The Return of Street Art to Belize
It feels as if not so long ago, graffiti in alleyways or on abandoned building walls was more frowned upon than celebrated. What a wonderful world we live in now, with vibrant colors all over the place – craftily hidden details, blended in perfectly with the environment, or standing out in stark contrast, all adding up to another dimension of our society. Art calls to our souls, and if the moment arises, I say let fly – or spray – as the case may be!
That had to have been the motive behind the creation of Corozal’s Graffiti Festival. An entire day celebrating this special art medium in all its spray-painted glory. Under the helm of the National Institution of Culture and History (NICH) and the Corozal House of Culture, the 2020 festival invited international artists to join Belizeans to take over Miami Beach in the Corozal Bay.
This year’s theme focused on ‘Ancient Chactemal’, and it had us wondering just what that meant. It turns out, Belize’s history is still so young and has much to discover! Very little is known about Chactemal; research reveals some glimpses into a murky past, complete with destruction of priceless artifacts and pillaging of our precious Maya heritage.
Chactemal is also known as Chactemáal or Chetumal, and was a major area of the Maya civilization in what is now southern Quintana Roo, Mexico, and northern Belize. In fact, Corozal is border neighbors with a city named Chetumal (a favorite shopping stop for Belizeans).
The Chactemal area is believed to have ranged from what is currently Cozumel, all the way down to Belize, including Chetumal, Mexico. The archaeological site of Santa Rita in Corozal Town, Corozal is believed to have been the headquarters of the Chactemal area. This site is particularly famed for its legendary inter-cultural marriage between Spaniard Gonzalo Guerrero and Maya Princess Zazil Há. The birth of their children makes Corozal the cradle of the Mestizos in all of Spanish America.
In 1894, a doctor appointed as district medical officer for British Honduras (now Belize) Thomas Gann decided to live out his amateur archaeologist dreams and began exploring the Maya ‘ruins’ in what is now Corozal. Chactemal/Santa Rita was victim to his questionable ways, and the use of dynamite ended up destroying priceless art. Postclassic Mixtec-influenced murals were discovered, but the original did not survive his tactics, and all we have left is reproductions.
What does all this have to do with art, you may ask? Well, in the grand tradition of ‘the more things change, the more things stay the same’ – I ask that you think back to the hieroglyphs, the stelae, the cave scribbles of our ancestors. Art has been around since humans have been around, and how fitting that we celebrate it in all its forms! Bring it back to the streets, boldly splash colors all across fences and walls, make those murals draw your attention! You may have missed the 2020 Graffiti Festival, but you can plan to visit the next one in 2021, to be held on Sunday, January 31st.
For more glimpses into the talent that abounds in our Belizean people, we highly suggest you check out the Placencia Street Art Festival coming up February 8th and 9th. This unique celebration hosts a variety of artists along their famed Sidewalk, with stunning artwork, jewelry, music, performances and more. If you can’t get to the Placencia Peninsula, Belize City can give you an art fix too, with their 10th Annual Street Art Festival on Albert Street coming up on Saturday, February 29th. Between chalk art, sawdust carpeting, canvas paintings, body paint, music and more, there is no shortage creativity and imagination. Join in!