Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Mexican Muralists in the Metro: Clash and Synthesis of Civilizations in Copilco Station

Opposite Sides of the Tracks

In the Tacubaya Metro Station, we saw the murals of Guillermo Ceniceros, an apprentice of David Siqueiros, portraying the legend of how, some seven hundred years ago, the Mexícas (Me-SHE-kahs) came to arrive in what was then the Valley of Anáhuac, now the Valley of Mexico, and found a city, México-Tenochtitlán. The murals introduced us to the atepetl, city-state's tlatoani, leaders, and some of its gods.

A few years later, in the early 1990s, the Metro System invited Ceniceros to create another set of murals, this time in Copilco Station on Line 3. This station is near the entrance to University City of the National Autonomous University (UNAM), which known for its own spectacular murals. Unlike the space in Tacubaya, where multiple corridors join to form a kind of multidimensional atrium experienced from many angles by travelers passing through it, the space in Copilco is formed by the two parallel train platforms and the walls enclosing them.

Ceniceros took advantage of the division of the tracks and the opposition of the parallel walls to present the story of the confrontation, clash and subsequent synthesis of the two civilizations that are the foundation of modern Mexico: the indigenous Mesoamerican and the European Spanish.

On one side, Cuauhtemoc 
who became tlatoani after Moctezuma the Younger was killed 
in a clash between his people and Cortés's soldiers
stands with his army of eagle warriors ready for battle.

On the opposite side, Hernán Cortés stands ready with his soldiers
and women given him by indigenous chiefs to make peace.

On the Mexica Side

In accounts dictated by Mexica and written down by Spaniards after the Spanish defeated the Azteca/Mexica in 1521, tales are told of a series of omens that had appeared in Tenochtitlan shortly before Cortés's fleet arrived off the Gulf Coast. Ceniceros paints these omens.

Mexica/Aztec god Tezcatlipocagod of twilight, ruler of the night, 
brings omens of destruction to his people.

Ghostly image appears of the god Quetzalcoatl, Plumed Serpent,
god of light, life and wisdom. (right, center)

In background, Temple of Huitzilopochtli, chief Mexica god,

bursts into flames without apparent cause.

A two-headed man and a crane with a mirror on its head appear.
In the mirror, images of strange objects floating on the sea could be seen.

On the Spanish Side

The Spanish arrive from Cuba, possessing three weapons not available to the Mexicas:


Firearms: Cannons and Muskets

and Attack Dogs

Once ashore, Cortés used threats of destruction and offers of benefits from Emperor Charles V, representative of the "One True God" and "True Ruler of the World", to gain thousands of indigenous allies. Some had been forced to give tribute to the Mexica; others, such as the city-state of Tlaxcala east of Tenochtitlan, had been the object of the Mexica "Flower Wars" instigated to collect captives for sacrifice, so many were looking for an opportunity to do in their enemies.

Nothing is shown in the murals of the actual conflict between the two armies. Nor of its consequences.

Joining Worlds

Instead, Ceniceros presents us with a more universal perspective—one where exploration connects previously autochthonous, or original cultures (Mesoamerican and Spanish), expanding and enriching both in a New World with broader horizons.

Christopher Columbus, right, stands next to early European map.
Next to him: Juan Sebastián Elcano, who, after Magellan died in the Philippines, 

completed the first circumnavigation of the Earth.

Left: in shadow, Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli, Italian astronomer who first proposed that one could sail west from Europe and reach China.

Rendering of map of Paolo dal Pozzo Toscanelli 

Various European explorers, including Marco Polo, Portuguese Prince Henry the Navigator,  Vasco de Gama, John Sebastian Cabot, Vitus Bering, Henry Hudson

From World History to World Art

Having set the historical context of the Age of Exploration and the encounter between "Western" and "New World" civilizations, Ceniceros then takes us to an even larger frame, the universality of art. To the right and left of each of the main, historical murals, he presents a series of reproductions of works of art from each of the two "worlds".

"Western" Art

Cave art of France, 20,000 BCE



Leonardo DaVinci
Italian Renaissance

Pablo Picasso
20th Century Spanish

"New World" Art

At each side of Cuauhtemoc and his people are murals portraying artistic works of the peoples of what are now the Americas:

Rock painting
Baja California

Pottery figures
Colima, West Mexico

Various Works

Monolithic Olmec head

Warriors in battle
Cacaxtla, Tlaxcala

Old Friends

Then, at one end of the "Mexican" platform, Ceniceros brings us back to a group we now consider old friends and to the very physical and temporal place where we began this series on Mexican muralism: Centro Histórico at the beginning of the Revolutionary 20th century.

José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913)
political printmaker and engraver
whose shop was on Moneda Street, half a block from the Academy of San Carlos.
Posada's work influenced Orozco and Rivera, and many subsequent Mexican artists.

Diego Rivera
with section of mural Sunday in the Alameda
Rivera portrays himself as a child
holding the hand of Katrina, Lady of Death,
an image Rivera devoloped from similar ones by Posada.

Frida Kahlo stands behind.

Jose Clemente Orozco
La Trinchera, The Trench
Ex-Colegio San Ildefonso

David Alfaro Siqueiros
Fragment of mural in La Raza Hospítal

Where Ancient and Modern Voyagers Cross Paths

Thus, in Copilco Station, Ceniceros brings together "Old" and "New", Mesoamerican and European, past and present worlds. And this former New Yorker, who now ambles around Mexico City, feels right at home.


Work Team Copilco Mural

No comments:

Post a Comment