'La Tinta Grita' The shouts of a distant revolution

"La Tinta Grita: The Ink Shouts" exhibition takes the view back two years to the violence that happened in Oaxaca, Mexico. The intricate woodblock prints and stencils were created by a group of anonymous individuals collectively called Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca (ASARO) on the walls of Oaxaca City as a guerilla form of social protest. According to the ASARO manifesto the organization's mission is to "take artistic expressions to the streets, to popular spaces, to raise consciousness about the social reality of the modern form of oppression that [the people of Oaxaca] face." Now the powerful images of "The Ink Shouts" have traveled to the Fowler Museum at UCLA and runs until Dec. 7, a place far removed in geography and social consciousness from the revolutionary upheavals of southern Mexico.

The prints, created from carvings on wooden blocks, present somewhat of a contrast to traditional Oaxacan art, which is known for its vivid colors and fantastical shapes. But the tradition remains in the face of intricacy, attention to detail and the love of satire and the macabre. Many prints are reminiscent of Jose Posada, the late 1800s early 1900s Mexican graphic artist, whose work greatly influenced many modern and historical artists in Mexico.

Some of the pieces reflect the people's outrage with the corruption of the Oaxaca state governor Ulises Ruiz Ortiz, commonly known as URO, and his oppression of the indigenous communities in this Mexican state, one of the poorest in the country. One particularly dramatic print depicts URO being pulled out of his own grave by skeletal figures, among which are Uncle Sam and Mexico's former president Vicente Fox. The figures on the left, clad in indigenous and revolutionary gear, are trying to keep the governor down as a white dove hovers above, while crows, dollar signs and swastikas predominate on the other side.

Social conflict in Oaxaca occurred throughout summer and fall 2006 in response to the oppression by URO, coinciding with the controversial presidential election. The conflict escalated with the violent attempt by the municipal police to break up a teacher's strike in the state's capital, Oaxaca City. The police raid had failed, and the teachers, joined by representatives of indigenous communities and other supporters formed a coalition known as Popular Assembly of the People of Oaxaca (APPO). APPO called out for the resignation of URO, and was able to occupy the state capital.

The violence in Oaxaca has resulted in nearly 20 deaths, including, on Oct. 26, 2006, that of Brad Will, an American filmmaker and a reporter for Indymedia New York City. However, on a sunny Saturday the Fowler Museum on the UCLA campus seemed peaceful, and the gallery where "Ink Shouts" is being displayed was mostly deserted. The few visitors trickled to other parts of the museum, perhaps unaware of the history of the event or repulsed by the dark nature of some of the images. Carolyn Behrendt, however, came to see this exhibition specifically, having read about it on the UCLA website. "I am in general familiar with great economic disparity and struggles in Mexico," she said. "That's why this group of artists is so interesting to me."
Despite the tragedy, the message of the artists is more concerned with hope and rebellion. "Our dead will be avenged by the APPO," proclaims the slogan on one of the prints. Neither do all of the artworks deal directly with events that happened in 2006; some of the most passionate and elaborate prints show images and slogans of Emiliano Zapata, the beloved hero of the Mexican Revolution. Finally, another recurring feature in the stencils that stands as a testament to the ultimate perseverance of the social resistance and the power of the artists is through a famous quote by Che Guevara, "The true revolutionary is guided by great feelings of love."