The Tepito Arte Acá mural in the Faculty of Architecture, University City

The untitled piece is known colloquially as the Tepito Arte Acá mural, thanks to the fact that it was a gift from the Tepito Arte Acá collective to Workshop 5, as it was then known.

The Tepito Arte Acá mural in the Faculty of Architecture, University City
Credit: Images and text UNAM

The walls of the Max Cetto Workshop, located in the Faculty of Architecture (FA), hold a gift from the Tepito neighborhood -one of the most traditional in Mexico City- to UNAM. The untitled piece is known colloquially as the Tepito Arte Acá mural, thanks to the fact that it was a gift from the Tepito Arte Acá collective to Taller 5, as it was then known.

A small inscription among its strokes accounts for this:

"Daniel Manrique 80 TEPITO ARTE-ACÁ In correspondence and response to the cool shot that Workshop 5 ENA-UNAM SELF-GOVERNMENT ventured in: Improvement project for the Tepito neighborhood. Bastard and fragile at the same time".

History of the Tepito Arte Acá mural

To understand how the piece arrived at the University City, it is necessary to go back to 1972, a significant date for the FA -at that time the National School of Architecture- since a group of students and teachers started a movement that culminated in the creation of a new educational model: self-government.

"In 1972 a student movement began, supported by a group of teachers who put forward a series of demands -which had to do with administrative and management issues of the Faculty-, from which an important academic proposal arose that took time to materialize. It was necessary to create a special commission of the University Council that analyzed the situation, and the reasons for the movement that had arisen, and this commission recognized that it was a project worth experimenting with, based on a different vision of an educational model," recalled Alejandro Suárez, professor of the School of Architecture and the postgraduate program in Architecture.

"Based on this, the University Council approved the existence of this area, which at that time represented half of the students and a third of the professors. The academic project that he proposed was among other things to link the teaching of architecture directly with the main demands of society and this results in the workshops -which constituted at that time the project workshops- becoming complete Academic Units, which had students from entry to graduation in each of them."

Workshop 5, Suarez noted, "was born a year after the beginning of self-government in 1973. Like the other workshops, it established an academic activity that was closely related to meeting the needs of society, and so it received numerous requests for technical support to carry out projects or research to document the magnitude of the demand, how solutions could be found, and this supported the possibility of carrying out projects which, of course, were initially academic, but which in many cases ended up with proposals that materialized constructively".

This meant that one of the workshop's objectives was to take "architecture to the people", working closely with "communities, neighborhood groups, and even municipalities and requests that came from different kinds of people: kindergartens, schools, plazas, etc. Participatory architecture is also planning, which leads us to propose what to collect, systematize, quantify, and define the magnitude of the request for the transformation of urban space and leads us to have requests that remain as such, but also projects that served to manage support from municipal governments and authorities of different ranks. It was an invaluable experience for the students," said the professor.

Tepito Arte Acá in Ciudad Universitaria
Tepito Arte Acá in Ciudad Universitaria

Tepito neighborhood

Alejandro Suarez alluded to the collaboration between Workshop 5 and the Tepito neighborhood as the result of work done in the late 1970s with the community of the Los Angeles neighborhood in Colonia Guerrero:

"There they were developing a proposal for the recovery of housing in the old neighborhoods or new housing. From a study carried out by a technical support organization external to the University, the Operational Center for Housing and Settlement, this project was carried out with Infonavit. It was a very broad work in this whole neighborhood, we went to Workshop 5 for this participatory planning work, it was about creating a plan by the General Law of Human Settlements of Mexico City of that time, I am talking about 1976.

"From that experience, a group of residents -through a Tepito neighborhood council, which included residents, merchants, and others- went to Workshop 5 to present a counter-proposal to a program that was being proposed by the then Government of the Federal District, it was very ambitious and involved demolishing many neighborhoods: to create a huge shopping center, an administrative area of the City Government and, supposedly, to give an answer to the inhabitants, although it was not said where.

"This leads them to request what was called at the time a counter-plan. It was more than fighting an official proposal in the same technical and development terms that was required to show another way to face that problem, without having to destroy the neighborhood or displace the population. That is how the proposal came about and mobilized a good number of groups of students so that a participatory diagnosis could be made with the population of what the neighborhood needed to achieve a transformation," said Suárez.

The project was developed over the following years; at the same time, the opportunity arose to present it in a competition organized by the International Union of Architects, which met periodically in different cities around the world. The call sought proposals "on a specific space in a city, which was in a deteriorated condition. The one that was being made for an improvement plan for the Tepito neighborhood fit perfectly into this competition," said the professor.

"It was a summary of everything that had been proposed in the improvement program to support the counter-plan, following the contest rules, the plates were made with drawings that expressed the approach, the proposal, and, in addition, the diagnosis and the participation of the population. This led to a mural of six square meters, which is the one that was taken to Warsaw disassembled, and there it was selected to be recognized both by the International Union of Architects and by the distribution of awards, in this case, it was awarded the prize of the University of Buenos Aires".

Mural entitled Tepito Arte Acá in University City
Mural entitled Tepito Arte Acá in University City

The mural Tepito Arte Acá

Although the plan to improve the neighborhood did not materialize, the alliance between Workshop 5 and the settlers had been strengthened during its development. The Tepito Arte Acá collective, part of the joint work group, was formed in those years by Alfonso Hernández, the promoter, the manager who presented and discussed with government authorities and others; Carlos Plasencia, photographer, and audiovisual artist, and Daniel Manrique, the painter.

It was Manrique who was in charge of the design and production of the mural, which is characterized by the presence of several women and men framed by geometric strokes, accompanied by a palette of reddish and ochre colors. "It was inaugurated in November 1980. Daniel Manrique was a painter of rapid creation, he had an enormous ability to perceive space and wherever he was told to go he expressed himself. The Tepito group had come many times to Taller 5 to see the work, the neighbors, and, of course, the members of Tepito Arte Acá; that is what allowed him to know the place in advance and decide where the mural was going to be. He worked unusually, he made his sketches in his notebook and decided how the composition was going to be. He would make his master strokes, draw them with chalk or a crayon, and once these strokes were made over what he had already prepared in his notebook, he would do it directly."

"The mural was financed by the Tepito neighborhood council and he did it quite quickly, I don't remember how long it took him, but he with some help would set up his ladder and develop the painting almost without making corrections. It was a few weeks, I don't remember if it was two or three, but it was quite fast. He made an allegory of the work of the neighborhood, of the will to make it re-emerge, not only to rebuild but to re-emerge. He expressed through his characters the role that architects played, he presented this struggle of the neighborhood and the work and recognition he had for the technicians, in this case, the architects," said Suárez.

The FA professor lamented that due to the year many students are unaware of the history behind the piece - which was made with acrylic and oil paint "ordinary and common bought in a hardware store" -: "I am very pleased that UNAM recognizes its mural work and this one in particular. It was an expression of urban art with deep roots in different communities of the city.