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Oaxaca’s Revolutionary Street Art

April 18, 2017

Arts | by Courtney Blackman


Oaxaca de Juárez (or simply referred to as Oaxaca) is the capital of the southern state in Mexico by the same name, known for its historically imperative architecture (UNESCO designated it a World Heritage Site), museums and galleries. The Museum of Oaxacan Cultures houses one of the most important collections of gold and silver from ancient Mexican cultures: the Zapotec and Mixtec. The Museum of Contemporary Art, located in the Andalusian-style Casa de Cortés keeps permanent collections from renowned Oaxacan artists: Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo, Rodolfo Nieto and Edmundo Aquino Perez; and The Graphic Arts Institute (founded by Toledo) has an impressive library of literature and film dedicated to the arts and displays contemporary work from Latin American artists. We could go on, but you get the picture, this relatively small Mexican city is a stellar hub for the arts.

Once you’ve checked off the museums and galleries, it’s time to hit the streets. The baroque, Renaissance and neoclassical cathedrals are sites to behold and the brightly painted residential pockets make for a vibrant contrast, but it’s the renegade art on the city walls that will have the cameras on your smartphones in working in overdrive. Head to the local market, grab a bag of chapulines (chile-fried grasshoppers) to snack on and wander the streets, and if bold, maybe even get your own special graffiti paint and graffiti supplies. You can’t go far without finding some sort of political expression or figurative explosion of colour.

 

Photograph by Mr. Theklan

 

In 2010, Mexico’s agriculture and environment ministries authorised the commercial planting of genetically modified cotton, and maize (or corn) is nearly synonymous with Mexico and became cause for GM consternation. The above Banksy-esque image was taken by Mr. Theklan with the caption ‘sin maiz no hay pais’ (without corn, there is no country).

In 2014, when forty-three students went missing from the Ayotzinapa Rural Teachers’ College in the Oaxaca’s neighbouring state of Guerrero, stencilled statements appeared on walls: ‘Faltan 43’ – we’re missing the forty-three, and portraits were painted commemorating the missing like the ones below:

 

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¡¡¡Despierta, Mexico!!! – Wake up Mexico!!! – with significant emphasis, refers back to a non-profit organisation that was started in 2011, whose mission is to promote participation in society in order to realise a prosperous, free, just and democratic nation. The name is a play on ¡Despierta, América! (Wake Up, America!), an American Spanish language television show that launched on Univision in 1997.

 

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Below is some of our favourite street art as edited from Instagram:

 

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And to round it off: La mejor galeria es la calle ( The best gallery is the street). When in Oaxaca, this is without a doubt an understatement.

 

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When you’re ready for a break (and by break, we mean drink), stop in at Los Danzantes, a hip, designer restaurant and mezcal (distilled agave alcohol) bar, located in the centre of Oaxaca.

 

Words by Courtney Blackman