Mexican muralist chronicles the coming of the conquistadors


Photograph taken on April 14, 2019. It shows Mexican artist Melchor Peredo García displaying one of his murals. EPA-EFE / Miguel Victoria

VERACRUZ, VER.- Melchor Peredo Garcia has created six murals to represent the «historical and sociological phenomenon» of the arrival of Spaniards as Mexico prepares to mark the April 22 quincentennial of that epochal event.

Peredo has humanized the leading figures of the drama that began unfolding 500 years ago, choosing to defy stereotypes in his depiction of the three main protagonists: conquistador Hernan Cortes; the indigenous woman – known as La Malinche – who became his translator and mistress; and the Aztec Emperor Moctezuma.

«There is only one humanity and that’s all that matters. We are all part of it and at the end of the day it is a formative process,» Peredo, seen as the heir to the tradition of Jose Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros, told EFE.

The artist eschewed the Mexican post-revolutionary practice of depicting Cortes as a decrepit, broken old man, and the Old World view of Moctezuma as a savage.

At the same time, he exalted the figure of La Malinche, long considered a traitor by many Mexicans.
«As I am a dialectical materialist, I believe neither in angels nor demons. But as a Marxist, I believe in humanity, a humanity who can and must evolve and transform itself,» the artist said with a smile while at work in his studio in Xalapa, capital of Veracruz state.

In the murals, sponsored by the National Fund for Culture and the Arts to commemorate the 500th anniversary of the founding in Veracruz of the first Spanish municipality in the continental Americas, Peredo also recovers the importance of African slaves and the indigenous Mexicans in shaping the New World.

«The Spaniards did not arrive to a population of savages. Hernan Cortes was amazed to see a kind of Venice, a city that nobody imagined, in Great Tenochtitlan,» he says, referring to the Aztec capital.

For eight months, he studied 500 years of history, starting with the literary side and then moving on to the iconography, to find what he needed to create the murals that will be unveiled at a still-secret location in the port of Veracruz, where Cortes disembarked from Cuba.

«It is necessary that we understand that cultures evolve, that barbaric peoples turn into civilized peoples,» Peredo says.

In one of the murals, a young indigenous woman is seen climbing a tree when she is startled by the arrival of two white men; in another one, Aztec priests sent by Moctezuma present offerings to a Cortes.

Melchior says that first, it is necessary to reconcile with oneself, then with others and not to look back, but forward, with what we are.

«With all the bad we left behind, also, because we left behind the (Catholic) Inquisition, we left behind (Aztec) human sacrifices,» he says.

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