Monumentalizing Water in the 21st Century–Northwest Mexico

This mural, created by R.V. Payán, adorns the north wall of the Mayo Valley Water Users Association building, in Navojoa, Sonora, Mexico. It contains a good deal of symbolism that resonates with regional and national history, and is in Mexico’s tradition of populist muralism that followed the 1910 Revolution. Water is portrayed as a connection, a link between diverse geographies, and as a substance whose management requires cooperation among a variety of social groups. Some of these groups are represented by the different people forming a kind of bucket-line relay, moving water from one place to the next using their cupped hands. In the center of the line are, on the left, a representative of Mexico’s National Water Commission (Conagua), and, on the right, someone from the Water Users Association. Digging a little deeper into regional water politics, however, disturbs somewhat the harmonious picture of water management presented here. If you follow the different images in this post from top to bottom (on the mural, more or less the equivalent of moving left to right), you will see several earth movers in action. They are building a second dam and reservoir on the Mayo River, upstream from the original dam, built in the 1950s. The proposed new dam would displace several Guarijío indigenous communities upstream and has therefore been a source of controversy and struggle over the past three years. For more information, consult the Water User Association website and the Chiltepines blog. (Mural photographs taken by Jeffrey M. Banister, April 2014).

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Professor of Art History, School of Art, University of Arizona. Master's swimmer.

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