This project was painted to memorialize a student from the university who was killed by her abusive husband. Part of the student body, as well as representatives from a local conference around domestic violence in indigenous communities, were working to bring domestic violence into the greater dialogue around social revolution and healthy families. The dedication for the mural was attended by the victim’s parents and son.
I came to San Cristobal de las Casas on a New York pace, exhausted after the mad rush that always seems to proceed leaving home, students, studio, friends and family for weeks on end. Tomorrow I’ll go home, rested and nourished by the projects, conversations and new relationships formed that have surrounded me and my work here from the moment I arrived.
When I first got to San Cristobal, we started working right away with an intercultural conference about violence against women, particularly in indigenous communities. We worked with children from two communities whose mothers were participating in the conference. One group was from a preschool in San Cristobal called Los Pinguinos. The second was in the Colonia 5 de Marzo, a Zapatista community in the mountains in the outskirts of San Cristobal.
The project, Casitas Voladoras, is an ongoing collaboration Caleb Duarte has been working on in various parts of North and Central America. We encouraged the children we were working with to consider their physical homes and later the home as a dream, one that is free from the legal, national, patriarchal and economic burdens by which our homes are most commonly defined. The children were hungry to create and full of joy as they shared their work with their mothers and their communities.
We collaborated with the conference to create a mural at the Universidad de Escencias Sociales in San Cristobal. The conference shed light on the overwhelming problem of violence against women in Mexico. Government statistics, whose truth is deeply doubted by most, state jarring facts including every six hours in Mexico, a woman is killed in a domestic dispute. Combined systems of oppression rooted in colonization, and including a patriarchy of impunity, a suffering economy, and an increasingly militarized state aided by the US government has wreaked havoc on the Mexican family, most deeply harming the women and children. One professor from the university said to me that “the Mexican man has to undergo a great social and familial un-learning if there is to be peace and freedom within the home.” He focused his point on his students from the socially progressive university who constantly preach revolution without attempting to manifest freedom within their own relationships.
The mural we painted was dedicated to a student, Sabina Patricia, who had been murdered by her husband, a soldier in the Mexican military. During the process of painting the mural, what was most remarkable were the number of students from this ‘socially progressive’ school who came to talk about their own relationships- themes of violence and machismo weaving a thread through so many of these conversations. The school is covered in revolutionary art- murals and stenciling celebrating Che and Zapata, stencils denouncing the privatization of schools and the military’s impunity. Revolution is a constant on the minds of these students. One student came to me early on and asked my what the mural was about. I told him it was about violence against women. He said, ‘Oh . . . I thought it was going to have a revolutionary theme.’ I brought up the idea that the revolution has many faces and he kind of shrugged, said it was cool anyways and left. The conversation left me thinking about any revolution’s need to constantly evolve. It reminded me of a shirt I saw with a picture of Che with the words Revolution and Evolution playing off one another. It would be an evolution that would force even those of us who like to consider ourselves progressive and ‘revolutionary’ to first address issues of power, gender, control and violence within our own lives and relationships.
A moment I will not forget was seeing Sabina’s family at the mural dedication. Her father looked at Sabina’s face, his own wrought with pain as he held the shoulders of Sabina’s young son, whose face glowed uncluttered joy as he smiled at his mother, larger than life.