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Mérida’s most powerful art collection turns 50

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Carlos Rosado van der Gracht
Born in Mérida, Carlos Rosado van der Gracht is a Mexican/Canadian blogger, photographer and adventure expedition leader. He holds degrees in multimedia, philosophy and translation from universities in Mexico, Canada and Norway. Sign up for the Yucatán Roundup, a free newsletter, which delivers the week's top headlines every Monday.
Fernando Castro Pacheco in the 1970s posing next to one of his pieces on Mayan cosmology. Photo: Courtesy

The work of Yucatán’s most celebrated muralist, Fernando Castro Pacheco (1918-2013), housed in Mérida’s Palacio de Gobierno, turned 50 on Independence Day.

Large-format painting representing the creation of man from corn as described in the Popol-vuh. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The 25 works were first installed in the government building as part of a permanent exhibit, “Cosmogonía Maya,” during the tenure of the then-Gov. Carlos Loret de Mola Mediz in 1971.

In keeping with the exhibition’s name, the art makes allusions to Maya Cosmology and includes imagery depicting several scenes from Pre-hispanic mythology. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

But aside from celebrating Maya culture, several of Castro Pacheco’s works also delve into difficult topics such as the enslavement of Maya peoples and the Caste War fought in the 19th century between insurrectionist fighters and the Mexican government. 

Scene of Mayan warriors in rebellion against Mexican authorities. Photo: Carlos Rsoado van der Gracht

The collection also includes controversial images of figures such as Francisco de Montejo, and Fray Diego de Landa, who was responsible for the destruction of innumerable Maya texts and artifacts.

Diego de Landa remains a polarizing figure in Yucatán. Nonetheless, his work in documenting and researching the Maya was indispensable in achieving the current understanding of their culture, to the degree that one scholar asserted that, “ninety-nine percent of what we today know of the Mayas, we know as the result either of what Landa has told us in the pages that follow, or have learned in the use and study of what he told.”

Among the artwork is a depiction of the death by torture of the famed Mayan freedom fighter and rebel Jackito Canek in 1761.

The Spanish conquest of Yucatán ended in the late 17th century, with the fall of the Itza people, the last group of Maya able to resist the conquistadors. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

Though the tone of many of the images is quite grim, others cover themes such as the creation of the first Mestizo, or mixed-race family which came as a result of the union of the shipwrecked Spanish sailor Gonzalo Guerrero and the indigenous woman Zazil Há.

Gonzalo Guerrero was shipwrecked along the eastern shores of the Yucatán Peninsula and was taken as a slave by the local Maya. Earning his freedom, Guerrero became a respected warrior. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

One of the most famous works of Castro Pacheco’s found at Mérida’s Palacio de Gobierno is “La Lucha Eterna de México” which depicts the prophesied battle between a serpent and eagle, a metaphor for Mexico’s eternal struggle.

 

The image of a serpent in battle with an eagle is central to Mexican identity and makes an appearance on everything from the flag to currency and the national coat of arms. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht

The exhibition containing all of Castro Pacheco’s most famous work is typically open every day and is admission-free. However, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the exhibit has been closed until further notice.

Large-format painting by Castro Pacheco depicting the enslavement of the Maya people. Photo: Carlos Rosado van der Gracht.
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