April 11, 2003

Barragán and her tin-man

By: Mariana Martinez

Friday. Midday.

After half an hour trying to find a parking spot, I do.

I run through the buildings at City Hall, that are full of angry, stressed out citizens ready to pay taxes or file some papers.

Up until now, this image was the only one I could think of when visiting City Hall: noise, paperwork and lines.

When I finally arrive at the City Hall patio I hear music. It’s nice to hear music here. And then a blue wall with the name of an exhibit: Warriors by Mely Barragán.

All over the patio I see tin men blending into the crowds, their bodies made through creativity and mufflers.

They are familiar here in Tijuana, they usually stand outside car repair shops: tall, short, kids, ugly, scary, they come like us, in all shapes. Some are naked, some have old clothes on their backs and sometimes, they dress up for the holidays.

They use masks on Halloween and become witches and mummies; they put on their team’s shirt on the day of the game and even Christmas means something to them, as they put on a Santa suit. But they’re always pointing towards the car repair shop that gave them life.

Somebody hands me a coloring book for kids full of riddles, games, numbers... It is also part of the exhibit.

“This exhibit started to grow because… as I walked through the streets I noticed these ‘Muffler Men’ made by car mechanics, I realized they where all over the city,” stated Barragán. “When I was going to college, as a Graphic Design Major I had a teacher, Roberto Castillo, with whom, one day after class we talked about it and I realized I really wanted to make an exhibit that included this type of art.”

Barragán was chosen, in 2002, for a grant by the State Fund for Art and Culture (FOECA) in the young plastic artist category, after which she decided to further develop her work with the Muffler Men.

First, she decided to develop something for children, because in most art exhibits there is nothing for them to be attracted to. How do we create public art if we don’t start with the young? She worked with two other Graphic Designers, Karla Caloca and Miriam Guadiana on the whole concept for the coloring book.

She also contacted her old teacher Roberto Castillo, with whom she had worked in the past. She told him about her idea, to give voices to the Muffler Men through poetry; she wanted to know what they would say after a hard working day.

“I contacted people who know more about poetry and graphic design… I feel it is important to respect everyone else’s work. Because I’m an artist, doesn’t make me an expert on all art forms. I know and respect that, because I expect people to respect my work likewise,” she said.

The Warriors exhibit includes a poem by Roberto Castillo; the kids coloring book; 13 Muffler People and four etchings by Mely Barragán.

“Just this morning –she smiles– I went by to pick up some Muffler People and I noticed they where already building new ones. Since some of them will be on the exhibit for a month, they have to make a new one, because that’s what sells. You go by in your car and you notice one of these sculptures and remember where the shop is.”

Why are they Warriors?

Well, according to Mely, we are all Warriors in our own private battles. We are Warriors in the city: fighting for food, fighting for a better job, for a good parking spot... we aim to kill around here. Tijuana is full of struggles.

Besides, these Muffler Men deteriorate, just as we do. They rust in the sun without anyone noticing. They too work all day in the sun, for Mely “the warriors armor is our own skin.”

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