Mexican artists have created public murals for centuries, with some works being documented as far back as the 16th century, but modern Mexican graffiti-type murals can be traced to the early part of the 20th century, when artists such as Jos Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera and David Alfaro Siqueiros covered walls with politically and culturally inspired murals.

In 1921, Orozco, Rivera and Siqueiros were commissioned by the Mexican government to create public art, and the trio painted murals on the walls of public buildings around the country. Their works offered social, national and religious themes. Each of the three artists achieved international acclaim and went on to create murals in the United States and elsewhere.

Since then, graffiti has been an important political tool for Mexican artists. But, in Neza (Ciudad Nezahualcoyotl), a poor community near Mexico City, murals have become an important means for expression, maybe even survival. “It covers walls, even cars if they sit still too long,” says professor Randy Hanson in an online article by Cathy DeShano for Colby-Sawyer College.

“We believe that, at least in Neza, it’s not just about poor people not having a voice, but comes out of Mexico’s revolutionary mural culture and a culture of public painting for political and advertising purposes,” continues professor Hanson. “It’s also important for the sheer creativity and ingenuity shown.”

Mexican artists are known for making political statements in public spaces, and the walls of Neza are no exception. Images here support (or denounce) the country’s political parties, address globalization and advertise products. We also noticed an arresting amount of twisted Aztec imagery.

Nearly any surface is a suitable canvas for Neza’s graffiti artists. “Wherever you walk in our neighborhood, the walls are talking to you,” says professor Ann Page Stecker in the same article. “Artists pile their creations on top of each other.”

Unlike their neighbor to the north, the Mexican government, and its local agencies and authorities, have traditionally encouraged public works of arte. One of the scenes included here is of a graffiti-covered government-sponsored recreation center. As professor Hanson states, “Since the 1920s, Mexicans have been taught that public walls are a good place – maybe the best place – for art that is del pueblo (from the people).”