“The Last Supper” by Yescka, Oaxaca

Yescka has a grand mural on a full wall in the Museum of Contemporary Art in Oaxaca. It’s his take on the Last Supper re-imagined Mexico style with Narco-trafficers, cops, politicians and a stripper. I knew him when he was running around pasting his work to walls without permission, risking a beating or arrest.

The Head of Benito Juarez, detail from the Last Supper, stencil and paint.
The Head of Benito Juarez, detail from the Last Supper, stencil and paint.

I met Yescka in 2007 in Oaxaca, and know his real name. He asked me what I thought of his street name of Yescka. I said to English speakers it might sound rather feminine, like Jessica. He laughed and shrugged. I asked if it came from an indigenous language, maybe Zapotec or Mixtec? He told me he made it up from ‘calles’ (streets) backwards. I said calles backwards, sellac, would sound like “Sayack.” He told me it wasn’t exactly backwards, but syllables reversed.  At the time Yescka was one of the younger members of the ASARO collective. He was often in the company of a beautiful young European woman, or two.

Marcha, 2007, detail, woodblock print, ASARO, attributed to Yescka
Marcha, 2007, detail, woodblock print, ASARO, attributed to Yescka

ASARO, the Assembly of Revolutionary Artists of Oaxaca, is a collective founded in 2006. ASARO’s art belongs to Mexico’s long tradition of revolutionary public art. Back in 2006, they sold woodblock prints for 100 pesos, roughly $10, in Oaxaca’s public square. ASARO’s real passion, however, was the work they give away.

Stencil graffiti, ASARO, 2007. Oaxaca cathedral
Stencil graffiti, ASARO, 2007. Oaxaca cathedral

Overnight they cut stencils of an arrested comrade, the next morning her portrait was sprayed all over the walls of the historic city. They would print 3ft. tall woodblock prints of goose-stepping police monsters on tissue paper. By dawn a chorus line of mutant policemen would be pasted on walls of the cathedral or Governor’s Palace. I was lucky enough to spend time with ASARO in their studio. I remember meetings where heated discussions took place. Yescka would calmly weave around the room, always painting, sketching, making collages and popping into the conversation. He made some of ASARO’s most distinctive political prints. In those days, they were unsigned.

Taller Siqueiros, Yescka's studio and gallery, Calle Porfirio Diaz, Oaxaca.
Taller Siqueiros, Yescka’s studio and gallery, Calle Porfirio Diaz, Oaxaca.

As ASARO’s fame grew Yescka began doing more personal work. He travelled to Art Basel, to Munich and Oakland leaving a trail of street art along his route. Today he has his own studio in Oaxaca, Taller Siqueiros, named in honor of the radical 20th century Mexican muralist.

Masked Grafittero, Azompa
Masked Grafitero, Azompa, 2009

AZOMPA, 2009.
One day in the town of Azompa, near Oaxaca, collectives from across Mexico came to paint murals on the walls of the municipal basketball court. Azompa was once a small village known for green clayware; today it’s an overcrowded suburb of Oaxaca City. There was a screamo punk band playing at one end of the ballcourt. The lead singer had a head like a bull and wore tire chains over his shoulders. The municipal police roared up in pick-up trucks. Ten blue uniformed police jumped from the truckbeds brandishing clubs; some had sidearms and rifles. They told the crowd of maybe 100 that event was over. The muralists, grafiteros, stopped in mid-stroke. The punk band fled the stage. Yescka who had been stenciling at the far end of the basketball courts, strode through the crowd and took the band’s microphone.

Yescka with ASARO stencil crew in Azompa
Yescka with ASARO stencil crew in Azompa

The gist of what Yescka said was, “If our music disturbed our Azompa neighbors, we apologize, but WE WILL NOT STOP PAINTING! We will NEVER stop exercising our sacred rights to free expression guaranteed under the Mexican Constitution!” He pumped his fist in the air. “Viva Mexico! Viva la Revolucion! The Revolution Continues!”

The crowd roared in agreement. Yescka went on to say that he was thankful so many important “observers” from Mexico City from other countries were filming the event and nodded to me and cluster of French hipsters with telephoto cameras. Yescka’s speech saved the day. The police commander got on his walkie-talkie. Then he told his men to stand down. By nightfall, there were 20 new murals extending for over 100 yards along the cinderblock walls of Azompa’s ballcourts.

For more info on ASARO: Princeton University’s Library has a great collection of ASARO prints. I wrote about that collection here. If you’d like to know more about ASARO, I have several essays at Commonsense2.com. ASARO maintains a blog, that is occasionally updated. Yescka is on Facebook as Yescka Guerilla Art, here.

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