On december 18th, 2010, dozens of people gathered together to visit, for the first time, 16 murals created by a group of artists, designers, volunteers and residents of the Xanenetla barrio in Puebla. You might think this is not worthy of a blog post, but the history behind those murals and that barrio surely is.
The town of Xanenetla was founded by Tlaxcaltecas (people coming from Tlaxcala) around the same time the city of Puebla was being built by the Spaniards, during the Spanish Colony. It was separated from the city only by the San Francisco River and it didn’t take long before it became one of the most important towns around the city. The people of Xanentla were potters and they used to fabricate the bricks used to build some of the most exquisite and beautiful buildings in Puebla.
However, as time went by, the city started to grow and the town became a barrio in the middle of Puebla. Cheaper bricks could be found someplace else, and in the 1960’s the San Francisco river was tubed, creating a new, large, busy boulevard. The once important town had become a neglected and soon forgotten barrio with a traffic wall separating it from the historic downtown of the city.
In 2009 a group of artists called Colectivo Tomate started paying attention to Xanenetla, and came up with a plan to not only revitalized and regenerate the barrio, but also to bring the community and the city together trough art. They’ve created a project called Puebla Ciudad Mural, and invited the people from Puebla, Mexico and around the world to come help improve the barrio.
They’ve been working along the families living in Xanenetla to create murals depicting the story of the barrio, their present situation and their hopes for the future. This is the new mural movement of the city and so far 16 out of 52 murals have been made.
This is an ongoing project and very soon they’ll start painting again following the same method they’ve been working with so far. First they issue a call for application inviting artists, designers and people willing to help to send a sketch of a mural to enter a selection. The artists chosen are arranged in teams depending their skills and styles, trying to bring together artists that will complement each other. A family and a facade is assigned to every team, and between all of them (the artists and the members of the family) a mural is planned.
To visit the barrio, to admire and enjoy the murals is almost like reading a story, the story of the people of Xanenetla. The first murals on the tour talk about the family living in that house, or maybe their ancestors, the original landscape or their traditions. The second part talks about what the barrio is like today, how the community lives and what they do. The rest of the murals talk about what the barrio wishes for the future, how they would like to see Xanenetla and what they want for their kids and grandkids.
This project is unique in México, is the only art intervention in a historic site that actually goes with the environment and brings out its history, instead of creating a new one. It doesn’t give the barrio a new identity, it simply rescue it. This is not only an artistic project, it goes way beyond that, it’s also a social and community one. It’s bringing together the people who live in the barrio, and it’s also bringing the city closer together. The citizens of Puebla are working hand in hand for the well-being of their neighbors, and just that alone is worth celebrating.
Xanenetla is an example of young people wanting the best for their city and their country. An example of art bringing old, adult and young people together, focusing their energies, hearts and hands in a project for themselves. Not to mention the quality of the murals is impeccable, it’s like the houses just got new dresses, beautiful, tailor-made, colorful new dresses.
If you want to visit the murals of Xanenetla, in Puebla, the address of the starting point of the tour is 4 norte at Blvd. H. 5 de Mayo, the murals will guide you from there. There are no opening hours, or closed days, you can go whenever you like. Of you want to travel to Puebla and help design or paint new murals, just get in touch with Colectivo Tomate. Either as a tourist or a volunteer, don’t miss the opportunity of being a part of this great project.
[photos courtesy of Vica Amuchastegui]