By Monica Rubalcava
Mexico City, Sep 13 (EFE).- The creator of “Tlali,” the monument to indigenous women that will replace the previous statue of Christopher Columbus on this capital’s Paseo de la Reforma thoroughfare, says it has been an honor to be selected for a project that celebrates Mexico’s origins while highlighting the importance of responsible environmental stewardship.
“It’s important that we have better knowledge of our roots. All around us there are names in Nahuatl and we don’t know what they mean … It’s as if a world of meanings had opened up that we hadn’t seen before,” Pedro Reyes said Monday in an interview with Efe from his workshop in the Mexico City municipality of Coyoacan.
The statue of Columbus was removed from Paseo de la Reforma for restoration purposes on Oct. 10, 2020, two days prior to Dia de la Raza, when Mexico celebrates its mixed European and indigenous heritage instead of marking Columbus Day (a national holiday in many countries of the Americas).
It was taken down for renovations, although there were also fears it would be toppled by protesters who see the Italian-born navigator as a symbol of colonialism and oppression.
Discussion about whether that statue designed by Frenchman Charles Cordier should return to its pedestal lasted for months.
Finally, Mexico City Mayor Claudia Sheinbaum announced on Sept. 5 – International Indigenous Women’s Day – that it would be replaced by “Tlali,” a depiction of a female member of the Olmec civilization (one of the oldest civilizations of Mesoamerica).
“‘Tlali’ is … intended as an allegory of the earth. It’s a stone structure that has the aspect of a colossal head, which is a contribution of the Olmecs to universal culture,” Reyes said.
Made of volcanic rock from Mexico’s Popocatepetl Volcano, “Tlali” (earth in the Nahuatl language) has a series of indigenous and feminine features that Reyes included to convey a message of protecting nature.
“She’s a woman with characteristics of our territory. She has jaguar eyes to represent the strength of that animal, the lips of the Olmec sculptures that depict a ‘tepetl’ (mountain) and two serpents that meet (alluding to the origin of the universe),” the artist said.
He added that she also will have “ollin” (movement in Nahuatl) represented by the braids on the back of her head that are an allusion to earthquakes and aim to symbolize the power and the “overwhelming force” of the earth vis-a-vis human life.
Criticism has swirled about the new sculpture at Paseo de la Reforma since the project was announced.
“All public projects are controversial, and there will be reactions in favor and against. I feel we’ve put together a team of male and female sculptors who have all the ability to do it … It’s one of those works that are the product of a collective effort,” Reyes said.
President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador has been among its champions.
“I completely agree (with making the sculpture) because starting 500 years ago, with the invasion, there’s been a desire to hide the artistic, cultural past of the original peoples, the great cultures of pre-Columbian Mexico, and that’s what we need to celebrate,” AMLO said of the work, which is be displayed on Paseo de la Reforma by early next year. EFE