TOOFLY NYC

Dec 12

Akumal Arts Festival Re-Cap

Category: Events,Travel

Back in the studio. It’s time to re-cap the experience of the Akumal Arts festival! Wow…where do I start?

Toofly Akumal Arts Festival 1

Toofly Akumal Arts Festival 2

Based on experience to these massive projects, especially for the 1st time one has to be patient, and organized. The crew did it’s best to accommodate all 70 artists. An ambitious number to manage but when your heart is in it, you have money, man power, and event is in a reasonably sized town everything is possible. Once artists had what they needed it to start their walls, we were rockin’. I think also when you personally prepare in advance it helps you a lot. Your travel, transport, paint list, accommodation details, etc; all small details are important too. Organizers can only do their best when they are being bombarded with a million questions during a festival. I experienced it with our Warmi Paint Festival and I can definitely say it is not easy. As an artist in a festival to be self sufficient as much as possible is in your benefit. The rest eventually falls into place.

I specifically planned on a small wall for this event because #1 HEAT EXHAUSTION. Mexico is hot, and if your wall has no shade your fucked for hours #2 IT’S THEIR 1ST EVENT. You can expect things not to go perfect #3 EQUIPMENT. It is never on time at any festival and with 70 artists there’s no way plenty of ladders / scaffolds will be available. So expect the unexpected and work around it.

When I got to my wall I was in awe, because it was a dangerous zone to paint in. There were concrete holes on one end of it which I had to dodge each day. Almost fell in a few times. In all honesty this wall should have been ready before i got there or possibly not been available because it was a semi dangerous site. Anyway artists are known to be troopers we can paint anything. Unfortunately I was unable to caution a young girl who approached the wall to look closely at me painting and she fell in! AH! It was a big scare because she hit her chest and could not breathe. Luckily we calmed her down and she was ok. By the time the notice to cover these holes was made apparent it was too late. A man that promised them one morning at 11am never showed up.

Walking miles to paint a wall that was on the far end of the pueblo in the crazy heat sucked. There was no local transport for artists and they advised us it’s small town. Suck it up right? I made it work with my umbrella to keep me in the shade on the daily troop. You have to stay positive with some of these projects otherwise the whole experience can go down the drain. I mean it’s Paradise in Mexico! It truly is. So fuck it, make it work. Look man we are doing thousands of dollars worth of work some were payed some were not from what I heard. I think if your going to put a festival together you need to be straight up on what you can offer and what you can’t so it’s all transparent. It’s the way to work these days so that no-one catches feelings and shit. That’s all. I gotta say the artist lodging was beautiful as fuck, and getting to dip in the pool after a long day of painting made a lot of this wack shit all good. When you can paint in Mexico, chill in a mansion of sorts, eat ceviche, give back to the community, and make new friends it all balances itself out.

So once I figured out the shade hours on my wall, and meal / rest area to take breaks from the heat, I was a happy camper. Normally a wall this size takes me 2/3 days but because of the excruciating heat it doubled. One of the nice things about this wall is that it’s at a high school. The principal checked in with a few artists painting on our block and asked if we can talk to his students. That was cool because I enjoy doing that, and many countries like Mexico outside of big cities do not view art as career choice. It was a chance to inspire youth, especially the young mayan women who hardly see women artists that look like them. Art is not taught in schools there, and positive examples of the art world are 0-none until this festival came along. That is one great thing about art in communities who have no access to it. The lives of various students who showed interest will surely change in years to come. That is always a good thing.

In terms of the kind of messages we painted, and colors we used it went along with the environmental issues, and environmental justice issues facing the world today. I learned that students do not have a recycling system in place at their schools, or at their homes. If they are living near a beach town known to preserve the turtle life that should be #1 right? In order to interact with them and learn from them I asked several questions. One was if they can tell me in their native mayan language the word woman. Unfortunately many were ashamed to speak it. I learned from principal that if they are heard speaking it they are discriminated for it. It is looked down on? WTF?! Their ancestors language, rich history, culture, and roots of existence looked as something bad. That was so heat breaking to me, and I completely understood it. You gotta read a whole lot of history to see how this is just one more example of oppression in indigenous communities.

Check it, then I started to see things differently around me. The veil was lifted. Akumal Pueblo is just a few kilometers way from a bridge that separates the working class/poor people from the rich/tourist people where all artists where staying. A few days into the festival I began to notice a lot more and things were no longer feeling right to me. There was a very clear division between the pueblo and the tourist side. The most obvious, the bridge. One side is poor, and one side is rich. It was so extreme when I finally noticed it because every morning on my way to the wall in the pueblo, I saw all the pueblo people walking to work to the tourist side. They clean apartments, hotels, restaurants, streets, etc. Yet their town doesn’t seem to get anyone to fix the pot holes I was dodging!? or pick up their garbage on time so it doesn’t accumulate? or fix lamp posts and dozens more things; The “Broken Window” effect is something we are all familiar with in NY. I saw it and the people of the pueblo explained it to me. Their city folk don’t fix shit on their side and it makes them feel all kinds of ways.

Once the artists started painting tho…a sense of community effort took place. They began to pick up the garbage themselves, sweep the streets, and cut the weeds. They can;t wait until the city does it and the murals going up gave them a sense of pride for their pueblo. Also the word was out, city folk began to come in and help too. A Mayan Ceremony was announced to kick off the festival and everyone in the town began to smile, clean up, set up shop, and get ready to show up and celebrate something new in their town.

If you were one of the artists stationed to paint in the pueblo you more than likely spoke Spanish, or were able to communicate and teach a workshop. That is why I noticed a lot of Miami friends and California friends and Mexican friends there. Many of the American and Europeans artists were on the bridge. I guess that makes sense right? It is our opportunity to engage, and directly communicate with kids, grandmothers, men, women, uncles, brothers, sisters who live there and talk about our walls, and festival. They asked us many questions, and so did we. We learned from each other. It was insightful, and it helped to put a lot of things in perspective on what it really means for us to be painting there. They love, and enjoyed it so much. They thanked us tremendously. Some questioned if this was coming from the other side of the bridge in part of the developers? Like are they helping to make this change and if so why? So they can help bring business there and if so will they maybe possibly buy them out of their homes and land. The questions got heavy.

One can not help but look around, and realize the change taking effect. In a matter of time their pueblo may take a hit but will it be in benefit to its own people?  Our murals are making their town beautiful. Artists love Mexico more and more, and art attracts, as well as cheap locations to live for artists. Many already pledged to come back, some spoke about investing etc; it’s what happens. That is how gentrification starts. It’s been happening everywhere, and the sad part is that those with less than others will be pushed out. If only they made enough to own their land and not get pushed out right? Can they come together and protest and fight for theirs? YES, it has happened they told me and they have lost:( They lost something that was very valuable to them and sacred. Access to the beach where all the turtles live.

Not too long ago the pueblo had access to the beach and now it has been completely cut off to them. It is private for the rich/tourist side. I was in Akumal Beach a few yeas ago and it was not private, I walked in, a natural heaven for turtles and locals and only a few tourists that adventured in places other than Cancun or Playa Del Carmen. Now you have to pass thru a gated security entrance with guards and rifles. Why all the gear tho? Afraid of the people will uprise and take back their beach? Your lucky they are peaceful people here in Akumal. YOUR LUCKY. I spoke to men that had tears roll down their cheeks because they feel powerless in their own land. They are lied to by governments who do and say anything to push them out. Especially near the beaches where they and ancestors have lived for years.

Hey look, I am an artist of the people. You put me in a pueblo and I will engage with the community. They are not less than I, I am them too. I will learn from them and I will speak. We connect on all levels. We understand all of it because anything and everything that comes from the “corazon”does not lie. If you would of left me paint on the bridge I would of had no clue of all of any this. I am thankful for that now. It was all meant to be, and what I experienced needs to get out and I need to do more with these reports. I mean what are you gonna get from the tourists passing by the bridge? Everything is beautiful, amazing, great. It definitely is some of the murals there are top of the line dope. ART IS BEAUTIFUL, but it IT IS ALSO A TOOL that can help speak for others with less of a voice.

Hundreds of cars and tourists buses pass by that bridge everyday and now that there is color they stop. I saw a group of gringos get off a car on their way to Playa and were like WOW, COOL, what’s happening here? – My hope is that they check out the pueblo and support the locals at their restaurants and at their shops. Maybe with those funds they can keep their home. Akumal Pueblo can grow and benefit the families there because the tourist side has enough! The rich always have enough! Let’s that shit balance itself out. Art is a tool, use it wisely.

As I continued to observe, and hear what came out of peoples mouth, and see the actions some took I wondered. Why are most of the American, and European artists on the main entrance to bridge, and various artists of color in the pueblo, or on the back side of bridge. The division even with the artists line up was a trip. I was told not to get involved in the politics of it all. Your right I’m not from Mexico, or Akumal, but you know what I know this story all too well. It took me a while to write this post, but I knew I was going to do it at any cost. Whatever the intention of the festival please know beautification comes in many forms, and you are responsible for your words, and your actions. Artists are intuitive and can see and feel a lot more so. We are the voice of the planet, of the people, and of injustice. We are a tool to do good, if we are used to harm we will call you out on it.

As the Mayan shaman blessed the artists and organizers on our last day — he himself said words in Spanish that only few could understand. His gestures and the ceremony rituals he used are a language of the heart. They come in peace, and want to work together with the new arrivals. They hope that they are not betrayed as past generations and in history. When those piercing brown eyes look at yours they are trying to speak to your heart, and your soul. It will only work if you have one.

I decided to title my piece “INTENTION” - Gracias AKUMAL PUEBLO and my life line for the opportunity to experience what I experienced.

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