In 2006, the repression of a teacher’s strike in Oaxaca, Mexico resulted in a grassroots social movement that held the city for six months. While ultimately repressed by federal police forces, the social movement generated an intense dialogue about the problems plaguing people and gave rise to a series of concerted and creative responses to those problems. The Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca (ASARO), a political street art group, was born during the social movement. ASARO used their art to both reflect on and incite dialogue and action about social problems and social justice. Placed on street walls throughout the city, their striking stencils, silk-screens, paintings, and woodblock prints were at the center of political protests, touching on issues such as the militarization of the community, the privatization of public goods, gender equality, transgenic corn imports, democratic participation, and Indigenous rights, among others. Their art of protest recalls the unrealized promises of the Mexican revolution and critiques the present as it pushes for alternative futures. ASARO’s collective and prolific artistic output and commitment to change continues to inspire artists, activists, and the general public through its timeless and universal demand for social justice.
In Chicago, social problems such as violence, privatization, immigration, gender, housing, segregation, and food disparities have mobilized hundreds of groups and thousands of individuals to act in search of greater social justice. The Social Justice Initiative (SJI) at UIC is one such effort. We seek to connect faculty, students, and the broader community through a conversation about social justice and to broaden the forum of this conversation from the classrooms of UIC to the city of Chicago, the nation, and across national borders. With this objective in mind, SJI proposes the collaborative exhibit Chicagoaxaca, which will use sixty-plus woodblock prints created by ASARO between 2006 and 2008 to connect the dots between local and international struggles and to engage in a conversation around art, activism, and academic work with mobilized groups of Chicagoans.
The concept behind Chicagoaxaca is to make links and inspire and incite discussion. For that reason we have envisioned a simultaneous, ‘scattered site’ exhibition or roaming exhibition in multiple community venues. The sites chosen are not only spaces where the art will be exhibited, but are also spaces for conversations with different groups across the city about the art in relation to the history of the struggle for social justice in Oaxaca as it intersects, overlaps, or differs with struggles in Chicago and the United States. Engaging with different groups in different locations across the city will not only afford more space for exhibiting the prints, but will also create links and cross-conversations across Chicago’s often separate groups and segregated geographies.