In case you hadn’t heard, art imitates life, which is no less true for being a wan, exhausted cliche.
Oaxaca City’s street art, for instance, so troublingly resembles reality that the authorities regularly paint over political murals as part of “civic beautification.” Thus, a visitor to the colonial southern capital who knows something of her history of resistance and conflict might be surprised to see so much un-blemished, white-washed adobe.
Not so in Guadalajara, Jalisco. Most of the art here seems to be of a purely aesthetic nature and thus it is, perhaps, that the local government’s repressive hand is felt to a lesser degree.
It would be a mistake, however, to characterize Guadalajara as passively accommodating and apolitical. It sees its fair share of protests, be they in response to widespread corruption, an epidemic of disappearances, homo and trans-phobic bigotry and misogyny, or the mayor’s recent decision to replace horse-drawn coaches with electric carriages.
But neither is it Oaxaca. There, protestors pull fewer punches. In addition to the tried and true demonstration complete with picket signs and banners, they routinely block roadways with burning tires and cars and lob molotov cocktails and rocks at riot vans and thick-armored police, who merrily return the favor with big, chunky tear gas canisters – and the occasional lethal bullet.
On the other hand, as far as I know there is nothing in Oaxaca like Guadalajara’s single greatest street art attraction: a mile-long wall running along Avenida Agustin Yañez/Washington between Federalismo and Mariano Otero spangled with vibrant, wildly diverse works of art.
Created some years ago thanks to a city hall “urban beautification” initiative, this barbed-wire-topped barrier will keep an ambling pedestrian occupied for hours as a seemingly endless reel of stylistically diverse visual splendor scrolls by.
The wall is best appreciated from the point of view of pure aesthetics. However, there are occasional instances where something resembling a social consciousness intrudes upon the parade of politically contextless – but often wildly creative and beautiful – images.
Most prominent among these is a piece depicting a shawled, gaunt campesina peering from the guard rail of a locomotive, skeletal hands gripping cold, black iron, her face a visage of fear and anxiety. A phrase written to her right reads “Ama y defiende la patria, no la destruyas!” (Love and defend the nation, don’t destroy it).
There are many ways to “defend” one’s nation, I suppose, but in terms of bolstering the psychic well-being of its citizens, nothing comes close to the arts in their capacity to console, entertain and enlighten. Looked at from that angle, Guadalajara’s scarred wall of aesthetic edification could be seen – if you scrub away the facile cynicism from your eyes – as an encouraging symbol of what can be achieved when the government and the artistically inclined governed collaborate: beauty for beauty’s sake.
(If only the GDL mayoral candidate backed by the Morena party, Claudia Delgadillo – as well as a plethora of advertisers hawking a range of products both ephemeral and tangible – would stop painting over big chunks of the wall’s various painstakingly executed pieces de resistance. We may pray that others belonging to the stable of rabble rousers handpicked by Morena boss and presidential candidate Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador aren’t similarly philistinic.)