Monday, May 23, 2011

Zapatista Woman

In February I traveled with a group of 5 students to lead a service learning trip in Chiapas, Mexico working with the local community organization, Tsomanotik. I'd previously known some of the story of the Zapatista movement in Chiapas, Mexico's southernmost state. But through this experience in Mexico, that knowledge grew in both width and depth, and the story became something that moved not only my mind but also my heart; I made myself a commitment to continue learning and acting in solidarity with the community with whom I had the opportunity to make acquaintance. I spent a couple of days in San Cristobal de las Casas at the end of my time in Mexico. Of course here was the centre of the uprising in 1994, and so I noticed that to this day there is a living Zapatista spirit and solidarity that I found to be quite fascinating.

On one of my several visits to a restaurant in San Cris I fell in love with,
TierrAdentro, I began a sketch of a Zapatista woman. While doing this sketch, I realized that one of the quotes of Subcomandante Marcos written on my placemat was one that I had heard before several times in another context. This quote is of course most beautiful in its original Spanish (I'll include it for you below for those of you who do read Spanish), but some of it translates to describe a powerful paradox: the people covered their faces and negated their identities, so that they would be seen, known, and have a unified presence so they cannot be ignored any further.

This same idea, and this same quote was used by marginalized youth involved in ephemeral theatre (
Teatro Efimero). These youth I had the opportunity to work with and learn about while I was in Colombia 6 years ago. These young people too would cover their faces and negate their individuality so that a collective identity could be strengthened and recognized. I know that this connection isn't mere coincidence but an intentional act of solidarity. I just somehow failed to make the connection before, likely because my Spanish at the time of my Colombia experience was still quite unimpressive.

As I completed my drawing and my realization, I decided I wanted to spend more time on working on artistically representing the idea. I have some future project ideas in mind for this, but to kick it off, over the last week I worked on a drawing of a
Zapatista Woman. It's a drawing achieved using a mix of charcoal, conte crayon, and pastel. It was a powerful experience to create. While I was drawing the negated face of a fictional woman, she somehow came alive on the page. I wanted to speak to her about her story. I had so many questions for her. I wondered what identity I was giving her with each added line and stroke of colour. I imagined her to be around my age, with desires and dreams for her life and for her family. I thought about her incredible strength and questioned whether me creating this drawing of her would make any 'difference' to her at all:

“Y miren lo que son las cosas, para que nos vieron nos tapamos el rostro, para que nos nombraron nos negamos el nombre; apostamos el presente para tener futuro; y para vivir….morimos.”

- - -- Subcomandante Insurgente Marcos

“Para los pueblos indígenas, campesinos y rurales, la tierra y el territorio son mas que trabajo y alimento: son también cultura, comunidad, historia, ancestros, sueños, futuro, vida y madre”

-- Andrés Aubry

“La caridad es humillante porque se ejerce verticalmente y desde arriba; la solidaridad es horizontal e implica respeto mutuo.”

-- Eduardo Galeano

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