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Appropriation, Parody and Space in the Mexico
City Student Movement Graphics, 1968. images, which attempted to suture over real social fissures. As such, image making
George F. Flaherty (and remaking) are central to the experience of power in Mexico. Early .in the
morning of August 28 the students were chased out of the Z6calo by army tanks;
those who fell behind were beaten. They were replaced by an image manufactured
by the government: federal employees who were herded into the plaza to perform a
On October 10, 1968, the "youth of Mexico welcomed the counter demonstration.
youth of the world" at Mexico City's main square, the Z6calo.
This was not a spontaneous event but a carefully choreo- ***
graphed spectacle for the benefit of the international
press, which had arrived to cover the Mexico City Olympics The student movement's actions on August 27 were representative of their
beginning two days later. Several thousand young men, praxis that summer. The movement sought to, in the words of one of their slogans,
dressed in white leotards and slippers, fanned across the ganar la calle or "win the street." The phrase connoted taking up physical space
immense plaza, settling into precise rows and columns. For as well winning popular support. With limited access to mass media or financial
forty minutes they performed synchronized calisthenics and resources, they used urban space as their communications network, hoping
chants. The welcome event, in addition to displaying athletic to reroute Mexico's political status quo, asserting that their mobilization was
virtuosity and folkloric detail, had an eerie martial quality. neither haphazard nor hermetic (or criminal). The students pursued links to other
Almost a year earlier, Pedro Ramirez Vazquez, chairman of recent movements, like the railroad workers strike in the late 1950s, and also
the Mexican Olympic organizing committee, presciently told the impending Games, which offered an opportunity to alert the wider world to the
the New York Times, "There are only two occasions when we authoritarianism that lay behind the veil of Olympic pageantry. 2 Selecting the
see the youth of the world parading in uniform; when they street as the preferred site for engaging the public was a practical matter for
go to war, and at the Olympics." 1 Since July, the city had the student movement-it was more or less accessible and highly visible-but it
been under intense police surveillance and the national was also strategic. The occasion of the Olympics had converted city streets, plazas
university campus, where the opening ceremonies were to and other public spaces into a seamless tableau of modernity.
take place, was occupied by the army. "Everything is possible In response, the student movement created its own litany of urban
with peace," was the Olympic slogan for 1968. images, produced at Mexico's two major art schools, the Escuela Nacional de
A mass of Mexico's best and brightest chanting in the Artes Plasticas ("San Carlos") and Escuela Nacional de Pintura y Escultura ("La
Z6calo recalled scenes from the not too distant past. Two Esmeralda"). Most of the work produced was graphic, using primarily silkscreen
weeks earlier, on August 27, thousands of striking secondary and linocut techniques, which allowed for quick, cheap reproduction. They printed
school and university students and their supporters on paper they had to hand, including newspapers, which sometimes resulted in
assembled there, after marching through the city, demanding discordant juxtapositions. These cacophonous images offered a counter-narrative
to speak to the president. Protests began in late July in to mainstream press reports that were at best ambivalent toward the movement.
response to police brutality but quickly evolved into a call The movement also fine-tuned its messages over time, addressing residents as a
for greater democratization to match recent macroeconomic (sometimes discordant) chorus rather than the singular "voice of God" of the state
successes, the so-called Mexican Miracle, which the Olympics or the Olympic identity. ,,,..
celebrated symbolically. Throughout the post-revolutionary ·-·
The students worked collectively for the most part, I}Ot claiming authorship
period the state accepted limited direct participation for purposes of anonymity in the face of violence but also for ideological purposes: ..,
from the body politic while at the same time asserting its
totalizing sovereignty: it represented all Mexicans, with or
without their consent. This work was often done through 2 This poaching of spaces thought to be the exclusive domain of the state,-opening them tlp for
An6nimo, Exigimos deslinde resignification, recalled the detournement of the Situationist International in Europe, although specific
de responsabilidades
Jesus Martinez, Paloma de la to the experience of capitalist urbanization in Mexico City. With origins in the 1950s, Situationist
Paz atravesada por una bayoneta theory was an intellectual touchstone for the May 1968 general strike in Paris. Georges Roque compares
Adolfo Mexiac, ;Libertad John Canaday, "Art: Culture Gets High Billing at Olympics in Mexico," the Mexican student movement's graphic production to that of France's, see his "Grafica del 68," in
de expresi6n! New York Times (December 14, 1976). Memorial del 68, ed. Alvaro Vazquez Mantec6n (Mexico City: UNAM/ Editorial Turner, 2007), 218-233
this arrangement reinforced claims of community and cross-class solidarity. Even ***
when the individual artist is known, as was the case with the now iconic print
depicting a dove pierced by a bayonet by Jesus Martinez, the work pointed to a A few kilometers north of the Z6calo on October 2 a helicopter hovered
web of formal and thematic coordinates. Martinez appropriated the Olympics' "dove above the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, so named because it is framed by pre-Hispanic
of peace" logo and turned its (empty) aspiration upside down, making it a sign of ruins, a former colonial monastery and a modernist housing complex. The student
the historical moment rather than Christian or neo-humanist fraternity. 1 If certain movement had gathered again to protest peacefully. A flare dropped from the
visual tropes can be identified, then police and army were animalized, represented helicopter: the sign for troops that had surrounded the plaza, as well as snipers
as dogs and gorillas. In one such graphic a gorilla-police officer stands over a stationed in the complex's many towers, to begin firing on the crowd. Panic
lifeless student, blood dripping from his baton. The accompanying text reads: "[A] ensued, with tens of thousands of people running and seeking shelter. Plainclothes
stimulating incorporation of an 18-year old to the political life of the nation." In paramilitaries spent the evening going from apartment to apartment to flush
this gesture to the animalistic, these graphics denounced the government's brutish out demonstrators harbored by sympathetic neighbors. By dawn an estimated
behavior and failure to govern with justice. In Francisco Becerril's Exigimos deslinde 300 civilians were murdered. The plaza was quickly swept of all evidence; blood
de responsabilidades ("We demand accountability"), for example, a caricature of scrubbed off the stones and lost shoes collected by municipal employees. If Mexico
president Diaz Ordaz is layered over a granadero (riot police) with a gorilla-like City's major newspapers and television stations were any indication, reports of the
profile, emphatically conflating power with violence. massacre were sanitized. News of the impending Olympics took their place and it
Faculty at the art schools, veterans of past protest movements, also took part has largely been up to artists, writers and filmmakers to begin to fill this lacuna. 4
in the production of graphics, including Gabriel Fernandez Ledesma, Santos Balmori, While the Tlatelolco massacre may have put an end to the 1968 student
Francisco Becerril, Alberto Hijar, Francisco Moreno Capdevila, Adolfo Mexiac and Tri- movement, this is not to say that social protest ceased in Mexico-or that the
nidad Osorio. Capdevila, who created prints for the 1959 railroad strike, and graphics produced at San Carlos and La Esmeralda did not continue to circulate and
Mexiac, who was a member of the activist Taller Grafica Popular ("People's Graphic engage audiences. On the twenty-fifth anniversary of the event, a commemorative
Workshop") in the 1950s, allowed students to reinterpret their past work in stela was installed on the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, which included a relief based
addition to producing new ones themselves. The students chose Mexiac's Libertad on Martinez's Unidos ... Adelante!! print; in this case, the doves refer to progressive
de expression, which he first printed in 1954 in support of indigenous communities futures but also to a spectral presence. Arnulfo Aquino, Rebeca Hidalgo and Ma-
while he was in Chiapas. 2 It shows a young man with his mouth gagged by a lock lecio Galvan, students at San Carlos and members of the movement, continued
and chain. The students reproduced the image without much modification except the ethos of collaboration after 1968, forming an artist collective known as
for adding the ·phrase "Freedom of Expression" and the Mexico City Olympics logo Grupo Mira in 1977. They saved much of their work from the period and in 1982
below, again juxtaposing the lack of civil liberties and the Olympic spectacle. published their archive. 5 Grupo Mira and other collectives continued to navigate
Indeed, palimpsest appropriation was an important tactic for student Mexico City throughout the 1970s and 80s, producing work specifically for urban
movement graphics. The graphics gestured to a wide array of images and slogans consumption-although not without new challenges. 6 While the student movement
from national and international revolutionary culture. 3 Portraits of Emiliano Zapata may not have fundamentally changed Mexico City's physical form, they did open
and Che Guevara, as well as contemporary political prisoner Demetrio Vallejo, up new lines of communication and hijack existing ones. There are many routes to
asserted a historical context for the movement's struggle and suggested that their ganar la calle. Q
grievances were immediate as well as long-standing.

Furthermore, Martinez also referred with his bayonetted dove to an anti-fascist photomontage by 4 The two best known examples are journalists Elena Poniatowska's Noche de Tlatelolco (1971) and
German artist John Heartfield that memorialized a police deadly attack on protestors at the League of filmmaker Jorge Fons's Rojo amanecer (1989).
Nations Palace in Geneva in 1932. 5 Grupo Mira, La grdjica del 68: homenaje al movimiento estudiantil (Mexico "City: Ediciones Zurda,
2 Pilar Garcia de Germenos and James Oles, Gritos desde el archivo: grabado polftico del Taller de 1982). See also Arnulfo Aquino and Jorge Perezvega eds., Imdgenes y sfmbolos del 68 (Mexico Cfty:
Grdjica Popular, Colecci6n Academia de Artes (Mexico City: UNAM, 2008) UNAM, 2004). Several of these grupos or "groups" emerge in the 1970s, although only Mira emerged
3 As postcolonial theorist Homi Bhabha was argued, "mimicry is at once resemblance and menace." directly from the propaganda brigades.
In other words, in appropriating the visual language of the Mexico City Olympics the student movement 6 It was difficult to conjure utopias post-Tlatelolco. During the 1970s, in addition to urban art
located ambivalence and critique in its presumed universality and dominance of expression. Bhabha, "Of there were urban guerilla movements, which the state sought extinguish by engaging in a dirty war.
Mimicry and Man," in The Location of Culture (London: Routledge, 1994), 85-92. See Laura Castellanos, Mexico armada: 1943-1981 (Mexico City: Ediciones Era, 2007).

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