Rosario Martínez Llaguno and Roberto Vega Jiménez make up the Mexican activist art duo, Lapiztola. Recently visiting London, they worked on an exhibition called ‘Democracia real ya!’, meaning ‘real democracy now!’ The exhibition was hosted by Global Justice Now (formerly the World Development Movement) and was held at Rich Mix in Shoreditch. We caught up with the guys at Lapiztola to talk about the project.
VNA: What is the project with Global Justice Now about?
Rosario Martínez Llaguno: For this project, as it was not possible to paint directly onto the wall, we brought a tapestry paper piece. We make mainly stencil work. Conceptually we talk about the current happenings in Mexico, a bit as a critique to what the government is doing. So all the images are related to the current situation of our country.
VNA: You artwork involves a lot of social criticism, and a lot of your initial work was a reaction to the teacher’s strikes in Mexico, right?
Roberto Vega Jiménez: It was not directly about or because the teachers’s strike itself, but the repression and violent reaction of the government towards the strike. People started demonstrating to support the teachers.
Rosario: In Oaxaca, where we are from, street art already existed but it wasn’t centralised, it was mainly in the colony areas. When the repression started the scene changed and those crews who did mainly tags started creating images related to the teachers’s movement. Several crews emerged during this time, including us, Lapiztola. Oaxaca became some kind of a free area to paint at that time, so many people came to do street art in the city which became our “visual school”. It was still penalised to paint in the streets but people wanted to paint, they wanted to do a social protest, not just people from Oaxaca itself, people came from all over the place to paint in the city centre street.
VNA: Has your art actually formed or resulted in social change?
Rosario: There was a perspective change in the people specially. Nowadays people use the “before 2006” and “after 2006” expression. It generated changes in which some people lost friends because of ideals differences but it also made those people find new friends who shared their believes in a social movement and several groups were born out of these relationships, also NGO’s, groups that had other interests besides the teachers’s movement.
Roberto: The main goal of the movement was to revoke the governor, but being this impossible, it did generate a people’s consciousness awakening. That was the main success. From there, artists started being more critical in their work and allowed the people to be able to analysed better when watching or reading the news. That was the main success. Now we can little by little, it is very difficult to change things in Mexico, where the government is so corrupted.
Rosario: Something that really changed was art, in Oaxaca it used to be very traditional and decorative, including the art exhibited in galleries, now it is much more open, both in the gallery and in the streets. Most of the youth doing art nowadays are working in groups, turning their art into a more community driven work and most of them make social art now.
Roberto: Yes, in Oaxaca and Mexico in general there’s a lot of protests, every time a group of people starts a protest it becomes an opportunity to paint in the streets and so the Government can put you in jail for political reasons, if you do political art.
VNA: Have you been in trouble as a result of your artwork?
Roberto: We’ve never been in jail but we’ve been chased by the police. Our work is political but we try to give it a strong aesthetic charge too in order to make it more approachable to people and gain their support. We make it nice and take our time. We don’t write messages like “Get out of the government!”. It is more thoughtful.
Rosario: It makes you have to think a bit more when you see it, you have to spend more time analysing it.
VNA: Your art is more about the act of freedom and you use a lot of powerful symbology for this, what are the meanings behind some of those?
Rosario: We use a lot of symbols of freedom that we adopted after 2006, there was a lot of political prisoners. We made a lot of images were we used birds as a symbol of freedom when talking about the political prisoners. We still use birds today as a symbol when we talk about other freedom issues like personal freedom, territorial freedom (there’s a big emigration problem in Mexico) or freedom of thought. So it became one of our usual symbols in our work.
VNA: Even your name is symbolic, can you explain that?
Rosario: We wanted our name to be a graphical weapon, that’s why it’s a word made out of two: Lapiz (pencil) and Tola, making Piztola (Pistola=pistol).
VNA: What is your particular interest in this project?
Rosario: We were interested in taking part of this project because being an open theme exhibition we saw it as a chance to talk about what’s happening in Mexico. Another important thing for us is to be able to report, to speak out about what’s happening in Mexico outside of Mexico itself.
Roberto: In Mexico a lot of people are not aware of what’s going on because they just watch TV and all the information is manipulated by the Government, we try to show people that not everything they see on TV is the truth. This also happens out of Mexico, a lot of people don’t want to travel there because they think it’s dangerous, with deaths everywhere. Which is true, but it is the Government and the drug-trafficking to blame, not the people of Mexico. There is a normal life too.
VNA: And can you tell us about the application of your work at Rich Mix, what mediums are you using?
Rosario: We mostly brought stencils already painted on paper, kind of like a jigsaw that we have to put together like a wallpaper.
Roberto: We normally do the intervention directly on the wall, we use spray paint, and being an indoors exhibition we couldn’t use them, so we brought everything ready to paste on the walls.
VNA: What social issues do you struggle with in Mexico and how do you address that in your work?
Rosario: Everything has a strong symbolical meaning, each tapestry shows repeated symbols, one of them works as a critic to the Mexican TV in the shape of a prison of the mind. In Mexico, TV is almost like a soup opera starring the president. Another one talks about the 43 students that went missing and we also talk about freedom and emigration.
Roberto: Immigration issues in Mexico are a bit more complex than in here. There’s two main issues, you’ve got the people who want to go to the US, which struggles with racism and the police; and the other issue is people from Central America, like Guatemala or El Salvador, who also want to go to the US but it’s more dangerous for them to cross Mexico than crossing the actual Mexico-US border. Mexican police extort them, rob them, rape the women… there’s groups, or gangs of policemen waiting for them on the train route known as “The Beast” (their only route to enter the country) where they get forced to get off…
For more information on Lapiztola’s work, Rich Mix and Global Justice Now, check out their weblinks: