Folk Culture and Modernity

Posted by: | March 3, 2009 | Comments Off on Folk Culture and Modernity

While I found both articles very interesting and insightful, they were long, and at points difficult to understand, so I admit that I did some skimming to get through them. With that said, I think that both articles were good representations of many of the themes we have discussed in class in action. Murals symbolically represent many of the elements that we have discussed in relation to popular culture, counter hegemonic discourse, relationships of power, high culture and low culture, and a contestation of public space. Murals in Mexico are both a literal and metaphorical canvasses of self and societal expression. In them are embedded complex notions of history, oppression, and marginalization, resistance, struggle, and solidarity. Interestingly, figures such as Diego Rivera, who painted murals to challenge status quo ideas in somewhat controversial ways have since become figures of Mexican culture and nationhood, and their art which at one time acted as a canvass of expression of celebrating the people (in the Evita Peron context of the word) has since been elevated to the status of high art.

This article brought up notions of public space; what is public space and whom exactly does this space belong to? There seems to be a contestation on who can have total access to this space, as much if it is sanctioned by the state and thus has limitations on the extent of self-expression deemed acceptable. Likewise, this article shows that when this expression goes too far, it can be in fact taken back by the state, and as a result, like much of popular culture exists within the context of struggle. According to Campbell, “The current public visibility of Mexican muralism is afflicted with a bewildering duality. On the one hand, mural art continues to be accorded great national prestige as a public cultural form. On the other, the great bulk of the country’s mural production…is destroyed (29)”. Mexican Muralism, much like popular culture in general, is often a representation of the current struggles of the time. The author points out that today, as neoliberalism and privatization ensues and causes further inequalities, many of these themes are reflected within the sphere of public art.

I thought that the idea of “colonization of urban space by commercial advertising,” was very interesting, as I have never really thought of it like this before. While here in North America we may not consider the state to be an instrument of blatant coercion or propaganda, at the same time, we have no choice in constantly being exposed to advertising everywhere we go. I suppose this advertising is a form of ideological indoctrination into the capitalist system. It is interesting to see how through taking over these spaces, public art acts as an arena for cultural contestation.

While reading this article, I kept thinking of my two trips to Oaxaca, one in June of 2006, and the other, last summer. During my first trip I unknowingly found myself in the midst of a very heated political conflict between the teachers of Oaxaca and the government. It was a time of a lot of chaos, violence, and police brutality, but was met with great organization of the people through huge rallies and public dissent. What started as a teachers strike was elevated as a reaction to state oppression to become a unified struggle between indigenous groups, activists, students, women, and many other supporters throughout Mexico against a political regime they perceived as corrupt and illegitimate. When I left Oaxaca the first time, the situation was very chaotic and much of the city was left in shambles. However, when I returned two years later, I was amazed at the amount of street art that seemed to blossom in the wake of this tense situation. The walls of the city seemed to become literal canvasses for cultural contestation, solidarity, and self-expression. Oaxaca is a very artistic city in general, but I was truly taken aback by the stories that were told in these walls. As the article mentioned, there were many layers of paint on these walls as many of the murals had been painted over by the state to be then taken back by the people, and so on and so forth. But in this contestation is a history of the struggle for power and self-expression; something that is very telling about popular culture in Latin America all together.


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