ArtCorps Artists revive Mayan culture by collaborating on a mural over three meters high and 100 meters long in the Quiché Province of Guatemala. The mural is being painted on the route towards Quiché on a wall that wraps around the Indigenous Community School for the Chichicastenango population.
We were first given the space to put up a mural as the beginning of an ongoing story on the Mayans, and the following drawing arose:
- Within the earth we find the God Pacal, who is represented in ancient images as a being who traveled into space. The position he takes in our mural was originally found in an image at Palenque, but our modification is that instead of using an apparatus to fly into space he is holding the roots of the main corn stalk in the mural. Out of this stalk Grandmother I’xmucane is sprouting, she is the grandmother of all of the creatures of corn, of the men and women of corn who surround the mural. The Mayans are women and men made of corn, as it is told in the Pop Wuj, a sacred book on par with the Muslim Qur’an, the Christian Bible and other books from other world religions.
- To the sides are other sacred plants, beans to the right and squash to the left who, together with the Milpas (corn stalks) make up “the three sisters” who sustain the lives of the villagers.
- The Mayan Sun lights the scene and illuminates the corn fields, the base of the local and ancestral diet. To the left a leaping monkey can be seen, which simply helped us to give this mural panel continuity and link it to the next scene which represents the “Dance of the Flyers” with dancing monkeys as well.
The collaboration for this mural was done between several organizations and individuals. Hans Guggenheim provided funding through the Project Guggenheim and the Riecken Foundation made and facilitated the contacts between the collaborators. The ArtCorps artists in Guatemala, Amy Glasser, Daniela Prieto and I, Elena Rodríguez, also came to participate. The local artists were Miguel and Juan Leon Cortéz, twin brothers dedicated to painting and promoting the revival of Mayan culture through many different expressions, including this mural. (Their entire family is linked to the art world, they are all painters, artisans, or they help in the logistics of organizing and fundraising for materials.)
Work on the mural had already begun with help from the girls and boys at the school. When we arrived, however, they were busy with evaluations and sadly we couldn’t share the experience with the kids. Despite that, it was incredible to be able to spend time with the twins and the other young people who were working on the mural. Upon our arrival they showed us the current state of the mural, and we then met to see how they wanted to structure our collaboration; whether they wanted us to finish what had been started, to touch-up certain areas and details, or to paint a separate section of the mural.
Finally they decided that they wanted us to paint a section of the mural with any ideas we had on Mayan culture. We spent a morning looking over books and talking about the culture and stories in the sacred book Pop Wuj. It was enriching to listen and to learn a thousand things about this ancestral culture, some of its marvelous aspects, and the pressing need to share it with the world so that it doesn’t get lost and so that we can learn what the Mayans knew well before we appeared in this world armed with our technological devices. Above all we were touched by the elements of respect for and observation of Mother Nature, so necessary now in these lands and in the world in general.
Those first moments together were wonderful and important. All together with the girls, the twins, and a cousin of theirs who is also a painter, we discussed and reflected so that we could put together some ideas of what we could eventually express on the mural wall. This is how the exchange began, with them giving us incredible information on the local traditions and culture. Then together with the girls we designed a joint sketch that took into account the ideas from our three little heads to make one sketch that could be put up on the mural wall. This was followed by the deeper exchange of working together as a team on the mural, with three very different styles coming together in harmony as the mural appeared.
For me personally and professionally this collaboration was stupendous, along with the time spent and the work done together. First and foremost I appreciated the human value of sharing with others this experience of working on the mural, the warmth of the twins and the girls, and the group work that brought camaraderie, respect for differences and personal and professional exchange. Second, this work also implied a great dose of creativity. I did not study art or drawing, I’m a social worker, and simply having an opportunity such as this one to open up a part of my brain that has not had as much of a chance to develop gives me strength to continue in the creative struggle, to keep trying, to draw and express things through art. After being there and painting with them I feel more confident to think to myself: “I can do this, too!”
It was a pleasure to work with people who are just as motivated as I am to carry out these creative activities. This kind of partnership is sometimes hard to find in the communities where I work, and this was a great experience on all levels. I am grateful to everyone who collaborated directly or indirectly on the project, and I urge the organizations that were involved to repeat the experience and invite us again. I would certainly be willing to do this all over again, and I would approach it again with the same hopes and excitement. ¡Viva Chichi! Long Live Chichi!