Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Art of Ajijic's Plaza

Benevolent sun god breathes life into the Lake community.  Ajijic is an artist's town. It is many  other things, of course,  including an overgrown Mexican  village and haven for expats like us. But art thrives in Ajijic everywhere you look.  A great deal of art is concentrated in and around Ajijic's central Plaza and enjoyed by all, sometimes even as it is created in front of us. Much of the art is purely for the enjoyment and edification of the public.  Some of  the art helps draw attention to local commercial enterprises such as stores and restaurants. Even then the art goes way beyond a merely functional purpose.  The effect created is of living in an open air art studio and gallery.  

The scene above is part of a huge mural by an anonymous artist on the front of the Marcos Castellanos elementary school on Calle Parrochia between  the Parrochia church and the Plaza.  An almost identical fishing camp lies at the foot of Calle Ninos Heroes about two blocks from where I used to live in Seis Esquinas.  I have often stopped to admire the fishermen's nets strung up and shining in the sun as they dried, while the women busied around their pots and played with their children.  This scene would fit as well in the 16th Century as the 21st.   

Lake Goddess. This is the central panel of the same mural. Here the Lake Goddess is portrayed simultaneously providing water for campesino crops, fish for the fishermen, and power for the industry. Unfortunately, for many decades, industry upstream from the Lake has dumped pollutants, and the Lake has been abused in other ways. Local environmental authorities  and politicians say the water is as clean as some Southern California beaches. Local Mexicans swim, fish with hand nets up to their waists  in water, and consume the products of their efforts. Many of us in the expat community remain skeptical, but greatly appreciate the efforts to clean up this wonderful Lake.  
Storm goddess provides rain.  At the opposite end of the Marcos Castellanos mural, a storm goddess blows rain  squalls across the lake.  A mother holds up her baby to suckle  the milk from the storm goddess' breast, while children are bathed and fishermen work.  The best parts of some of these murals are the details and little side stories they tell.

Women toil at age-old tasks.  Detail of Marcos Castellanos mural. Local women still cook in large vats such as the one seen above. Wooden fishing boats of this distinctive design can be seen all along the Lake, sometimes ready to use, sometimes rotting in disrepair.
Fishermen draw in their nets and pile their catch.  Detail of the Marcos Castellanos mural. While I have observed substantial  catches in villages such as the south shore's Petatan, generally the fishermen on the north shore don't seem to pull in catches of large fish like this. The Lake used to be famous for its delicately flavored White Fish, but these are almost extinct. Charal are small, sardine-sized fish which are taken in some quantities and are eaten dried or deep-fried with lime and salsa.
A work in progress.  One of the most intriguing aspects of Ajijic's public art is that which is created before us. Estella Hidalgo, a local sculptress, has been working on this tree stump for more than a year.  To date, it has proceeded considerably beyond the condition above. The title of the work is Escencias de Axixic (Essences of Ajijic). She works  on it several days a week. Originally it was a huge old tree shading the Plaza.  Remarkably, rather than cut down these old trees as they die, the town authorities decided to turn them into material for local sculptors. Estella uses a chain saw as well as a chisel and mallet.  She speaks English well and is quite friendly to those who stop to observe and ask questions. As she works, tourists gawk, vegetable vendors hawk their products, and a local balloon seller entertains the children in the Plaza.  All in a casual afternoon's stroll in the Plaza.
Another tree under "reconstruction".  A different sculptor has been working on this old stump, just opposite Estella's work.  Since this was taken, the two branches have become the heads of vibrantly alive fish, with the smaller branches as  their fins.  Notice the wonderful tile work along the bench-like retaining wall.  Functionally unnecessary, but a beautiful touch by the local authorities.  It took a lot of careful work and manhours to do this all around  the Plaza, but in Mexico they say "things are expensive, but labor is cheap".  Just the opposite of up north.

A finished product.  This stump, diagonally across the Plaza from Estella's work, is the finished work of Antonio Lopez Vega, one of a family of local artists who have created extensive murals and other art work around Ajijic.  The mythology of the Lake Goddess is a favorite topic of Lopez Vega and many other local artists.   

Kinetic "Big Bird" sculpture draws attention--and kids. This tall stone and metal sculpture by artist Daniel Palma is delicately balanced so that with a small push, it will dip its beak quite low while its tail feathers rise.  A large oval stone forms the main body and fulcrum, while the neck, legs and tail are sculpted  metal. Standing straight up, the sculpture is probably 10-12 feet high. Children find its movement irresistible, but parents need to be cautious because the beak can give a substantial "bonk" to the unwary.  In the background is the Centro Cultural, a fixture in many Mexican Plazas.  Ajijic's has regular shows and exhibitions which change every couple of weeks. The Centro also sponsors dance groups and puppet shows and much more, all free.

Alert metal deer peers from Plaza foliage. This work, by an artist presently unknown to me, is another charming example of Mexican whimsey.  It's just there, to be stumbled upon as one walks through the byways of the Plaza.  With a sensitive nose in the air, the deers looks poised to bolt at the first sign of danger.

Cuppa "joe" anyone?  Wall painting by Bruno Mariscal.  One finds Mariscal's work in odd corners all over Ajijic. This is one of two paintings on the wall of the patio of the Jardin Restaurant, one of our favorite "watering holes".  The Jardin is popular as a meeting place because of its location on the corner of the Plaza, overlooking most of what goes on. The painting is remarkable in that the table appears real until you examine it closely and discover it is simply another part of the painting. A typical feature of Mariscal's work is a scene of the Lake shore with anthropomorphic trees. I have also found his work on small neighborhood shrines to the Virgin of Guadalupe, and in the Chapel shrine seen high on the mountainside overlooking Ajijic.
Commercial art, but art nonetheless.  I found this wall art, and the one following, on the side of a new store called Arte Precolombino which sells reproductions of pre-hispanic art and sculpture.  The store is owned by Elizabeth Guzman Perez. 
Fearsome El Tigre. Another decoration on Arte Precolombino.  The store  is located at the intersection of Castellanos and Guadalupe Victoria, just across from the fountain  at the entrance of the Plaza.

The art of assasination. Political art is very common in Mexico, much more so than north of the border. This was one panel of a 1/2 block long mural painted by Isidro Xilotl in 2000. The mural is located on the wall of the alley leading into the Plaza from the fountain.   Titled "Bienestar para tu familia" it is based on the investigation of journalist Jose Galindo into the assasination  of presidential candidate Luis Donaldo Colosio in 1994. There are numerous theories about who really killed Colosio and why.  Some of the possible suspects  are gathered like vultures around his body, including a balding then-President Carlos Salinas, a representative of the Catholic Church, and various other politicians and shady businessmen.  
Breaking the chains.  Another panel in the Isidro Xilotl mural shows a classic "social realism" scene of workers breaking their chains and marching together into the sunlight. There is a long tradition of such art in Mexico, particularly flourishing in the 1930's with great muralists such as Diego Rivera and Orozco.

There is much more to Ajijic Plaza's art scene, and even more from the streets of the town.  I will show some of this in the future, but my next blog posting will focus on a recent trip Carole and I took to Manzanillo, a beatiful beach town and the busiest port in Latin America. 

Hasta luego!  Jim

1 comment:

  1. BTW, the mural on the school was painted by Efren Gonzalez, a rather famous artist in Ajijic. He has painted quite a few of the schools in the area, as well as the City Hall in Chapala...his astounding history of Mexico and the Lake Chapala area.


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