A dusty town on the Yucatan peninsula is probably not the first place the average art lover would visit for a world-renowned urban art experience. Yet from November 9th through 11th, 2018 the Akumal Arts Festival (Festival de Arte de Akumal) brought renowned international street artists from as far away as the UK and Japan to Akumal, Mexico: creating a giant open-air museum on the town’s streets. Free and open to the general public, the festival spanned the walls of the town of Akumal–and even across a highway–featuring the talents of 70+ artists in a free, immersive art festival. Home to centuries of Mayan culture, and renowned as a site for sea turtles to nest and spawn new generations, Akumal assumes a pivotal space for past generations to meet the promise of a bright new future, and for the present to sparkle at the crossroads of these two dynamic influences.
Across a bridge, flanking a schoolyard, and fronting a municipal office: all places in Akumal town where visitors encountered contemporary art by artists such as Skela, Davel, TooFlyNYC, Funqest, Iena Cruz, Kid Crayon, Ms. Yellow, and Nate Dee – just to name a few. Over the course of a weeklong intense painting session, schoolkids and policemen alike stopped to greet the artists, ask about the work, and share their own artistic practices. Akumal Arts Festival gave visiting artists the chance to augment the town’s existing artistic spirit, bringing their own styles from regions of the world such as the US, France, Great Britain, Columbia, Italy, and more.
Jennifer Smith (Turtle Bay Bakery & Cafe,) co-founder of the festival along with Iran Beltran, Delegado Municipal de Akumal, shared opening remarks at the inaugural ceremony which included dances from local students alongside sacred Mayan rituals performed by trained descendants of the local Mayan population. Peering around the crowd, locals and visitors alike held their breath as the last blush of fading daylight flooded the town’s freshly painted walls.
Everyone from the town cheered as the opening festivities commenced, with food and crafts flooding the streets between vibrant murals gleaming in the streetlight. Residents weren’t the only ones showing overwhelming enthusiasm for the events: artists gushed about the opportunity to share their creative vision while reflecting the region’s immense legacy. Artist Ivan Roque, visiting Akumal from Miami, Florida, was quick to point out how he was spurred on to work by the enthusiasm the town extended to his team. “People are honored to have us and appreciate the art being here,” noted Roque. “I’ve had nothing but total positivity and love from the locals of Akumal.”
Locals present and past alike held a deep influence on the festival, as many artists sought to honor the generations of Mayans calling the Akumal area home. Artist SINNED and collaborator Ria Burns-Wilder noted of their artwork on the Akumal bridge that local ties exerted a strong impact on their finished piece. “We’ve been so lucky to speak with locals in Akumal including indigenous Maya residents such as a new friend we made, Paschin,” reflected Burns-Wilder. “He taught us that the Mayan term for this place isn’t Akumal, but “Aak-luu-mil”, or “place of turtles. We want to honor Mayan culture by adding this name into the mural itself.” From turtles and octopus to skulls–and even a chupacabra–an incredible range of colors, textures and subjects span the streets of Akumal town. Visitors to the town for the foreseeable future can expect to be greeted with bright imagery and warm, smiling faces–and, if combing the beach, maybe even a sea turtle of two for good measure!
Akumal Arts Festival and the Akumal Artists Residency take place in Akumal, Mexico. The inaugural arts festival took place from November 9-11, 2018, with artworks in place for the near future across the town. For additional images, take a look at the festival’s Facebook or Instagram channels or visit Akumal Artists’ Residency at Tortuga Escondida.
Audra Lambert is a freelance arts contributor and independent curator based in New York City. Her articles can be found in Whitehot Mag, Art Nerd NY, Artefuse, Examiner and more. The author focuses on participatory and public art projects with an emphasis on emerging and established female artists. She is co-founder of alt_break art fair, a nonprofit art fair fostering dialogue between community-based social justice nonprofits and the arts. Currently completing a Master’s thesis in Modern/Contemporary Art at City College of New York, her curated projects and ongoing coverage of interdisciplinary art projects can be found on ANTE. (www.antecedentprojects.com), an online art platform showcasing contemporary arts and culture, which may or may not be secretly run by llamas on Mars.