ASARO was formed in 2006 in Oaxaca Mexico, during a remarkable, massive social uprising that began with a teachers’ strike and a subsequent state crackdown in Oaxaca City, the state’s capital.
ASARO's original mission was to unite and strengthen various artists’ collectives and individuals
engaged in furthering the cause of
social and economic justice
ASARO members include street artists, established artists, students, and anyone else interested in making political art.
Maestro Shinzaburo Takeda, a Japanese master printmaker and the Dean of the School of Fine Arts at the University of Benito Juarez in Oaxaca, was a founding member of ASARO. Maestro Takeda taught many ASARO members to make woodblock prints. An interview with Takeda by Kevin McCloskey, can be found at commonsense2.com...
Many of the prints in the exhibit feature images of calaveras, or skeletons. The use of calaveras was first popularized by the satirist and illustrator Jose Guadalupe Posada in his political drawings, published in Mexico City in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. The calavera also draws on the pre-Columbian celebration of death, still very evident in Mexican culture. Below is "Katrina", one of Posada's most famous drawings.
From the start of the 2006 uprising, high-profile artists, students, and graffiti artists turned their attention to telling the story of the social movement in Oaxaca, drawing connections to lar ger political, historical, economic and social forces and events.
Street artists armed with stencils and spray paint covered the walls of colonial buildings with murals rich in references to Oaxacan history and culture. They made use of traditional figures like the Mexican revolutionary hero Emiliano Zapata along with images from popular and religious culture such as Day of the Dead calaveras and the Virgin of Guadalupe, using familiar icons to create a new vocabulary of dissent to critically address contemporary events.
They built traditional day-of-the dead altars and tapetes (sand and flower paintings) in front of barricades, memorializing movement leaders who had been killed, imprisoned and disappeared. They produced videos, dance, theater and songs to tell the story of the movement.
Several artists’ collectives were formed during this time, including ASARO and Arte Jaguar, both of which continue to develop their vocabulary of images and to create and disseminate their powerful and beautiful political art.
Most of the woodcuts shown in the exhibit are printed from three-ply sub-flooring woodblock plates, pulled from an old steel roller printing press. The majority of them are unsigned and unattributed: The artists’ anonymity stems from ASARO’s spirit of collectivity as well as the clandestine nature of the group’s work.
These days, security cameras abound in the center of Oaxaca City, making guerilla-style street art much more difficult to carry out, though new murals and tags do continue to appear regularly.
The social movement that began in June of 2006 continues today, as does the work of the ASARO collective. Many believe that the Oaxacan movement, like the Zapatista movement in Chiapas to which it has close ties, is a continuation of the Mexican Revolution and the promised reforms that have yet to be realized.
ASARO prints began making their way into galleries and collections as early as October 2006, with a number of exhibits in Mexico, Europe and the United States. UCLA's Fowler Museum and the Center for the Study of Political Graphics in Los Angeles and Kutztown and Princeton Universities have folios of ASARO prints in their permanent collections.