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Renowned muralista Juana Alicia in Yucatan: Tear down that wall!

“Cenote de Sueños,” which celebrates the indigenous Mayan history of Yucatáan, is obscured by a makeshift wall erected by the state-run art school

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Lee Steele
Lee Steele is the founding director of Roof Cat Media and has published Yucatán Magazine and other titles since 2012. Sign up for our weekly newsletters, so our top headlines will appear in your inbox each Monday and Thursday.
Juana Alicia’s huge mural at the art school was covered up a few years after it was revealed. Photo: Courtesy

Vulnerable to the weather, vandals and the wrecker’s ball, public murals in public don’t always get the respect they deserve.

To see a mural and its artist disrespected in a cultural capital such as Merida is shocking enough. That it’s happened in a state-run art school is even more striking.

Such is the case with Juana Alicia’s impressive work, “Cenote de Sueños,” at the Higher School of Arts of Yucatan (ESAY). Administrators covered up a prominent artist’s mural in 2011. It had been on view for five years.

The artist, who divides her time between the San Francisco area and Merida, is offended.

“It’s censorship,” says Alicia. “It’s overing up a work of art that was made for the public and making it invisible.”

She has been joined by numerous allies in demanding that the work, a site-specific piece that references the building’s historic train station past, be uncovered. She threw down the gauntlet at a press conference in March.

“Yucatán has had a long history of upholding an outdated caste system, which ultimately brings clarity to the ongoing controversy over Alicia’s mural highlighting indigenous resilience,” writes Elissa Jiménez in El Tecolote. “She continues to fight the censorship, however, with the community’s support both in Yucatan and beyond.”

Administrators said the wall was covered to allow space for the students’ own artistic expression, but Alicia doesn’t see it that way.

“The mural was always intended to be a permanent installation, paid for by the Fulbright Garcia-Robles grant I received to foster cultural exchange between the U.S. and Mexico,” Alicia commented previously. “There are many other walls at the ESAY available for student projects. This is a clear example of artistic censorship.”

She worries about what she will find once they do remove the false wall which was bolted over the work.

“I don’t know what process they used to install the false wall in front of it,” says Alicia.

Still, Alicia has many new projects, most recently illustrating the forthcoming book, “La X’tabay,” by Tirso Araiza, who happens to be her husband. A traditional folk tale told in the style of magical realism, the work will be translated into English and Yucatec Maya.

Juana Alicia’s latest exhibit, “The X’tabay: A Contemporary Vision,” features those illustrations. It opens Saturday, June 1 at Alley Cat Books, 3036 24th St., San Francisco.

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