MeZTAPALAPA, teaming The neighborhood on the outskirts of Mexico City is primarily a chaotic spread of gray concrete. But look down from the cable car soaring over it. This is a city initiative to help densely populated people move. The aerial photographs are separated by a brightly painted roof. Here it is similar to the actor Mercedes Hernandez. There, boys and girls are playing under the slogan “We are equal”. On the ground, pedestrians navigate the streets lined with portraits of locals in the past and present, or photographs of crops previously cultivated in this former rural area.
Mural paintings have a long history in Mexico, from the Olmec mural paintings, the first major civilization in the region, to the colonial frescoes painted by the Spaniards to adapt the Bible story. Another mural movement began in the 1920s. After the Mexican Revolution, the government sought to foster a sense of identity in many linguistic and ethnic nations where citizens fought to end the old dictatorship for a variety of reasons. The population was still largely illiterate, so the new rulers recruited artists, including Diego Rivera, to paint murals showing scenes and events of Mexican life. Artists took advantage of the national heritage, for example by incorporating Maya motifs.
Today, tourists flock to the works of the “Big 3” muralists of the era, Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and Jose Clemente Orosco. A vibrant depiction of Mexico’s most famous historical figure, “Sunday Afternoon Dreams of Alameda Park,” was painted by Rivera for a hotel restaurant from 1946 to 47. Currently in a museum dedicated to artists, it is a regular pit stop in Mexico City. In Guadalajara, Orosco painted a “man of fire” on the ceiling of a former hospice (now a museum). This shows the image of a twisted body, an amazing rebirth that emerges from the flames.
Since the 1960s, mural painting has become a private enthusiasm, not a public project. They can be seen from the walls of Oaxaca’s rural schools in the south of the country to Monterrey, the business center in the north. Now, after a period of decline, art has been courageously revived and paid by the authorities for social purposes, as it was practiced after the revolution. Iztapalapa, which has been entrusted with about 7,500 new works since 2018, is the center of the trend.
The vibrant colors and bold images on display in the neighborhood have a lot of beauty. But the purpose is not purely aesthetic. Iztapalapa officials want to make Iztapalapa a safer place to live. It is the second most populous municipality in Mexico with 2 million people and is known as one of the most dangerous municipalities inhabitants. Iztapalapa has long been the “backyard” of the capital, says its mayor, Clara Bulgada. “Prison, that was the investment we received,” she says.
Some murals have slogans that encourage better action, such as “against violence!” Some women have painted female faces, such as world champion boxer Lupita Bautista and street artist Eva Brakamontes. Indeed, the entire project arose from the impetus for improving many women in this bit of patriarchy in a male-dominated country, where the killing of women is tragically common. Initially, murals were part of a program designed to create a street where women could walk safely alone. But they went through their lives. Brugada says he was initially skeptical of painting in homes and shops. Now they demand them.
For plan critics, the fact that Iztapalapa’s authorities are paying for works of art undermine their credibility. Enthusiastic fans point out that the Mexican Ministry of Education paid Rivera and his contemporaries during the heyday of the mural movement. Then, as it is now, individual artists had a unique style as well as room to determine the content of their murals.
For example, Rivera made the pre-conquest era of Spain romantic and described the conquerors as greedy and barbaric. Orosco was softer against them and the Catholic Church. “I connect with the place and the people,” says the contemporary mural painter, who paints as Andre Ams. “It’s not just about sending messages.” She often explores feminist themes and themes, such as the pre-Hispanic goddess. Her mural in Iztapalapa contains a giant tiger with striking eyes staring through a green wall.
Historians believe that post-revolutionary murals helped build a cohesive and modern country. Barbara Haskell of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York believes that they shaped both how Mexicans saw themselves and how foreigners saw them. (The Big 3 continued to paint influential murals in the United States.) An example of that influence is the way Mexico celebrates. Mestiza, A mixture of Spanish and indigenous people. One of Orosco’s most beloved murals in the country is at Collegio de San Il de Fonso, a former school in Mexico City. It depicts the conqueror Hernán Cortés and Malinche, who gave birth to a child who was an interpreter and later lover of his indigenous people and was considered the first one. Mestizo..
Can murals in places like Iztapalapa have the same impact now? Since 2018, some crimes, including crimes involving firearms, have decreased. Women’s rape has also fallen. Other aspects of the regeneration drive are contributing, such as improved lighting and street maintenance. But authorities are convinced that art has helped.
Mural paintings are popular, regardless of their impact on crime. “They motivate people who think’I can show up there’, especially girls,” says boxer Boutista. Her face is painted on a bright red background, accompanied by the words “proudly from Iztapalapa.” Residents who were hiding where they came from no longer do so. Slowly, outsiders may come to see Iztapalapa as well. ■■
This article was published in the printed version of the Culture section under the heading “Paintings on the Wall”.