STROLLING THROUGH TIME
By Mildred Boyd
No one traveling between Chapala and Ajijic recently can have failed to be intrigued by it. Over the last few months, a long, blank stretch of drab concrete retaining wall has begun to come alive with color and movement as Javier Zaragoza performs yet another of his artistic miracles.
Javier is an old hand at this. One of the earliest and most talented students coming from the ongoing Neill James Children’s Art Program, he created the astonishingly powerful series of Biblical scenes which still graces the Church of Ixtlahuacan. After a successful career as a commercial artist and portrait painter in the U.S., he returned to Mexico to do much the same thing. His latest triumph, the mural depicting ceremonies honoring the Lake Goddess which now graces downtown Ajijic, is a personal gift of thanks from the artist to the community.
This newest effort, however, threatens to outshine them in all in both size and content. Inch by inch, brush stroke by brush stroke, panel by panel Javier is bringing to life the history of Lakeside from pre-Columbian times to just yesterday. The work will be divided into eight individual panels, 22 feet wide by 15.5 feet high, each depicting some typical scene of that particular era. The segments of local history it displays are best appreciated by walking eastward along the far side of the highway.
As you stroll through the centuries, look closely at the painted faces. A skilled portrait artist, Javier delights in giving his creations the features of living people. He never lacks for subjects. Passers-by often volunteer to pose and some even offer money to be immortalized in paint. Javier refuses both proposals. He reserves the right to choose only the faces that fit his mental visions of his characters and pays his models generously from his own pocket. You may find your friend or neighbor, your maid or gardener or the Mayor of Chapala looking back at you. Since Javier will be covering the present, there should be a few familiar gringo faces. One of them might even be you!
Notice too that, although each of the panels has a different background color, the story they tell sweeps smoothly from one to the next in unbroken artistic and historical sequence. That is, the Indians in panel one are there to greet the invading Spaniards in the panel two who, in turn, show up in panel three and so on.
Panel One depicts a peaceful 13th century agrarian and fishing society not far removed from the hunter-gatherers. People live in closely knit family groups in palm thatched huts and worship gods who represent both the benevolent and destructive forces of earth, air, fire and water.
Panel Two shows these people during their first, peaceful confrontation with the Spanish invaders in 1524. Notice the expressions. Some are welcoming, intrigued and delighted, others are reserved and wary and still others are downright angry at the appearance of these arrogant strangers in their village. The faces of the strangers, in turn, are registering much the same range of emotions
In Panel Three, a teaching friar and an orange tree symbolize the mixed blessings brought from the Old World ca.1528. The introduction of a new god; new learning and new agricultural techniques and products signaled a vast change in the lives of all lakeside villagers.
Panel Four jumps to the 1810-1821 War for Independence and the disruptive, though welcome, changes the defeat of their Spanish overlords made in local lifestyles. There is also a background theme of the Indian Heroes of Mescala Island. These were a group of Indians who are touted as never having lost a battle with the Conquistadors.
Another jump to 1920 and Panel Five details the architectural revolution that hit Lakeside in the early 20th century. Many of the buildings shown, such as the old beer garden, the City Hall and the house known as Los Cazadores, are still recognizable landmarks of today.
Twenty years later, Panel Six shows a peaceful, more prosperous lifestyle for Lakeside residents. Charales and whitefish are plentiful, crops flourish and pure water from mountain springs is still available in village wells. Women, however, are still washing clothes and bathing children in the lake.
Panel Seven takes another leap, this time into the 21st century. The truly good life is gone. The lake is heavily polluted and choked with lirio. Tourism and catering to the expatriate community are big business. Fishermen are forced to use vicious gill nets instead of purse seines. A population explosion threatens the infrastructure of all lakeside.
Panel Eight records the dramatic turnaround the last few years have brought. Ecological awareness and corrective measures have succeeded in reducing the pollution of Lake Chapala so drastically it has now been declared safe for swimming. Though fishing has improved, it is no longer the major industry. Tourism has taken over, as symbolized here by the newly modernized Malecon of Chapala. New or remodeled buildings, new plantings and monuments and the colorful murals on the side of the pier have made the area most inviting. The sand you see there may have had to be imported but the water is safe for all water sports.
And there you have it; over six centuries of local history compressed into 176 feet of colorful activity. Javier has chosen to depict eight turning points that changed local lifestyles in various ways. You will notice that few of them are concerned with the wars and revolutions that have so frequently convulsed the nation. Javier is quite right in omitting them. A mere change in the political rulers in Mexico City seldom really affected the lowly farmers and fishermen of Lake Chapala.
Even unfinished, this mural makes a powerful statement. The artist hopes to have the work completed in time for a formal inauguration on December 15th, 2009; a magnificent Christmas gift to all Lakeside.
See you there!