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The Art of the Conflict

By Gail Lusby

ASARO is the abbreviation for Asamblea de Artistas Revolucionarios de Oaxaca (Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca), a collective of young artists founded during the violent uprising that shook the city of Oaxaca in 2006. Created for the sole purpose of participating in the conflict, ASARO was the most prolific group of artists during the rebellion. Its members produced dozens of woodcuts, paintings, and stencils to support and document the revolt. This particular exhibition shows the “portable murals” they produced during the conflict. (Portable murals are large canvases mounted on a stretcher like a regular painting that can be easily moved around).

ASARO/Oaxaca 2006: The Art of the Conflict
Thu, Jul 28, 7pm
Bellas Artes

When it comes to art, Oaxaca holds a truly unique place in Mexico and perhaps even on the American continent. Both the state and the city of Oaxaca have been known for the exceptional skill of their artists and artisans for many generations. In pre-Hispanic times, the tlacuilos of the neighboring Mixteca were called upon throughout Mexico and Central America to decorate buildings, paint codices, or produce ceramic or sculptures. A few centuries later, Oaxacan painters such as Rufino Tamayo, Francisco Toledo, Rodolfo Morales, and Alejandro Santiago, to name just a few, came from this state and attained international recognition.

The continuous presence of those great artists has meant that a solid tradition of teaching art has always been kept alive. Workshops that the city offers to its artists have fostered a remarkable communal spirit, and more than anywhere else, young Oaxacan artists tend to form talleres, (a term difficult to translate since it means both workshop and studio), where they produce side by side, share space, supplies, knowledge, and/or a printing press. This communal spirit among the young artists of the city is very specific to Oaxaca.

In the midst of the chaos unleashed by the confrontation between the governor and the populace, a group of seven very young artists got together and formed an “Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca,” now known as ASARO, to be “artistic guerilla” and produce “art by the people and for the people.” ASARO invited everyone, to join in and make art. At its peak, ASARO counted a crew of 35 people making stencils, carving wood blocks, pasting etchings on the city walls, and participating in one way or another. Arte Jaguar became famous for the many stencils it painted across the city, but ASARO was clearly the most prolific and the most central to this artistic effervescence.

For five months the rebels not only held the Zócalo and the Alameda Central, but also dozens of blocks around the center of town. Barricades prevented the police from entering the downtown area, which gave artists, would-be artists, and everyone the opportunity to freely paint the streets, make stencils, or write slogans with spray paint anywhere. The city became a gigantic open-air art gallery. Between demonstrations and marches, all types of artistic happenings took place.

All the paintings in the Bellas Artes show were exhibited at one time or another in the streets of the city. They are relatively large because they were conceived as “portable murals” and were meant to be displayed outdoors. These murals are a heart-rending cry for justice and freedom. Painted by different artists, the styles vary wildly, and yet the palpable furor and despair gives the whole ensemble a remarkable coherence. Those canvases might one day find a place in Mexican art history. After all, in producing this body of work, ASARO embraced the Mexican tradition of political art, but those young artists took it one step further: This is not mere storytelling; this is art born in transgression.


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