Tuesday, October 17, 2006

El Queztal y la Milpa, Mural on school wall, Vergel: In Process

Even after eight months of working in Guatemala, where I have a hard enough time just getting to the next town, I continue to underestimate the time it will take to complete a project. On top of four other projects I recently added an ambitious mural on the side of a school. What I thought would be a two-day side project blossomed into my main focus for three weeks. From it has emerged a passion and energy for muraling I didn’t know I had.

Xochil, a young student in the painting workshops I held in Tacaná, saw me working on the mural in the town hall one day and offered to help. She asked if I could assist her in painting the name of her school in Vergel on its outdoor wall, and I decided that alongside the signage we should also do some small paintings about the environment.

That conversation somehow developed into what you see here (see post below for final images), a 60-foot-long mural filled with colorful images of corn and tortillas, landscapes and birds. I visited the 5th and 6th grade classes one hot Thursday and held a three-hour drawing workshop. I gave them eight poems from Humberto Ak’abal, a Quiché poet, two Mam prayers having to do with the corn cycle, and the legend of Guatemala`s national bird, the quetzal. They used these written resources to make beautifully detailed drawings, which I brought home to play with and design the mural. For three full days we prepped by painting the lines, and then for two days the kids filled in the colors, running back and forth to my plastic nylon sheet covered in paint cans and begging for another assignment. Afterwards I returned daily to fill in the details and work with straggling kids and community members. Each day was a blessing, filled with long hot hours of painting followed by a filling lunch and torrential downpours, which cooled off everything and gave me time to do the painstaking work of cleaning the brushes and pallets.

When finished we invited the parents and held an event with the student body, during which Ever Velásquez, the president of la JEM, came to talk about the organization. I had the kids read the poems and other resources that we used as inspiration and then held a discussion about the themes and meanings in each part of the painting. The teachers were really appreciative and wanted more, saying the other side of the wall needed such beautiful drawings as well.

All in all, it was a great experience that facilitated community participation and involvement, cultural and artistic awareness, and, of course, promoted the imaginative ideals and environmental messages of la JEM. The kids were wide-eyed when they saw their own drawings painted life-size on the wall, empowering them within their educational development and improving their creative capacities. Instead of promoting individualism and self-centered goals, muraling promotes a sense of collaboration and neighborliness, which goes hand-in-hand with democracy and compromise. While it beautifies a community and gives people pride in their spaces, it also invites cross-generational participation. The more people that paint—even if it’s only for three minutes—the more people the messages will reach. After all, people pay attention to products they help create.


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