Two Dozen New Murals Change the Picture at Mexico City’s Massive Open-Air Wholesale Market

June 24, 2022
The mural called “Diableros,” created by Scarlett Baily, shows people who transport products around the Central de Abasto, the massive open-air market in Mexico City. Baily is one of the artists who contributed artwork as part of the Central de Muros project, started by the local group We Do Things. The group aims to make the market the largest open-air gallery in Latin America.Mar García, GPJ Mexico
Massive public murals have a long and storied history as an art form in Mexico. With the Central de Abasto – the world’s largest open-air wholesale market – as its canvas, the cooperative We Do Things has brought more than two dozen murals to the walls of the market, despite the obstacles of an earthquake and a shortage of funds.

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — A young artist moves a paint brush, which is affixed to a broomstick, across a cement wall covered in some stains and painted black lines. In a matter of minutes, the lines and stains start to take shape: an axolotl.

“The axolotl is representative of the Mexican nation. Although it develops and grows, it never ends up changing,” says Erick Saucedo. “It is a metaphor that I read in a story.” Saucedo paints, draws and produces videos. This is his first mural, called “Proveedores,” or “Providers.”

Saucedo’s mural is one of the 26 murals by 26 artists now decorating the walls of buildings in the Central de Abasto, the massive public market in Mexico City that has its own police force, postal code, bank branches and digital library. At 327 hectares (808 acres), Central de Abasto is the largest wholesale market in the world, according to Fideicomiso para la Construcción y Operación de la Central de Abasto de la Ciudad de México (FICEDA), the government agency that handles the operation of the market.

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The mural called “Madre Eterna,” by the artist Alfredo Conrique. For some of the artists participating in the Central de Muros project, this was the first opportunity they had to paint on a large scale. Each of the murals is roughly 22 meters by 7 meters (72 feet by 22 feet).

Mar García, GPJ Mexico

The market is the canvas of the project “Central de Muros” by the group We Do Things. The project aims through art and design to improve areas the group sees as vulnerable to or susceptible to violence. Though the project has experienced hardships along the way, including an earthquake and a lack of funding, its creators and Central de Abasto representatives alike say they are seeing the positive results of how art can influence a place.

The goal of Central de Muros comes down to a simple ethos, says We Do Things’ co-founder Irma Macedo.

“In a micro place, make a macro change,” she says.

The market is located in Iztapalapa, which in 2017 was the location of 30,234 investigations into crimes of common law (crimes that affect individuals directly and are prosecuted at the state level, such as theft, assault and sexual crimes), according to the Procuraduría General de Justicia, Mexico City’s attorney-general’s office. Only one of Mexico City’s 16 delegations saw a higher number of investigations into such crimes in that year.

In the market, buyers and sellers exchange large amounts of cash and are susceptible to robbery. Some areas are littered with garbage and profane graffiti, and people urinate or defecate in the streets. Since the mural project began, however, that’s changed.

“If you go where there are murals, there is no trash, and no one has vandalized them,” says Sergio Palacios Trejo, the general administrator of FICEDA.

Almost 500,000 people visit the market daily, and 90,000 people work there, Palacios Trejo says. Given that audience and the physical size of the marketplace, We Do Things aims to continue the project to become the biggest open-air art gallery in Latin America, if not the world.

So far, it’s been a huge undertaking. The group intended to secure 4 million Mexican pesos ($193,147) to carry out the project, Macedo says. Each of the murals is roughly 22 meters by 7 meters (72 feet by 22 feet), and even though the artists aren’t paid for their work, the project covers the expense of materials, scaffolding, food, water and transportation.

In June 2017, the project started with the economic support of administrators of the Central de Abasto and of a private automobile insurance agency that Macedo says wanted to give back to the community. Central de Abasto provided 1.5 million pesos ($72,427), and the insurance agency provided 500,000 pesos ($24,142) – half the funds that We Do Things needed.

The group was in talks with other private companies about donating to the project when disaster struck.

On Sept. 19, 2017, a 7.1-magnitude earthquake hit Mexico City.

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Erick Saucedo works on his mural “Proveedores,” one of the murals painted on the walls of Mexico City’s market, Central de Abasto. Saucedo is among the artists working for the Central de Muros project by the group We Do Things.

Mar García, GPJ Mexico

“Private companies told us that they loved the project, but they had to show solidarity with the country,” Macedo says. We Do Things had to raise the rest of the money some other way.

Determined not to abandon the project, We Do Things spent a day fundraising in the Central de Abasto. With the help of a warehouse vendor from the market, the group went around collecting cash with plastic bottles from other warehouse vendors. By the end of the day, they had gathered another 23,200 pesos ($1,118).

“[We would tell them,] ‘Listen, understand that we think we can make a change to the Central de Abasto, through color, through design. Please, help us,’” Macedo says.

Palacios Trejo says he had already been thinking about changing the appearance of the market. He says it would have cost between 20 million pesos ($963,762) and 25 million pesos ($1,204,702) to paint the market one color, because a private company would have been hired to do it.

Because of the murals, Palacios Trejo says, the market has become a tourist attraction in the city.

The artists involved in the Central de Muros project express feelings of success about the project.

“Central de Muros creates a dialogue and coexistence between the artist and the people who work in the Central de Abasto, respecting the ideas of the artists,” Saucedo says.

For the illustrator Liz Mevill, having a mural on a wall in the Central de Abasto is a family honor. She remembers visiting the market when she was a little girl, because her grandfather worked there.

“I get very emotional. I would have wanted my grandfather to see the finished wall, but he died days after I finished it. When he found out that I was going to do it, he cried,” Mevill says.

The artists and organizers of Central de Muros have run into a roadblock in gaining more economic support from private companies. Many, Macedo says, want to incorporate their own brands into the artwork.

Central de Muros creates a dialogue and coexistence between the artist and the people who work in the Central de Abasto, respecting the ideas of the artists.

“What we want to do is to change the social fabric, not advertise a brand,” Macedo says.

Macedo and her team don’t dismiss the option of collecting cash inside the market again. We Do Things, though, is now reaching out for funding from corporations that have corporate social responsibility initiatives. The group is in talks with a sunscreen company, because the artists work long hours under the sun.

Macedo says that she hopes that with the help of companies, the market will see 20,000 square meters (215,278 square feet) of painted artwork by the end of the year. Right now, approximately 3,432 square meters (36,941 square feet) are painted. The goal, Macedo says, is to complete approximately 61 murals, as well as to paint the walls of the perimeter of the market.

“It would be really great if the brands supported this, because it’s part of the social responsibility,” she says. “And that they would understand that by teaming up with society, they win more.”

In April, Macedo says, the group started the second stage of murals, using the material that was left over from the first stage.

Elia Gran, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.


In Massive Public Murals, Mexican Muralism Portrays Country’s History and Revolution

After Mexico’s revolution, from 1910-20, the government sponsored the creation of large-scale murals by leading artists to depict the country’s history and the recent conflict. Here is a look at some of these works, which have become historical milestones in their own right.

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David Alfaro Siqueiros pays homage to the millions of people who died in the Mexican Revolution by painting a row of corpses in another section of “Del Porfirismo a la Revolución.”

Mar García, GPJ Mexico

MEXICO CITY, MEXICO — As contemporary Mexico’s art scene showcases the vibrant work of young creators in massive public spaces such as the Central de Abasto, a large open-air wholesale market, anyone can appreciate the murals telling stories of present-day Mexico. But public places throughout the country also offer murals that show stories from decades ago, in compelling designs visible to anyone who walks by.

The state-sponsored Mexican Muralism movement featured three leading artists whose work decorates the halls of various government buildings and museums in Mexico: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros and José Clemente Orozco.

The movement, which began in the early 1920s, aimed to capture each muralist’s vision of Mexican national identity, particularly in the aftermath of the revolution of 1910-20. Mexican Muralism is regarded by art experts as the most important artistic movement in the country’s history.

During the economic and institutional reconstruction of post-revolutionary Mexico in 1921, José Vasconcelos, who was then secretary of public education, launched the state-sponsored mural project.

Napoleón Camacho Brandi, professor of art history at a Mexican university, the Universidad del Claustro de Sor Juana, says that the purpose of creating murals in public spaces was to educate and inform the population about Mexican history, particularly about episodes in the revolution. Some of the murals portray laborers and those Camacho describes as indigenous people in scenes of triumph and liberation; they are important actors in the scene.

“You can see that in the mural expressions that indigenous cultural heritage is also extolled,” says Erika Contreras Vega, museum researcher at the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, the museum named for the artist.

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The mural “En el Arsenal,” painted by Diego Rivera, shows people holding weapons given to them by the painter Frida Kahlo and shows a large group being led by a red flag featuring the sickle and hammer of the communist movement. The muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros also appears in the painting. The mural is on display at the Secretaría de Educación Pública, the public-education building in central Mexico City, Mexico.

Mar García, GPJ Mexico

The driving force behind the movement was to portray social and political resistance, as well as to point out class inequalities and struggles. Camacho says that viewing the murals now presents a mixed message, however; Mexican society and the government still discriminates against and ignores those who are portrayed in the art as the most important individuals — those inhabitants of Mexico who lived there before Europeans arrived.

“To a large extent, muralism, which is a sort of illustrated bible for the poor, forms a biased vision of the history of Mexico,” Camacho says.

He does recognize the importance of the muralist movement, in artistic terms. Vega does, as well.

“Muralism today is still an important way of expression between the artist, the social and historical context and society,” she says. “I believe that muralism has always been presented as an expression that reflects the convulsive state of society.”

Elia Gran, GPJ, and Natalia Aldana, GPJ, translated this article from Spanish.

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