Example essay

The whitewashing of Mexico City’s hand-painted signs

Rotulos– the hand-painted panels that decorate the kiosks of street vendors – are an integral part of urban life in Mexico City and part of the tradition of Mexican folk art, but are under threat because the city government wants merchants conform to their vision of “cleanliness”. Courtesy of the author.

In April, the central government of Cuauhtémoc in Mexico City alkaldyor borough, demanded that all of its ball joints— the hand-painted signs that adorn the kiosks of street vendors — are erased. The colorful optical illusions, various typographies and whimsical portraits of sandwiches, juices and smoothies that have become a staple aspect of the city’s built environment had to be washed or painted over, making kiosks nothing more than a backdrop for the alkaldyis the sad gray and white official seal.

The Whitewashing of Mexico City's Hand-Painted Signs |  Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

A rótulo advertising tortas. Courtesy of the author.

The kiosks, which are ubiquitous on Mexico City’s sidewalks and public squares, are small metal stands with panels that open to create shade for customers during the day, then fold down and lock at night to create a closed and secure box. The rule to homogenize them came as part of the Jornada Integral of Improvement of the Entorno Urbano, or Global Program for the Improvement of the Urban Environment, which includes among its objectives to ensure that “tradespeople on public roads maintain a clean workspace at all times”. Sandra Cuevas, the borough’s mayor, said the program “will allow everyone to coexist in peace and harmony” and that “the cleanliness and beauty of the borough is a task shared by all”. Apparently, despite the fact that ball joints have been interested for a long time academics and museums as part of the Mexican folk art tradition, the administration considers hand-painted graphics to be at odds with their view of “cleanliness” and a threat to coexistence in peace and harmony.

It is not the first time that the government of Mexico City has implemented measures to control images in its streets and public squares, and that the arbitrary motivations to do so have caused systematic losses of artistic expression and artisan jobs. In the early 1940s, for example, the city government banned murals on the walls of pulqueriasestablishments dedicated to the consumption of pulquated, a milk-like alcoholic beverage made from the fermented sap of agave plants. The murals, staples to pulquerias throughout the city, texts combined with images: The humorous names of bars appeared in large letters next to landscapes, figures of dancers and mariachis, or representations of agaves.

While the city viewed the murals as an eyesore, others thought differently. The pulqueria the walls “were places where Mexican folk artists made important murals,” famous painter and architect Juan O’Gorman said in his 1973 biography, and the rules prohibiting them were “in effect government regulations aimed at eliminate one of the most important forms of artistic expression in Mexico.” Write in the magazine Mexican folk traditions in 1926, Diego Rivera criticized the city’s bourgeoisie for considering the murals “one of the main disgraces of Mexico”, and trying to erase them. Like O’Gorman, Rivera considered the murals to be markers of tradition and predecessors of his revolutionary and popular art. The images of the murals by American photographer Edward Weston were collected by the MOMA and the Creative Photography Center.

Rotulos, the brightly painted signs of the kiosks are an integral part of our experience of city life. They are bridges between customers and suppliers that create empathy and affection. They make the city’s public spaces friendlier and more human, reminding us that graphic design and advertising beyond businesses is possible.

Later, Ernesto P. Uruchurtu, who served as head of the Federal District (the equivalent of mayor before Mexico City was incorporated as a city-state in 2016) from 1952 to 1966, made it his mission to bring out city ​​neon signs. Uruchurtu hated neon signs as he often saw them near brothels and canteens, which offended his sense of morality. Thus, from the beginning of his mandate, he refused permits for new ones. And in 1971, the government of Octavio Sentíes Gómez decided to standardize the signage in the historic center district, only allowing black and white lettering in the capitals and shop windows of the district, once filled with bright colors. As the ball jointsall old signs had to be taken down, regardless of their age or artistic quality.

Now Cuevas goes after street vendor kiosks, which survived previous efforts to homogenize the city. This mandate is at odds with the priorities of most borough residents. Despite the space that kiosks take up on city sidewalks, despite the difficulty they may have in moving through our neighborhoods, they are part of our lives. many of us chilangos, or residents of Mexico City, are loyal customers of specific stands and maintain relationships with merchants.

The Whitewashing of Mexico City's Hand-Painted Signs |  Zocalo Public Square • Arizona State University • Smithsonian

A sign for the “La Arenita” creperie with luchadores and a wrestling ring. Courtesy of the author.

Rotulos, the brightly painted signs of the kiosks are an integral part of our experience of city life. They are bridges between customers and suppliers that create empathy and affection. They make the city’s public spaces friendlier and more human, reminding us that graphic design and advertising beyond businesses is possible. (Interestingly, the borough does not cover painted signs with newspaper logos or trademarks. For some reason, officials believe that the generic graphic design that has taken over neighborhoods along with voracious gentrification – Coca-Cola and other logos – worth keeping.)

Rotulos also attract tourists and are the subject of academic enquiries. They appear in art publications and exhibitions. The exhibition Sensacional de Diseño Mexicano, which collected art advertisements from small businesses in Mexico, traveled to 12 galleries around the world, for example, and its catalog became the seminal text on popular advertising not only in Mexico, but throughout the Western Hemisphere. . And anyone familiar with current trends in Mexican graphic design or contemporary art knows how high culture often draws on the visual language of rotulists. As a contemporary artist Francis Alys‘ “Sign Painting Project”, for example, Alÿs has partnered with three rotulists to create paintings that appropriate rotulos’ visual language for works sold on the global art market.

In the weeks since the mandate was put in place, residents of Cuauhtémoc shared photos of the borough ball joints on social networks. These celebrations of the intricate and inventive painted designs continue to grow – manifestations of dissatisfaction with the borough government’s attack on our local folk art. And through the messages, we began to organize ourselves to create an archive of ball joints—to save them, if only in our memories. We call it the Chilango Network for Popular Art and Design Advocacy (Red Chilanga in Defensa del Arte y la Gráfica Popular, or RECHIDA, which also means “very cool” in Mexico City slang), on Instagram at @re.chida.

The decision of the district of Cuauhtémoc accelerates the loss of an artistic profession and a form of popular art already in danger. This adds to a trend of Mexico City’s public space becoming more bland, less user-friendly, and less appealing to everyone, local or foreign. The capital has already lost many of the traditions that once made it special: the Easter tradition of burning cardboard effigies of Judas in neighborhood squares, vendors selling hand-decorated balloons, the pulqueria murals whose erasure O’Gorman lamented.

All over the world, the intangible heritage of public space has been destroyed in favor of a generic appearance. Unique and eclectic playgrounds, benches, sidewalks, forms of advertising and even trees have been moved for a limited catalog of prefabricated objects designed for an ideal public sphere that does not actually exist anywhere in the world. . Eliminate ball joints does not just insult the artists who painted them and depersonalize the street kiosks. It also deprives everyone of the right to a city that includes all those who live there and who make it work: the rotulist and those who love his work, the sandwich maker and those who eat his food. With the elimination of its ball joints, Mexico no longer resembles Paris or London. It just feels like a sadder, more generic version of himself.



Source link