CD. JUAREZ – Driving through downtown Juárez has always been somewhat of a treat for me. The sights and sounds of the everyday hustle and bustle, the lingering aroma of what can only be defined as tradition, and the looming sense of that which is no longer there.
Yet what most captivates me to this day are the numerous decaying buildings situated in one single area. These remnant monoliths weathered down by the years serve as a reminder of my city’s heritage, a heritage that I never fully knew.
As I walked the streets of downtown Juárez with my father, he would point out closed or abandoned buildings and told me stories of what they used to be.
Like the movie theater “Victoria,” which at one time showcased family oriented films, but later fell through harsh economic times and changed into a pornographic movie theater that later closed down. To this day it remains as a historically abandoned building, left behind by the original owner and kept unchecked by the local government.
As he continued the tour we came across the old “Mercado Juárez” (Juárez Market), which has been a staple of downtown commerce for more than 66 years. But this time around it looked substantially different from what I remembered, seeming more colorful and vibrant.
Folkloric depictions of mariachis, skulls, piñatas, puppets and historical figures adorned the old market’s murals. The initial impact of the lively colors was enough to catch anyone’s attention, but the sheer detail and abundance of these images almost forces you stay and contemplate them.
Not satisfied with a pedestrian’s point of view, I was determined to get up close and personal with these works of folk art. To my good fortune I spotted one of the artists putting the finishing touches on one of the sections of this massive mural.
One rickety ladder-climb later, I spoke with Oscar Iván Lopez, or as he’s known in the Juárez art community, Oscar “Punk” Lopez.
Lopez is a young and experienced independent artist who joined the collective efforts of other like-minded artists in order to bring these murals to life. 13 artists in total divided the market into seven sections where they could showcase their talent.
“It was a joint effort between artists from two mayor art collectives and other independent artist,” said Lopez, “but now it feels like we are all one single group.”
Artists Arturo Damasco and Jorge Pérez did one of the largest paintings in the market, the centerpiece. Damasco painted the likeness of legendary Mexican actor Carlos López Moctezuma with impeccable detail.
Perez depicted two giant corncobs and at the end of which stood the figures of Juan Quezada, a famous potter, and the face of a Tarahumara, which is a native tribe of northwestern México.
To the left stood the paintings of Lopez and Olmo R. Owi, depicting colorful skull mariachis and traditional Mexican puppets.
To the right you can find the work of the Art Collective known as “Colectivo Jellyfish”, members Leonel Portillo, Francisco Chávez and Atenas Cambell created an abstract compilation of color and folkloric elements. This composition includes items such as a musician with a mask, piñatas and other colorful elements relevant to the market.
But the most eye-catching piece would be the work of Abimael Villaseñor, also known as “Melo”. His depiction of a beautiful woman wearing traditional clothing and carrying a basket full of food and ceramic goods is situated on the far left corner of the mural overseeing the heavily traversed “16 de Septiembre” avenue.
Other paintings include the works of Victor Gallardo who painted small and colorful candy skulls that are iconic in Mexican tradition. Artist Elpidio Pérez painted the second level of the mural with an intricate depiction of the pre-Hispanic God of rain known as Tláloc.
And finally, artist David Flores, a.k.a “Mamboska” paid tribute to the legendary comedian Germán Valdés, known by many around the world as “Tin Tan”. Flores painted four scenes of the comedian’s more famous roles.
The mural was mainly financed by the State Government under the Chihuahua Institute of Culture (Ichicult) with the concept of portraying traditional Mexican culture.
“The government provides us with the tools, but we decide what to paint,” added Lopez.
The mural will be finished in late January, where there will be an official ceremony to display the artists alongside their art. Government officials are also scheduled to attend.
Whether it is a ploy to reinvigorate a downfall economy, or a collective expression of artistic merit, this revamping of a Juárez landmark is something worth seeing and with the continuing support of local artists, other downtown buildings will hopefully get the same treatment.