Mexico, motherhood inspire a mural

Posted on: November 15, 2012

Mark Greenwalt, left, with student Javier Ayala, center, in front of Ayala’s mural, the first permanent installation by a College of the Mainland student at the University of Oaxaca.

The earthy smells and vivid colors of Oaxaca, Mexico, inspired College of the Mainland student Javier Ayala to create an artistic tribute to the city. In just six days, the art student on a COM study abroad trip painted a mural in the University of Oaxaca School of Language’s auditorium in appreciation for the university’s support of COM’s ongoing art and language program there.

“It’s an artist’s city,” Ayala said. “The buildings are all different colors. Every other one has a mural or graffiti tags. There are so many galleries; there’s always something going on.”
Born in Galveston, Ayala lived in Mexico during part of his childhood. When he returned with the COM summer program, the city revived memories.
“I remember the first time I went back,” he said. “When I got there, the smells and seeing things I’d seen so long ago brought back memories. It was like everlasting déjà vu.”
After receiving university approval and a large wall in the auditorium on which to paint, he set to work. He sketched, then added layers of acrylic paint until his figures glowed with color. Sunlight streaming in from a nearby window illuminated the left side of painting, giving it a 3D effect.
Ayala gave an artist presentation about his mural to the School of Languages department at the University of Oaxaca. COM art professor Mark Greenwalt remembered the impact of Ayala’s talk.
“He gave his presentation in perfect Spanish,” said Greenwalt. “He was talking about his caring mother, sleeping in a house with dirt floors but also being carefree and having the riches of food and livestock from the land. When I looked around, some of the faculty members were in tears.”
Ayala described his painting as a “tribute to culture as well as motherhood. My mother was one of the reasons I made that piece.”
The mural’s tree trunk bears a mother’s face, the gentle folds of her dress blending into the trunk’s twists. From the branches hang authentic Mexican dishes, the kind that his mother made. The trees’ leaves spiral like clouds.
“The clouds represent how important my mother was to me and how she seemed to me when I was that age—that she could reach the clouds,” Ayala said.
He also drew from his memories of Mexico as a child.

“I used a lot of my experience when I lived in [the town of] Apatzingan, one state away from Oaxaca, and some of my childhood experiences running around playing in the mud,” he said. “We didn’t have much. A lot of the people in Oaxaca don’t have much, but they have what they need.”
Ayala is grateful for the chance to experience and contribute to Oaxaca’s artistic culture.

“I’m so glad I got the opportunity to go to Oaxaca. It’s a really unique place,” he said. “It was one of the best experiences of my life.”
It’s affected his art.
“I used to just draw,” the art major said. “Now I try to paint stuff that has meaning, not just for me but for the world.”

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