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The importance of symbolism in the Zapatista movement
Social justice movements have always had their visual voice. This visual language serves to propagate ideals and a positive vision of the future, encouraging resistance against the oppressive forces, and cultivating a pride in the construction of a healthier alternative. Murals in the US, El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Cuba (among others) have done just that, inspiring people to continue defying the repressive forces which attempt to crush their freedoms. One of the most notable things about Zapatista communities in Chiapas is the presence of colorful murals that proclaim the ideals of the movement. The heroes honored, the slogans, and the symbolism chosen for the walls all provide inspiration and validation to continue the struggle towards the construction of their autonomy.
Murals in Chiapas
The images chosen for these public pieces are of cultural and historical figures, the power of the people against the odds, and utopian views of a collective future. In places where there exist high levels of marginalization and illiteracy, such as here in Chiapas, images play an important role in education, consciousness-raising and self-awareness, especially among the youth. Historical and contemporary events can be “told” using pictures, often more effectively because of its permanency on a public surface. Imagery also leads to further questioning and understanding within a community about the historical events which have led a people to their current social and political position.
In the words of a community member,
|“…the work that you are doing is very important for us, because it is through murals that we manifest our way of being, our culture, and our resistance as indigenous people, that for many years has been attempted to be erased from the map of our Mexican territory, but now with your help and that of other brothers and sisters, we will no longer be able to disappear…they will never be able to uproot the knowledge of our people, just as is manifested in our mural that is now flourishing…”|
How The Work Is Done
Murals are a collective expression of a community’s voice. As such, the process itself and contributions of each artist to the whole is more important than the product. Murals reflect the experience, hopes, and history, not necessarily of the authors, but of the community as a whole. The muralists merely provide a technical service to help articulate the overall vision of the people in a community. The design for a mural is the piecing together of ideas that will further the communal message. It usually originates from a proposal which is then drafted and modified through consensus, and always evolves according to who participates in the actual elaboration.
A group of volunteers from Mexico and other countries provide technical assistance, workshops and materials that will facilitate the mural-making process. This involves color mixing, drawing out ideas and piecing them together, transferring the design on the wall using a grid method, and techniques for special effects. Their role, as outsiders, is to collect ideas for images, occasionally producing the initial sketch (if this is requested by the community), preparing the wall or surface, and guiding participants through the development of their work. The task is clearly defined as that of a facilitator (in most cases, the designs and images are chosen through community assemblies, consistent with the indigenous custom of collective decision-making) and as such strengthen and empower the community. They suggest pointers to advance the work, but are guided first by committees assigned to decide how many community members will work and what will be depicted. They role is not to impose ideas for content, or appropriate the voice in the creation of the mural, but to accompany this process of creative expression.