Will Return to Those Who Work It With Their Hands.’ “
“Directly in front of the work of Fusca, appears, in black and white, the work of Paola Delfin. Mictlantecuhtli, the lord of the underworld, presides, radiant over a chaotic swarm of horses, and from them emerge, on the flanks, two mestizo identities. This deity representing death reigned over the underworld through which the dead traveled. It should be mentioned that despite the difficulties that lie in the Mictlan, this was not hell but a challenge that had to be faced after passing away if one wanted to reach the palace that is found after overcoming the difficult journey. The symbols embodied in this piece seem to recognize the enormous pains and sorrows of the past as strengthening challenges, which can give us fortitude and inspire us to live with good conscience.”
On the back wall to the left, Fusca uses timeless symbols to express subtleties behind the way we think. In moonlight-like colors, we see a representation of Coatlicue, the archetypal maternal deity of ancient Mexico, who as the legend tells us, gives birth to Huitzilopochtli, the cultural leader of the Mexica, who we still see on the Mexican national shield, represented by an eagle. This figure, who could be interpreted as the mother of Mexico, is intervened in such a way that an equine head instead of a serpentine one emerges from her neck. In this way, the deity and the horse are united in a single, mestizo figure. The piece expresses the emotion of living the fusion between different identities. These understandings of who we are can weaken or strengthen us. How can we better understand the past that created us to empower and liberate us? To build our own way of describing ourselves, to strengthen life in our future and that of our descendants?
Mexico and Estonia; an unlikely couple. But sometimes love is like that. In a time when orthodoxy globally is seemingly self-combusting and obviously falling short in meeting the needs of people, it is perhaps no surprise that the unique hybrids of shared strengths are those that arise and can lead.
A cultural love child combining the traditions of these two nations has resulted in a surprising amount of cross-cultural exchange and mural making in the last year or two. Today we have just some of the artworks made during a two-part event held in each country, the first in Tallinn, Estonia in June 2017 and the second in Querétaro, Mexico during March 2018.
The unlikely pairing by two sociological searchers who love graffiti, Street Art, and the mural traditions of the past as much as the modern mural phenomena now speaks a common language of aesthetics in multiple spheres.
Together Édgar Sánchez and Sigre Tompel have mounted two large cross-culture jams, attracting numerous artists and trans-national interpreters (nearly 100), presenting and renewing interests in history, indigenous people, traditions, and the environment challenges of today.
By highlighting the similarities and distinct differences in traditional and modern culture, these two are the magnetic field around whom a multi-faceted public art practice is developing that showcases urban and mural artists.
Together the two say that the effort is “a reminder of what makes us feel proud of being Mexicans, Estonians, and even better, what unites us beyond our nationalities: our cultural freedom. Our responsibility of making this place, this world, a better place than how we found it.”
The enterprise is frequently steeped in metaphor and symbolism and a search for meanings in the overlapping of traditions. One that is often sited is the Blue Deer/Fern Blossom intersection.
In México, according to ancient Huichol tribe tradition, people go to hunt Blue Deer to search for wisdom and inner vision. Searching is also involved in the Estonian ancient tradition of searching for the Fern Blossom that is said to appear only during the summer equinox of June, which they call Jaaniöö. Both traditional cultural stories represent prosperity, protection and fertility, they say.
“Mextonia is a gift to remind the world about the Spirit; a collective soul in the shape of a Blue Deer, in finally finding a Fern Blossom,” say Sánchez and Tompel.
For Mr. Sánchez, the Mexican co-creator and author of the Mextonia Manifesto, there is a belief that there are larger forces at work in the Universe and that Mextonia is a platform and vehicle for the new generation.
When reading his observations you will see that the platform is hoping to lead Millennial artists to reconnect with a sense of culture and identity, two things that are sadly slipping away due to the dopamine-laced fire hose of mass media stimuli, social and otherwise, that we are collectively exposed to.
For Tompel, the Estonian co-director of this bi-national transcultural journey, “Mextonia was born from a personal ‘vision quest’ to better understand the native wisdom of Mesoamerican natives.”
She says the enthusiasm and knowledge of Sánchez guided her to better appreciate ancient traditions like those of the Mexican Huichol tribe, and that this new appreciation enlivened her interest in her own homeland of Estonia, which she began to study in earnest. Together, the two of them have poured the molten iron of their combined roots and cast a foundation that many artists are now adding their interpretation to.
Whether it is costume or symbols or rites or ceremony, you can see a deep desire to be inclusive in the styles and expressions. The spring festival, for example, extended its message with the collaboration with the PangeaSeed Sea Walls effort, headed by Tré Packard and his team in pursuit of “combining art and activism on this level and caliber to champion for the oceans,” and often sited aspiration.
“Art and public activism can educate and inspire the global community to help save our water resources,” says Packard. “Regardless of its location, large metropolitan city or small coastal town, all drains lead to the ocean and the ocean provides every breath we take. The Earth cannot exist without healthy oceans and water resources.”
With this in mind the city of Querétaro was chosen for the multiple aqua-related public artworks as a way to draw attention to the city’s own reliance on water that is transported from a hundred kilometers outside the city. This chapter of “Mextonia” was also known as “Water is One”.
The experience and study has even helped coin new terms, like transgraffiti and transgraffiti muralism.
“Muralism and Street Art have proven to transform cultural symbols and catalyze culture,” says Sánchez. “Now, Transgraffitti is a trans-personal kind of muralism, which distances itself from both; names and pop culture, by taking deep cultural symbols and re-expressing them in a transcendental and contemporary way.”
In this respect, it is a unique view of Street Artist and graffiti writers in contemporary practice from an evolutionary perspective. In the Water is One Manifesto 2.0 that was released this spring the organizers write:
“In today’s world we see millions of young people expressing on walls, influencing the streets and society. They write their names to identify with their space: we call them graffiti writers. As they grow and explore, some look beyond the writing of a personal name and embark into trans-personal-creation.
They research social challenges, paint visual metaphors and transcend borders. They discover the power of their painting over streets and culture. They become a kind of contemporary shaman, producing street incantations.
This is the transpersonal-graffiti, and we call it Transgraffiti muralism.”
As BSA correspondent from Tallinn and Querétaro, veteran photojournalist and ethnographer Martha Cooper attended the installations, exhibitions, celebrations, and ceremonies in both countries and she collected a wealth of important information to share.
In her own words Cooper says, “Street art is a worldwide art movement and Mextonia has shown how creative two different cultures can be when combined. Excellent idea – brilliantly realized.”
As mentioned Part 2 in Querétaro, Mexico was a collaboration with Pangea Seed and it was a concerted effort to highlight water resources, and “The Water Is One” theme was reflected in the murals.
“We forget that the water cycle and the life cycle are one.” ~Jacques Yves Cousteau
While these 40 or so photos are resplendent in conveying the spirit and dedication shown daily by participants, they are ultimately a very small sample of the hundreds Cooper took.
Similarly a blog platform like this cannot comprehensively cover the events or the perspectives in their entirety, but we hope that you can gain a greater appreciation for the depth of feeling, scholarship, and talent that is represented here in Martha’s photographs and our descriptions.
We conclude our text here with an interview that Ms. Cooper conducted for BSA with Sigre Tompel to better understand the breadth of the festival and also to get more detail about a sacred spiritual ceremony that Cooper attended with native peoples and the artists during her Mexican visit this spring.
Martha Cooper:Can we call “Water Is One” in Querétaro Part 2 of Mextonia? Are you planning Part 3? Sigre Tompel: Yes, it is a sequence of Mextonia, part 2 (Mextonia in Estonia was the element of Fire, Water Is One was the element of Water. Yes, we are planning part 3 and 4 (Earth and Air).
Martha Cooper:How many artists participated in both the Estonian and Mexican festivals? Sigre Tompel: In Estonia we had 60 artists and in Mexico 33 – together with graffiti writers and neighboring walls of the Dome. These 5 artists were actually in both festivals – Aaron Glasson (New Zealand), Sänk (Estonia), Sermob (Mexico), Renata (Mexico), Goal (Mexico). Our whole core crew is a total of 15 people.
Martha Cooper:What was the name for the type of group that performed the ceremony at the walls? What was burning in the pot that produced the smoke? Copal? Sigre Tompel: They are called Concheros, they use Copal , smudging for blessing. The message was smudging the artists to thank them for their work and to bless their way back home, so they can arrive healthy and happy. The name of this particular group of Concheros is “In Xochitl In Cuicatl”, Flor y Canto (Flower and Singing) and they are lead by Conchero General Manuel Rodriguez. The name is in Nahuatl, the ancient language of the Mexica.
Martha Cooper:Does the ceremony have a name? Can you say a few words about what kind of blessing it was or what message they were sending the artists? Sigre Tompel: The Concheros hold the tradition of the old Mexican belief system. After being conquered by the Spanish, they decided to hold balance and harmony between the two belief symbols, so they started honoring Christian symbols, while honoring also Mexican symbols, usually in secret. Concheros need to be reconsidered as a Cultural Heritage of the World, they are not “syncretic” by ignorance, but to keep the sacred balance of cultural hybridization.
The Concheros were very happy because the artists expressed the metaphors of their dances into the murals, and because this represents a kind of Mexican renaissance that returns to an earlier time, reinterpreting the ancient classic pre-religious Mexican belief systems.
Read this article in Spanish / Leer este articulo in Espanol aqui:
TRANS-GRAFFITI Y EL FESTIVAL TRANSNACIONAL “MEXTONIA
Publicado el 26 de Mayo, 2018
México y Estonia; una pareja improbable. Pero a veces el amor es así. En una época en la que la ortodoxia global es autocomplaciente y obviamente no satisface las necesidades de las personas, quizás no sorprenda que sean los híbridos únicos de fortalezas compartidas los que pueden liderar en el mundo.