Zapatista Mural Art In Chiapas And Scotland

Re-Humanising the City”;

The Art of Social Activism

Week 3 (10th May): Community Murals and the role of funding

with June Mcewan (Community Arts practitioner and Fountainbridge Mural project artist)

and Mike Cropley (Edinburgh Chiapas solidarity group)

  • Chiapas murals presentation (Mike Cropley):
    • The state of Chiapas, in South Mexico, has a population of nearly five million people, around a third of whom are indigenous people from that land. There are around 200’000 indigenous people involved in the Zapatista movement there battling for the rights to land and resources and fighting against subjugation.
    • Through creating autonomous communities of resistance, since their 1994 uprising the Zapatistas have been successful in asserting new rights and support for indigenous people there. They are creating their own autonomous schools, health clinics, and justice system, all based on communally owned land. Their own decision-making system involves village assemblies, autonomous councils and, co-ordinating matters at a wider level, including the fair disbursement of international solidarity, five regional “committees of good government” consisting of rotating delegates from the autonomous councils.
    • Within the 1,000 Zapatista “communities in resistance” there are many big public murals, most commonly on public buildings such as schools, health clinics, churches, and the Autonomous Council buildings (all of which are normally built by the communities themselves, sometimes using international donations to buy the materials ). It is very rare that the murals would be on peoples own homes as that is beyond financial possibility there.
    • KIPTIK – A Zapatista solidarity group based in Bristol, UK work with communities in Chiapas to help create these murals. The design usually goes through a proposal and is amended and re-drafted through consensus and then artists are chosen through a community assembly. The mural process is therefore one of collective decision making that strengthens civic activity and identity and is an empowering act that allows people to articulate their own views together.
    • Many of the images are very colourful and full of symbols of identity and local meaning such as maize (they are seen as the “people of the maize”), men and women in traditional dress, or the revolutionary beetle Duritto, who features in many stories by Zapatista spokesperson Subcomandante Marcos.
    • The images provide ways of communicating messages if reading and writing literacy is of a lower level, and there are generally political messages conveyed on the murals, for example about autonomous education or women’s liberation.
    • In 2006 the Zapatistas initiated “The Other Campaign” to unite with all different oppressed groups from around Mexico, and indeed the world, to move beyond their own liberation to others too. This was the subject of one of the murals shown.
    • Some of the images can be quite utopian, giving visions of the future. Examples of the work of the artist Beatrix Aurora were also shown: she is a Chilean artist, based in Chiapas, whose very colourful paintings portraying the Zapatista communities are reproduced in many postcards and posters sold to raise funds for the movement ( see for example ) Her work was compared to that of Scottish artist Chad McCail, some of whose work features utopian visions of a co-operative sharing society ( see for example )
    • Murals are also painted in support and solidarity of the Zapatistas in other parts of the world, e.g. three murals painted in Scotland by the Mexican muralist Gustavo in collaboration with local people in Edinburgh and Glasgow. One of these involved the Glasgow Solidarity Group and symbolises the twinning of 16th February Zapatista Autonomous Municipality in Chiapas with the solidarity group in Glasgow. Another, entitled Eyes in the Sky, was painted in Royston Wardieburn Community Centre in Edinburgh, and as far as is known can still be seen there (a postcard of this mural was given to the course participants).

Other Chiapas art projects

    • Storytelling and plays (both via the Zapatistas’ own radio stations, and live at Fiestas) are very important forms of communication, history and culture.
    • Fiestas with a range of performances, dance, traditional music (often with a marimba) and dress, as well as plays very often performed, are vital in bringing the community together. There are particular dress and styles for the different areas. These are all organised by the indigenous people themselves and put together through their own resources.
  • Group discussion:
    • The murals are seen as very important in terms of getting across ideas, acting as a visual representation of solidarity and support against oppressive forces, and are made strong and liked by many because they are seen as things that will last over a longtime, like a longlasting legacy and writing of social history.
    • The images are clearly very vibrant and distinct and often easily associated with the Zappatistas. This has been the case since very early and could be one of the reasons they have received such widespread global support and awareness. It may also be a consequence of Subcomandante Marcos’ (spokesperson of Zapatista National Liberation movement from 1994) influence on an awareness of presentation, image and appearance. The images and murals associated with the Zapatistas have almost become a kind of branding.
    • The future of politics is possibly now seen as having moved or shifted like a weathervane from South America as a playground for new ideas and formations to the Middle East.
  • Community Murals (June Mcewan)
    • Previously had created a childrens mural with the local primary school and passers by in the Telfer subway leading to St. Bride’s centre in Dalry. This was done in one week and involved designing it with the pupils as well as getting them and people using the tunnel to add things.
    • There has only been minor graffiti added on the outside mural since, particularly compared to the areas without a mural.
    • The council makes money from fines for graffiti from the wall owners. So certain private organisations try to avoid these fines and cleaning by commissioning murals on blank wall spaces.
  • Fountainbridge Mural Project
    • FountainPark have commissioned an artist (June) to help create a mural on the top part of the Telfer subway.
    • June choose a certain number of groups to try and work with directly. Sometimes these are set beforehand by the council or funder, or sometimes left more open. It depends on funding how many people and groups June can work with. She contacts these groups to offer workshops where she collects stories, ideas, images and drawings that can become part of the mural.
    • In this case some of the gorups included the Fountainbridge Library, Boroughmuir High School, Garvald, the Steiner school.
    • For the workshops there will be a general theme set in advance, and then books, and props and images for help with ideas and inspiration if needed. June is looking for gathering peoples ideas around the theme and doesn’t necessarily need to keep all the copies of the images to start with so people can take them home at the end of the workshop to have a product at the end of it.
    • The initial theme for this was ‘people and patterns’, which in some ways has grown out of the décor and design of the Fountainbridge Library which looks out onto the Telfer subway walkway and onto FountainPark.
    • From these she designs one big image and painting. She trys to keep the images as close to the originals as possible so people can see their own images in the mural, and may be more keen to take part in the painting of it.
    • This will take place in August and anyone can take part. For the painting the groups will be invited back to take part painting it on the wall.
  • Group discussion:
    • The council in Edinburgh have left certain areas as freespaces for graffiti, such as along Potterow. Originally this was cleaned up by the council but eventually they began to turn a blindeye to it and let people use it to paint on to.
    • The prevalence of murals for sectarian issues shows their use and power in maintaining, developing and affirming identity. This is perhaps different here in Edinburgh and is more about nice images and colourful space rather than group identity.
    • Working with the community on the mural also helps to avoid further graffiti.

For more information:

Other things mentioned during the session:

  • Mention of the blog and whether anyone can help edit it?

  • The portfolio scrapbook for documentation of the course was introduced. People encouraged to bring along notes, cutouts, reports, images etc for it.

Aims from the session:

  • Look at ways to get involved with and contribute towards the Fountainpark mural project
  • Consider how any creative action within Tollcross could be taken to help support the Zapatistas in Chiapas.

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