Mexico in color: Skillman exhibit highlights cultural heroes and national tragedies

Emily Cohen

On the north wall of Skillman Library, 17 pictures are posted. Their colors hold a sharp contrast to the more muted tones of the library walls. And although their colors may be loud, the messages the exhibition communicates are even louder.

The library is playing host to a collection of art by New York-based Mexican artist Patricia Espinoza inspired by the Mexican game “La Lotaría,” a game similar to Bingo.

Every picture is based around a significant Mexican figure, event or cultural symbol.

Some are critical of the direction Mexico has taken over the past few years, others are almost beaming with pride at the rich heritage of Espinosa’s home country and some are hopeful.

Each is accompanied by a copla, a form of Spanish verse often found in folk music. The coplas were written by Martha Bátiz, an award-winning Toronto based Mexican-Canadian writer.

The most prominent of the pictures is of the “Narco,” a figure modeled after the cartels that currently dominate the Mexican underworld and have plagued the country’s law enforcement for years, according to the plaques about the exhibition. The accompanying copla makes reference to the infamously elusive drug lord El Chapo, who has become one of the most recognizable Mexican faces in the world.

Cultural heroes are celebrated in the exhibition, as well. One of the cards features “El Santo,” one of the most famous and celebrated luchadores of all time. Over a career spanning more than 40 years, he became a hero to the people as well as a multimedia icon, appearing in films, comic books and television. In his era, Lucha Libre focused on stories that mirrored the struggles of the working people of Mexico. Santo embodied the law-abiding, honest citizens fighting corruption and evil, balancing the laws of justice in favor of the working man.

Some pictures highlight the recent history of Mexico. One in particular, entitled “Los Estudiantes,” highlights the 43 students who went missing, and are presumed to have been killed by the Iguana Police for demonstrating on the anniversary of the Tlatelolco Massacre, another mass killing of students by Mexican police forces that occurred in 1968. The copla reads “See these students here/if they protest they’ll disappear.”

Espinosa highlighted important ambassadorial figures such as soccer player Javier Hernández Balcázar, symbolized by a pea pod after his nickname “Chicharito” or “little pea” and the sitcom character El Chavo, who gained international fame. They are celebrated in the collection as heroes of Mexico. The Virgin Mary is depicted in reverent form, and her importance to Mexico is highlighted in her copla, which refers to her as “Mother to all Mexicans.” Donald

Trump is derided as a “little pig,” and his copla reads, “The racist hog will be crushed by the weight of the Latino vote”.

Other symbols of Mexico are also celebrated, from beans (“a gift so heavenly it helps to cope with the poverty”) to Tomatillos (“edible little jewels full of color and flavor”) to the Chihuahua (“…this proverbial patriot once wagged his tail at a pre-Hispanic warrior”). Even symbols that are not quite as happy as those are given their due by Espinosa. The border wall that separates the US and Mexico is given a prominent place between the Narco and Donald Trump, emblazoned with a copla which reads, “…On one side American booty, on the other Mexican beauty,” illustrating the perceived prosperity of the US while also honoring Mexico.