Tlacoculokos is a collective of two self-taught artists from Tlacolula, Oaxaca, Mexico, Dario Canul and Cosijoesa Cernas, who define themselves as anti-capitalist, punk, and anti-fascist. They were part of the Contemporary Art Specialization Clinics (CEACO) of La Curtiduría in Oaxaca. Heirs to the teachings of the great Mexican muralists, with multimedia and multidisciplinary graphics, they have managed to transmit the force of the artistic language that began on the streets, such as graffiti, or contending artistic expressions to take it to museums.
“The work of the Tlacolulokos collective starts from a constant self-criticism of the Oaxacan cultural context, carrying out an analysis from within, not idealizing ways of thinking, not having the stereotype of tradition as purity, knowing that the achievements of miscalculations are human, not cultures,” the artists say on their social networks.
One of their works, Oaxacalifornia*, was done on request by the Los Angeles City Central Library. In 1933, the Library had commissioned the American painter Dean Cornwell to create a series of artistic reliefs related to California history. In the original mural, Cornwell painted the European conquistadors as dashing, gleaming characters who brought civilization, and Native people appear as savages, or in bondage postures. Maureen Moore, associate director of the Library one day looked critically at the murals and decided to undertake a task that took years until she managed to get the project licensed and funded. Later she dedicated herself to finding artists who could reflect an artistic and historical replica of that colonial narrative on the walls of the library.
When the director of the museum found the Tlacolulokos, and they finally reached an agreement, they went to live in Los Angeles for a year to meet la raza,* connect with fellow Oaxacans who live by tens of thousands in that city and the feeling of being a contemporary urban indigenous. There they found inspiration, identity, and the fire necessary to ignite that cultural bonfire that became the mural they created.
The artistic installation was conceived and painted just below Cornwell’s murals, and the symbols of conquest are related to repression, colonization as a wound. The indigenous people represented in the powerful work of Tlacolulokos, on the other hand, are haughty, worthy, proud, empowered, rebellious.
In an interview made by the library, they comment: “From the beginning, we wanted to create a dialogue between the mural above and the one below. In the mural above, then, all the original characters, all the indigenous characters are working, or they are bent over, or they are sad, or they are on a lower plane, so to speak. The priests, the conquerors all are super strong and handsome. So we wanted to make this a self-representation, now of the proud Indians, because as Tlacolulokos says: We are not pretty Indians. We are tired of those paintings that paint pretty Indians, as the good savage. We are what we are, and we are aware of what we are not. We are proud Indians, we are angry Indians. So it is a representation as we are. ” They claim, staring eyes.
The murals narrative reflects the mixture of life on both sides of the border, with fragments of clothing very characteristic of the regions of Oaxaca, for example, Zapotecs and Mixtecs, but without folklore, and adding elements of the culture of a city such as Los Angeles, hyper urbanized, and with large multicultural communities. It is the living representation of the acting, thinking, creative, and purposeful indigenous culture. Tattoos, graffiti, and challenging looks have illustrated the walls of the Central Library of the City of Los Angeles for months.
They named their work: Gal rabenee ladxuu, ra galumbanuu xhten guccran nii ne guitenala’dxinu ca binni ma cusia’ndanu, which in Zapotec means: “For the pride of your people, for the path of the old and the memory of the forgotten.”
“We do not seek to please them, or to educate anyone, [we] ask questions,” says Dario Canul. Today, the Museum of Latin American Art (MOLA) has incorporated the work into its permanent collections Oaxacalifornia, and exhibits it in a virtual tour, to which with great pleasure, we invite you to participate.
*Oaxacalifornia, a term used by la raza on both sides of the United States-Mexico border, to describe the demographic composition of those who have migrated, mostly, from Mexico. In other words, Oaxaca is the Mexican state from which more people have migrated to California, just as New York is known as Pueblayork.
*La raza, It is a term used on both sides of the border to describe Mexicans as part of “our race,” implying the cultural heritage of being Mexicans.