Saturday, August 01, 2015

mural, mural, on the wall

Graffiti art is the 21st century successor of 20th century Mexican murals.  So claims an academic article I read this week in one of the chi-chi journals I receive online.

Perhaps.  But the tradition of Mexican murals is certainly not dead.  And proof of that welcomes the summer tourist crowd to Barra de Navidad -- right at the gateway to town.

When I first arrived here, the wall was nothing more than a motley combination of paint patches, bare brick, and the occasional bit of tagging.  No longer.

Christine and Lee, long-time residents of Barra de Navidad, saw the same problem.  Unlike me, they did something.  Lee had the broad vision of a mural.  Christine made the vision a reality.

The murals were conceived to improve Barra de Navidad's first impression to visitors, and as a perfect way to convey its local history.  The Church employed the same technique with its history of the saintly through stained glass windows.  And the government similarly used murals to write and convey the official version of the Mexican Revolution.  (Even though several of the great Mexican muralists refused to toe the party line.)

The 17-panel mural, painted between 2011 and 2015, is the work of over 50 students from Barra de Navidad's grade schools, junior high, and high school, with the assistance of Christine and adult volunteers from the schools.  The murals are divided into two distinct sections.

The primary students painted 4 panels in what an art critic (or a doting grandparent) might label as "primitivism."  Their panels show the town as it was and as it is -- filtered through the gauze of naivete.

What first caused me to notice the work, though, were the history panels.  At the time, I was working on a brief history of Mexico lecture.  And it is all there -- for the most part.   

The tribes who lived here before the Spanish tribe arrived.

The conquistadors who absorbed them into the Spanish kingdom -- and then named the town.

The pearls that are produced in the laguna's oysters -- including the inevitable image of a princess who looks as if she has just escaped her Harlequin destiny.

The pirates who raided Barra and burned the ship yard -- making it a dangerous place for the Manila Galleon.  Not to mention the people who lived there.

The expedition from Barra de Navidad to the Philippines that established a trade route to the East -- and the even more astounding return voyage to Acapulco that opened globalization for the Spanish Empire.  The mural includes a nifty map.  I am always a sucker for a good map.

A celebration of the once-powerful fishing industry in the bay along with the current fisher tourist draw.

The Revolution -- with its eccentric emphasis on Pancho Villa and Emiliano Zapata, proving that martyrdom is always preferred to actually governing. 

A tribute to Barra's carnival and its first King Momo, Ramon Mendoza, known as "El Jabalin."  An event I have yet to attend.  But there appears to be enough material surrounding the event to stock several future essays.

And, of course, because this is the 21st Century, a paean to the ecology of the bay -- without any inconvenient reference to the vast sewer and water problems the area currently endures.  A subject in which Lee and Christine are involved up to their knees.  Often, literally.

There is no doubt that the murals have greatly enhanced the face of Barra de Navidad.  I enjoy stopping just to look at the art work.  After all, who could be unhappy with anything that features a pirate with an eye patch?

I have noticed several pedestrians, mostly Mexican tourists, who stop to read the captions or to look at the drawings.  After all, that is why the project exists.

If nothing else, it has given the student artists a bit of pride in their community and their individual talents as artists.

"So many songs yet to be sung.
So many roads still unexplored;
We gave the world new ways to dream.
Somehow we found new ways to dream."

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