Sanchez visited Estonia and was struck by the country’s unique culture; Sigre Tompel, Mextonia’s lead organiser from the Estonian side, fell in love with Mexico’s vibrant transgraffiti scene during her travels there. Their mutual experiences happened to coincide with the upcoming centennial of the country, alongside another seminal event for the Baltic nation: for the first time since joining the EU in 2004, Estonia is at the helm of the Council of the EU from July to December 2017.
Add to that Estonia’s burgeoning street art scene that has blossomed as a new generation of artists, born and raised in post-Soviet Estonia, use the streets as their canvas for expressing and constructing a new cosmopolitan nationhood, and there you have all the ingredients for an unprecedented event like Mextonia.
Transgraffiti itself, describes Sanchez, is a matured form of graffiti where muralists have passed from the phase of scribbling names on walls to now “adding metaphors, transcending borders and involving themselves in cultural catalysis”. This is intrinsically linked to soft power in communities – transgraffiti muralists use their craft as a form of social influence to “become cultural leaders in the neighbourhood”.
Once the idea for the festival came together, the next step was to tap into Nueve Arte Urbano’s network of local artists and international allies. 26 of the artists and producers came from Mexico but other global organisations included US-based Pangea Seed and Sea Walls.
The enthusiastic uptake in Estonia was astounding: Stencibility from Tartu, Baltic Sessions from Tallinn, crews like Pirados and EKKM (the Estonian Museum of Contemporary Art) all played a role in getting the festival off the ground. Local authorities were consulted extensively and the paint used for the works was imported straight from Mexico.
Deconstructing Estonia’s cultural roots
But the job was never as simple as getting artists on board, handing them a couple spray cans and asking them to transform a public wall on the spot. What preceded was a lengthy curatorial process to sketch out the works and secure approval from property owners and local authorities.
Out of the international participants many had no previous connection with Estonia, not to mention knowing its cultural symbols.
Fernanda Arias, a Mexican artist and anthropologist who during the festival led the collective painting of an old tank near the Tallinn TV Tower with local children, describes the chance to explore a new culture from scratch as part of the appeal: “The possibility of not only getting to know, to contemplate or describe culture, but to actually forge it.”