One of Juchitan's murals: urban art restores culture and hope. One of Juchitán's murals: urban art restores culture and hope.

Urban artists helping bring city back to life

New murals part of rebuilding process in earthquake-torn Juchitán

Street artists from near and far have donated their time and talent to help bring new life to a town in the Isthmus of Tehuantepec region of Oaxaca.

Houses fell like dominos in Juchitán when a powerful 8.2-magnitude earthquake struck just before midnight on September 7. And along with the houses, about half of an estimated 40 murals depicting Zapotec culture were also destroyed.

But in the months since the devastation occurred, new murals recognizing the strength and resilience of the local people and paying homage to some of the earthquake victims have gradually sprung up on damaged walls around the town.

One of the artists who has contributed to the urban renewal is local resident Francisco Noriega Nicolás, or Suarte, as he is known in the street art world.

In the five months since the earthquake, Noriega has painted five murals with which he aims to help bring the city back to life through the colors of Zapotec art.

One of his murals, painted on the wall of a damaged home in one of the worst affected parts of town, features an image of a toy horse made out of palm leaves with a faceless child riding on its back.

Noriega told the newspaper El Universal that while he was giving free art classes to children living in makeshift shelters in the aftermath of the disaster, he saw that many of them were playing with things they had found in the street such as tires, wooden planks and even rubble.

He then realized that they too had lost an important part of their lives and identity in the earthquake.

“. . . They didn’t have toys, nobody saw it, but they had lost as well . . . toys and games are an important part of children’s development and they lost them buried beneath the rubble and many of them didn’t have money to replace them,” Noriega said.

“That’s where the idea to honor them with the little palm horse was born . . .” he explained, adding that the toy is typical of the region.

“Artists have an obligation to participate in the physical, emotional and visual reconstruction of the Isthmus [of Tehuantepec] towns,” he said.

Half a kilometer away from the little horse mural — in the heart of Juchitán — a group of local artists has heeded Noriega’s words, transforming one of the town’s most prominent buildings.

The Chiquitraca Collective painted a large mural featuring three pre-Hispanic mud figurines on one of the damaged buildings that made up part of the municipal palace complex.

In the mural, two of the figurines — known as gente antigua, or old people — are broken. Only the third one is intact.

The mural especially resonates with the local community because the figurines date back to the time of their distant ancestors and can still be found hidden beneath the ground. Like the third undamaged figure in the mural, they too will recover from their pain and broken lives to emerge once again intact.

One of the members of the collective, known by the alias Jomer Homerus, also painted another mural as a tribute to the people who are working to rebuild the town.

His work on the façade of the city’s theater features the hands of three children and one adult working to put together a jigsaw puzzle whose pieces collectively form a map of the isthmus. The metaphor is powerful: together we can rebuild.

Artists have also arrived from the state capital and Mexico City to contribute to the artistic rejuvenation.

Renowned Oaxaca artist Demían Flores painted a recreation of the famous Graciela Iturbide photograph Nuestra Señora de las Iguanas (Our Lady of the Iguanas) on a surviving wall of the collapsed Casa de la Cultura, or cultural center. Iturbide took the photo in Juchitán.

A few meters away, Daniel Poetalatas completed a large mural on the ruins of a collapsed house. It features a child sitting on the ground holding a toy.

Many of the murals he had previously painted in the town were lost but his efforts, along with those of other urban artists who have demonstrated their solidarity with local residents, are ensuring that art — and hope — return to the streets of Juchitán.

Source: El Universal (sp)

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