Urban/Street Art

Connecting modern street art to our theme of indigenous cultural survival might seem to require a modest effort, but really any evidence of a concern to protect, preserve, and celebrate local culture can illuminate those forces that have kept indigenous cultures so prominent in Oaxaca up to the modern day.

"From Our Roots is Born the Flower that Will Make the Conqueror Fall," graphic art by Mojo, Oaxacan artist. (Photo, R. Haskett, 2014)

“From Our Roots is Born the Flower that Will Make the Conqueror Fall,” graphic art by Mojo, Oaxacan artist. (Photo, R. Haskett, 2014)

Above, artist Mojo implies that cultural preservation and flowering is one way to turn back the negative effects of conquest.  He incorporates what appears to be a “feathered serpent” (Quetzalcoatl, in Nahuatl) in the design. Notice the shapes he utilizes, too, such as the curlicues coming off of the snake. These are reminiscent of the shapes archaeologist Ron Spores showed us in the mosaics at Mitla, which he said an informant associated with clouds and snakes.  Feathers are associated with flying (and therefore skies, stars, the sun, clouds, rains), and serpents are associated with the surface of the earth. The feathered serpent might therefore be associated with land and rain water — crucial elements for agricultural fertility and for sustaining life.

“No” to Halloween; Long Live Our Traditions!
Defending the Day of the Dead traditions, Oaxaca, November 2013 (Photo, S. Wood)

Photo by Itandehui Franco O., Zaachila, Oaxaca, 2015.

Photo by Itandehui Franco O., Zaachila, Oaxaca, 2015.

Zaachila is a Zapotec town in the Valley of Oaxaca.  According to the street-art photographer Itandehui Franco, street art in this community only sometimes incorporates pre-Columbian art themes.  These masks have an indigenous look to them, but we are left to interpret the message.  Are we seeing a sadness in the contemporary condition that makes life a struggle for people of notable indigenous heritage in Oaxaca?  Is there an irony in the presence here of men of such heritage, whom we might take to be self-medicating with alcohol below the mural?

Curricula:  High School Art

If you would like to use (or adapt) one of previous curricular units for teaching about street art or graffiti (in Spanish or as an art lesson, for example), please feel free to choose from the materials provided below. Please credit the teacher who made the unit.

“Jail for Graffiti Artists!” reads the writing across a bench top in Oaxaca: angry, sardonic, or tongue-in-cheek? (S. Wood, 2011)

“They will not shut us up!” Oaxaca graffiti, November 2013. (Photo, S. Wood)

“The Dialogue of Power” (Photo, R. Haskett, Oaxaca, 2009)

Copyright Free Photos for Instructional Use

Photos by Stephanie Wood

Itandehui, “El deleite de la transgresión: Graffiti, estencil, y arte urbano en Oaxaca,” is a web site that catalogues a vast range of protest and street art (of all types) in Oaxaca.  She also includes the work of other Mexican artists and even some artists in the U.S.  She has taken these photos, and she has given us permission to use her images as long as we credit her.
And here is a Radio Sombra podcast (in Spanish) of an interview with Itandehui made by Nicotina. (Click where it says “Download Here.”)

“Don’t let them touch you! Don’t let them silence you!” Graffiti/stencil in Chiapas, 2013. (E. Weisenbach)

“Silence kills. Press for your rights, woman!” Graffiti/stencil, Chiapas, 2013. (E. Weisenbach)

Photos by Leslie Pulé on Flickr (agrees we can use these)

Oaxaca street art piece.  (Photo, S. Wood, 2011)

Free Online Videos

Facebook Stills

Tonalli Jaguar, Mexico City. Screenshot from Facebook, Nov. 2013. (S. Wood)

Tonalli Jaguar, Distrito de Arte. Screenshot from Facebook, November 2013. (S. Wood)

NO Colectivo, Querétaro, México. Screenshot from Facebook, Nove,ber 2013. (S. Wood)

NO Colectivo, in Morelia, Michoacán, México. Screenshot from Facebook, Nov. 2013. (S. Wood)

Stencil workshop, Mexico City. Screenshot from Facebook, Nov. 2013. (S. Wood)

IAGO Free Library

The Instituto de Artes Gráficos de Oaxaca on Macedonio Alcalá offers a free library with books of relevance for a project about street art and graffiti.  See, for example, the book below by Louis Bou, which will help contextualize Oaxacan street art.

Book, Graffiti: Streets Full of Art

Book, Graffiti: Streets Full of Art


(free, online, full-text)

  • Itandehui Franco Ortiz, “El deleite de la transgresión: Graffiti y gráfica política callejera en la ciudad de Oaxaca,” (Licentiate’s Thesis in Ethnohistory, Escuela Nacional de Antropología e Historia, Mexico City, 2010) (in Spanish, but the images are worth viewing even if you do not read Spanish)
  • Callegenera (“The street generates…”) is a catalogue from a month-long encounter of street artists that took place in Monterey, Mexico, in 2013.  It was perhaps the third or fourth such gathering, and there are more to come.  One can see the names of the artists, when they were born, and examples of their work.  (Note, however, that one artist is said to have been born in 1990, and he is actually older than that.)  As this shows, the movement is very large.
  • Arte Urbano, catalogue about contemporary “murals” in Michoacán, 2011–12. The use of the term murals is strategic, perhaps, because of the hallowed tradition of muralism in Mexico in the early twentieth century.
  • Tlakolulokos, a Oaxacan group’s website; these are youth who took part in the 2006 social movement, in the trenches, inside the barricades (“las barricades”), and then emerged about 2008 to express themselves more in artistic realms.
  • James Cockroft, “Street Art and the Splasher: Assimilation and Resistance in Advanced Capitalism”
  • Ivan Arenas, “The Social Life of Collective Memory: Oaxaca’s Material Reminders and Historical Remainders”
  • Gina Mejía, “Imprime dramatismo y tragedia,” (article in Spanish from El Imparcial, 9 Dic. 2013, about the ASARO artist César Chávez)

“The Streets Are Saying Things,” stencil of the name of a traveling exhibition. Oaxaca. (S. Wood, 2009)

“The Echo of the Silence of My Freedom” (Photo, R. Haskett, Oaxaca, 2009)

Must Write for Permission to Use

Yescka in the studio that was on Calle Fiallo, Oaxaca; Gabriela Martínez filming him at work (Photo, S. Wood)

A punk Frida Kahlo (near ASARO’s studio today) by Yescka. (Photo, S. Wood, Nov. 2013)

An ASARO graphic piece emphasizing “Made in Oaxaca” and showing a grasshopper (an item in the pre-Columbian diet). Made by Yescka. (Photo, S. Wood, Nov 2013)

(Oaxaca. S. Wood, Nov. 2013)

By Swoon, of New York, who came to paint in Oaxaca.  (Oaxaca. S. Wood, Nov. 2013)


See also our page on ASARO and our page on Gender.