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“And Here Is Where It All Began”
(A brief history)

A devastating earthquake brought my city into crisis when I finished the University in Mexico City in 1985. Many groups and organizations were trying to help, but as an artist, it was difficult to know what my role should be. I had to decide whether to work with galleries, selling my paintings and giving the profit to philanthropic groups, or work instead with the people and organizations with which I felt a common bond. I chose the latter, and together with two other artists from my school, formed the group “Ojos de Lucha” (“Eyes of the Struggle”) and joined reconstruction efforts by bringing art directly to the people on the streets. The earthquake, in effect, opened up a world of public art opportunity to me.

 LuchaOur first effort was a 27’ x 36’ painting for the growing movement of garment workers who were living in a sizeable encampment on the streets of downtown Mexico City. The image mirrored a part of history that was in the process of being made—a strong garment worker breaking out of a plastic mannequin, using the tools of her trade (scissors) to emerge strong and empowered. We gave it directly to the women on the street, who used it repeatedly in marches and protests during the 10 year political struggle that ensued.

The garment workers invited us, “Ojos de Lucha”, to work alongside them as they evolved into an authentic labor union and social movement. For 10 years we worked with them and other social organizations devoted to the struggle for basic human rights and necessities. Through our paintings, we represented the issues the people were fighting for—a life of dignity, better working conditions and housing for the homeless, among others.

These experiences stirred up rich memories of the evolution of Mexican muralism and the idea that images can teach people about their history. In Mexico, a high percentage of the population is illiterate, and there is a longstanding tradition of using paintings to teach them their history. Murals tend to narrate social and historical events, cultural traditions, and important occurrences. We realized that what we were doing was similar to this concept of portraying important events and traditions via images, only what we were portraying was happening right then.

Our biggest contribution to public art was painting on large canvasses that could be easily transported and displayed in a variety of locations, rather than murals, permanently affixed to walls or in private collections. Our work captured the interest of art historians from many parts of the world, and we were able to sustain it for more than 10 years with grants from Canada and Europe. During this period (1985 – 1995), our group of 3* painted some 50 “mobile murals”, and was invited to Central America, Canada, the United States and Europe, where we gave workshops on public art, created public art, and shared our experience with others. For me, those years of working side by side with numerous social organizations, was the greatest schooling I’ve ever received.


 

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All artwork contained here copyrighted © 1984-2010, with all rights reserved.
Photography by Rufus Diamant, Daniel Camacho, Robin Lovell and Robert Garcia