From my city to yours: Karen Mora on how Guadalajara’s street art echoes Mexico’s Indigenous narratives

Karen Mora is an urban art curator in the vibrant Mexican city. We discuss her favourite pieces, how the streets serve as a gallery for public thought and how to spend a perfect day here.

Karen Mora in Guadalajara.

Photograph by Karen Mora
By Elena Angelides
Published 24 Aug 2022, 06:05 BST

Each morning, Karen Mora heads out onto the city’s streets to discover the latest street art, to weave into her tour of this ever-changing Mexican metropolis. Her intention is simple: to encourage guests to digest what the city’s walls have to say.

The notion of public art as a prompt to consider important societal issues has been a part of Mexico’s history for decades. The Mexican Muralism movement, which began in the 1920s, saw the ‘big three’— José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros — create politically charged murals.

The city of Guadalajara occupies an important position in this story as the home of Orozco’s masterpiece. In 1937, he began 57 incredible frescoes in the ​​Hospicio Cabañas Museum, while it was a hospice and care home. He painted from a humanist perspective, depicting religious figures as snakes to represent hypocrisy within the church and political figures as clowns, toying with their public.

If street art is a means of expressing one’s world view for all to see then Karen's street art tours are the ideal way to digest all that this city — and its artists — have to say. 

Tell us about your favourite artist in Guadalajara

Twelve years ago, when my passion for street art was just beginning, I discovered Miguer'​s work in a book called Arte Urbano GDL by Daniel Neufeld and Jérémie Haasser. It's an amazing documentation of street art in Guadalajara. Miguer’s work depicts the Huichol, an Indigenous people with roots in Jalisco [of which Guadalajara is the state capital]. This community cares for peyote, a sacred cactus with hallucinogenic properties used in ceremonies.

One Saturday, I was walking around a mushroom market in Jardín Americana, when I noticed Miguer’s piece. There’s a María Sabina figure (a shaman originally from Oaxaca who’s become the archetypal spiritual guide). She possesses an all-seeing eye and is surrounded by nature. The Huichol have this connection to a greater knowledge of the universe. Miguer’s work shows another reality that’s happening all around us. Guadalajara might now be the city of towers and modernity, but we’ll never forget our origins.

Can you tell us about some of the urban art that touches upon contemporary issues of importance in Guadalajara? 

This work is about human disappearances [in Mexico, Jalisco is the state with the highest number of disappearances, believed to be related to organised crime]. It’s called Memoria Viva, which means ‘living memory’ and it’s about keeping the memory of these people alive. It’s full of symbolism — a woman crying, the bridge between life anddeath and a locked door — to represent the pain felt by bereaved family and friends. This was a collaborative project brought together by Estudio Infame and Cabezas Cuadradas, based on a documentary by Manuel Acuña called Expiatorio. It was painted by C.A.C.A.O collective, which is composed of UNKLE and Chavez Hollar, who worked with Sydeo, an illustrator. The writer, Mónica Licea, penned an accompanying text. The team element emphasises the impact of everyone who has lost someone to this devastating issue. 

Kid Kid Trece's stencil of a caged child and the American flag also springs to mind. The artist has ironically placed it near the US Consulate, where Mexicans get their papers. It relates to Donald Trump’s zero-tolerance policy on immigration, which left Mexican families separated and children alone, in detention centres. Sadly, it’s no longer there but you can see it here.

Why does urban art play a significant role in Guadalajara?  

Urban art functions as a visual tool for people in a city. You don’t have to be an artist or to have an art background to recognise the messages that are being portrayed in these artworks. They represent the things happening around us. At the time of the Mexican Muralism movement a large swathe of the population was illiterate and these images sought to teach our country’s history. Now, the streets are a gallery for public thought — the images become a language.

Karen Mora at Dulce No Pronto, Guadalajara.

Photograph by Karen Mora

What’s something typically Guadalajaran that a visitor must do? 

Originally, cantinas were male-only drinking establishments. Now, they’re a must-visit in the city. For a traditional experience, check out La Fuente or for a more contemporary version try De La O. At La Occidental, make sure to order the occipitaya, a cocktail made from dragon fruit — which grows on the nopal cactus — mixed with mescal or tequila.

Talk us through your perfect day in the city

A stroll in the historical centre for sunrise from behind the Teatro Degollado. For breakfast, I’d visit Tortas Ahogadas Don José for a torta ahogada — a sandwich from Guadalajara, soaked in tomato sauce.

I’m a coffee addict. My favourite spot is Modo Café, tucked away in Tiro Al Blanco Art Gallery. Later, a birria — an ancestral stew from Jalisco — in las nueva esquinas. To finish, I’ll meet a friend at Pare de Sufrir — my nickname for it is the 'mescal church' because it's the holy grail of mescal tasting. 

Where’s your favourite place to eat in the city?

The largest indoor market in Latin America - San Juan de Dios.

Sum up Guadalajara in three words. 

Innovative, diverse, traditional. 

Karen’s top three pieces of street art in the city

Find out more about Karen’s tour and check out her Instagram.

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