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A Woodcut mural remembering Acteal, Chiapas

by Mazatl
June 17, 2013

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It has been some months since my good friend and collaborator AIRE and I got to go on a trip to Chiapas where we got to collaborate with several organizations fighting for Autonomy in the region. One of those organizations was the main reason that brought us there, that organization is called Las Abejas de Acteal and in late December 2012 they were celebrating 20 years since they founded the group but not only were they celebrating coming together they too were remembering that 1997 the Mexican military along with the PRI political party helped arm a paramilitary organization called Mascaras Rojas who went in the community of Acteal and opened fire against a crowd of unarmed people who were praying in the local church.


In 2007 the ECPM68 in Mexico City put together a series of silkscreens commemorating 10 years since the massacre but this time around the people in las Abejas were really excited to emphasize the fact that this no longer was a date to mourn but a date to reclaim as something we celebrate as a sign of strength and power, that 20 years ago Tsotsil indigenous folks from different communities in the municipality Chenalho were able to come together to start building autonomy and their own survival. That despite such vicious attacks as those seen in December of 1997 the organization was able to hold together to overcome such traumatic events and not only that but grow larger and stronger being able to make connections with thousands of people and organizations worldwide that were able to step forward in solidarity.
Las Abejas and I have been able to collaborate several times producing banners, murals, posters, and I’ve been lucky to spend plenty of time in the community working on these projects, and for this commemoration we wanted to work together producing something larger that drew attention to the anniversary and also to their on going struggle for autonomy. As part of that process Kehben Grifter from the Beehive Collective made and donated a printed banner of the 15 year anniversary image we put together.
Some months prior to discussing this possibility I was approached by the Cisco Dietz who runs the El Cerrillo ever shrinking gallery in San Cristobal de las Casas, he had seen some of my work pasted around the city and was interested in hosting a show of my work. I told him that I’m not too into solo shows that maybe we could have a collective Justseeds show or a ECPM68 show but he wasn’t into the idea, and as a way for both of us to make a deal where we both compromise I came up with the idea of having one more person in the show. I immediately thought of my friend Mensen in NYC and for a while we discussed the possibility of her traveling down to Mexico to work together.
In those discussions with Mensen I told her about the graphic work I have been a part of in Solidarity with Las Abejas and about the ideas that we had been throwing around for the commemorative poster, so we thought that bringing in Las Abejas as part of the equation for the Ever Shrinking Gallery show would completely turn around the way gallery shows are usually constructed. Las Abejas were really into the idea of the collaboration but sadly shortly after those conversations we found out that Mensen wasn’t going to be able to make it.
Everything was confirmed, the gallery was ready, Las Abejas were into it, I was certainly very eager to make it happen but then again I wasn’t feeling the solo show situation, so I approached AIRE with the project proposal and a week later we were Jason Michael Aragon from Pan Left, her and I were on a bus from Mexico City to San Cristobal.
As soon as we set foot on San Cris, dropped our bags off and headed straight to Acteal to begin with a series of pictures and interviews that would help us get started on what we had set out to do. We spent a wonderful day in Acteal further learning about the history of the individuals in Las Abejas but most importantly building friendship and sharing along the way.
Once we were back in San Cris we met up with Cisco and started getting ready for a crazy idea AIRE and I had come up with. Since her and I both mostly do relief prints we thought it would make most sense if we utilized the whole gallery (which is not very large, but large for a woodcut) to make a huge woodcut that could be mounted on the walls but also removed and transported to Acteal for the 22nd of December which was the 15th anniversary of the massacre.
AIRE and I had one week to complete a woodcut that was the size of 12 sheets of plywood but together, once went to get the materials and we looked at the amount of plywood we realized the depth of the shit we had gotten ourselves into. We spent the next 7 days taking shifts to sleep for a couple hours at the time as the other continued carving and there were too several days when there was no sleep at all.
The idea of the ever shrinking gallery is that the most of the pieces remain part of the gallery and a new layer of plywood or fabric is placed on top of it for the next participant to show their work, so the gallery continues to get new walls every time someone shows their work.
Jason Aragon came up with the idea of filming a promo video of the show and we amongst the craziness of carving those large panels were able to produce a flyer and paste it around town. As we were ending the last day of work before the day of the show, we heard that something big was cooking up for the next day which according to all those new age hippies who had traveled to Chiapas for the rainbow gathering in Palenque it was the day the world would come to an end. Early in the morning we heard that thousands and thousands of Bases de Apoyo Zapatista had gathered on the outskirts of town as well as other major towns in Chiapas and they were staging the largest protest and display of organizing power since the uprising of 1994. Despite the fact that the show was going to open that very same night and we were far from done we rushed downtown to join the Silent march which Jason got to record and make a awesome video of.
The opening was great, some of the Mesa Directiva for Las Abejas traveled from Acteal to present the show and explain the importance of the day and the collaboration. We were moved to tears to hear their bravery and humbleness as they told some of hardest stories I’ve ever heard. Though the lack of sleep had placed AIRE and me in a near zombie stage.
The opening ended at 1 am and we ran to try to catch a couple hours of sleep before we had to take everything down and wait for our friend Rafa to pick us up on his truck along with all the woodcuts to drive to Acteal for the commemoration event. Once we arrived and started walking with the march from the nearest Military barracks to Acteal I felt a sudden relief and joy that is hard to describe with words. The whole protest walked down the long stairway of Acteal and sat to attend the ceremony. We placed the panels and banners behind the stage as we were instructed by Las Abejas.
The following day we had a series of activities lined up and we were running low on body fuel so we decided to go back to San Cristobal, paint a couple murals, catch some sleep and then come back to Acteal when the celebration hype had calmed a little, as well as for the new leadership to assume their responsibilities as it is the tradition within the organization.
About a week and a half later my friend Gran OM, my homies for the Dexpierte Colectivo, Jason and I came back after saying our farewell to AIRE. I touched up some of the woodcuts, carved up some details, and spray painted a stencil based on one of the designs traditionally used in Tsotsil embroidery with the permission of the Women’s embroidery cooperative.
When it was time for us to put up the woodcut mural as some heavy rain was coming down we started to realize that it would be a hard task for the plywood to be out in the open and not rot away quickly so the mesa directiva thought it would be a good idea for the mural to be placed in the sanctuary where the 46 bodies of the people who died in the massacre rest, including my friend Manuel Vazquez Luna who recently passed away having survived the massacre but struggling with health issues since.
There, with long nails an old hammer and ladder we put up the carved panels with images of everyday life in Acteal to rest along with 46 members of the community that are no longer amongst us.
After putting up the panels Gran Om had designed a poster for the commemoration and asked me to help him paint it as a mural on the side of the church. With only a couple of days left in Chiapas we sped up and finished the mural in one night, that being the first time I ever painted a church in my life. I never really thought that day would come, but I guess its best to never say never.

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