Zimmerman Library Explores Mexican Concept of Death

March 26, 2014

"The word death is not pronounced in New York, in Paris, in London, because it burns the lips. The Mexican, in contrast, is familiar with death, jokes about it, caresses it, sleeps with it, celebrates it. It is one of his toys and his most steadfast love. True, there is perhaps as much fear in his attitude as in that of others, but at least death is not hidden away: he looks at its face." -Octavio Paz

When the regional Mexican government violently put down a peaceful teacher's strike in Oaxaca de Juárez in 2006, the brutality of the police inspired a group of artists in the community to form themselves into a collective called the Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca (ASARO) to protest the bloodshed. The group used stencils and woodblock prints to create images to protest the violence in their community - violence that was not being covered locally by television and newspapers. Two current exhibits in Albuquerque showcase their work.

One exhibit at the National Hispanic Cultural Center was curated by the University Libraries and Learning Sciences Curator of Latin American and Iberian Collections Suzanne Schadl and her graduate student Michael de la Rosa. A smaller one at the Herzstein Gallery on the second floor of Zimmerman Library on the UNM campus was curated by graduate student Megan Jirón.

Jirón drew on ASARO images from University Libraries and Learning Sciences Latin American Collection to explore the Mexican concept of death. "Unlike the European or Anglo-American perspective, Mexico's inhabitants embrace death. They confront it with a sense of playfulness, defiance and acceptance," she writes. "Mexicans construct their national identity based on their indigenous past. In the late 19th century, the skeleton began to appear in Mexican visual arts and culture. Printmaker José Guadalupe Posada used the calavera (skull) to satirize the upper class and to affirm that all humans are the same at a skeletal level and eventually when six feet under."

In the exhibit notes Jirón writes that images of la muerte are used by the artists in ASARO to fight against capitalism and violence toward women as well as to promote immigration and economic reform. Jirón is a master's student in Latin American Studies. Her focus is on Mexican art and culture and its relationship to the American Southwest.

Both the exhibit at NHCC and at Zimmerman Library can be viewed by the public through November 2014. The exhibit at Zimmerman is free and open to the public. There is a small fee for the exhibit at NHCC.