Central Library of the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM)
Perhaps the most iconic landmark of the most prestigious educational institution in Mexico inside of which one of the largest bibliographic collections in Mexico resides. In 2007 UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site, along with the Ciudad Universitaria central campus. The exterior of the building is decorated with a mural by Mexican artist Juan O'Gorman handcrafted with different rocks and stones from across the country which depicts historical and cultural representations that recalls the historical foundation of the Mexican people.
Backstory and Context
Currently, the documentary collection of the Central Library is made up of 1,445,109 volumes, of which 589,418 are books; 323,452 magazine issues and 9 newspapers with national circulation; 2,687 brochures and 8,616 multimedia compact discs. In addition, the thesis collection contains 520,936 reception papers, of which 299,057 are in full text available for electronic consultation. The library preserves bibliographical works produced as early as between the XV and XVIII centuries among other the special Mexican and foreign works that due to their thematic, editorial characteristics, subject matter, rarity or historical significance have been deemed relevant to integrate.
The mural titled 'Historical Representation of Culture' ('Representación histórica de la cultura') captures Juan O´Gorman's knowledge and enthusiasm for the Mesoamerican past and the intelectual future. Proof of this is that the entire building is inspired by the representation of the Tlaloc, god of rain and fertility in the ancient Nahua-Culhua religion: the outer stone walls carry visible representations of this god.
The structure of the building consists of the following elements:
A superior finish, each face ornamented with figures similar to those of the main block. The north side is illustrated with the face of Tláloc, framed with a pair of open hands. The east and west sides have respective heads of Mexican warriors. Finally, the south side has a huge hand holding an open book, and is framed with two other Mexica warrior heads.
A fountain at the north door of the building. The wall of this fountain, made of volcanic stone, has a representation of the face of Tláloc, flanked as in the upper auction, by two open hands.
The fences that define the garden on the main floor are made of volcanic stone. They carry relief figures of the same material with the pre-Hispanic representations of Quetzalcóatl on the south side, of Ehécatl on the west side and a mask flanked by two snakes on the east side.
The entire mural is a codex: the symbols and figures speak by themselves. For Juan O'Gorman, who was enthusiastic of pre-Hispanic culture, it was important to pose artistic visual representations as an opposition, in dualities, as a game of forces that make up the spirit and history of the people of Mexico. The sun and the moon are always the two poles, and the ideas, the history and the characters that fight for their truth develop in their shelter.
This mural seeks the exchange of ideas, and even controversy, within the university community.
North Wall: The pre-Hispanic past
This part of the mural corresponds to the pre-Hispanic era and to the Mexica culture. Here the duality of life and death comes into play. On the left side of the central axis and separated into three planes, deities and scenes appear associated with the creative principle of life: in the upper corner, the sun, framed by the mythical Quetzalcoatl in the form of a serpent; below emerges the figure of Tláloc and Huitzilopochtli. In the central section is Tlazoltéotl, goddess of the earth, surrounded by the eagle, a solar attribute, and by the jaguar, symbol of the night, and by other elements related to fertility. At the right base is the representation of a ceremony where the ritual and sacred meaning of war, always associated with the sun and daylight. The right side of the mural represents the antithesis of life: the world of mystery, darkness, evil and death. In the upper corner is the rabbit of the moon. Below is the Quetzalcóatl snake, drawn with chalchihuites and snails; then there is Chalchiuhtlicue, goddess of water and partner of Tláloc; in front of her, the bonfire where her sacrificed son is consumed, who will give life to the moon. To the left of this scene is represented Tezcatlipoca, the sun that is hidden, who announces the darkness and is creator and lord of the sorcerers; it is accompanied by a skull. In the central section, the dual representation of Mictlantecuhtli-Quetzalcóatl dominates. In the lower area we find images of warriors with prisoners of war, which complement the passage related to human sacrifice. The central axis of the composition is the union of the life-death duality; Above it is exposed to the sun as Tonatiuh, the primordial source of the life cycle, whose permanence is guaranteed with the sacrifices of men and gods. In the center we find Tláloc: a little hidden, with a body formed by the water channels of the old Mexico-Tenochtitlan city. You can also see twenty griffins related to the tonalpohualli, the most important ritual calendar of the Mexicas, center of its festivals and astronomical calculations. This section culminates with the image of the Mexico-Tenochtitlan founding myth, the eagle perched on a prickly pear cactus devouring a snake.
South wall: The colonial past
This area deals with western culture and the dual character of Spanish domination and the colonial era: the pious and spiritual aspect against violent conquest by arms. In the center of the panel, two enormous circles stand out, illustrating two antagonistic positions: on the left is a circular figure representing Claudio Ptolemy's geocentric system, in which the Sun rotates around the Earth; On the right is the circular figure representing Copernicus' conception of the universe, where the Earth revolves around the Sun. The left part of the mural, dominated by the figure of the sun, contains the so-called "spiritual conquest", related to the Christian principle of good. Beneath the large left circle is the figure of Cuauhtémoc, "falling eagle," who symbolizes the defeat of the Mexica civilization. The right section of the mural, dominated by the moon, represents the conquest by the sword. O'Gorman associates Copernicus' astronomical revolution with the Christian principle of evil, based on the fact that at that time scientific knowledge was opposed to religious beliefs. In the center of the panel is the synthesis of the two positions and where the oppositions of the flanks are resolved: the Creole culture. In the upper central portion is the Habsburg coat of arms, the main royal house from colonial times; Masonic symbols follow downwards as another element of colonial power; finally, at the base is a baroque, mestizo and Mexican church.
Eastern wall: The contemporary world
Here the confrontation of elements on both sides of the central axis is repeated, this time bringing into play the tradition-progress duality, referring to the two aspects of social progress in Mexico: the city and the countryside. History is represented from the Mexican Revolution to the modernity of the mid-20th century, represented by the atom. Here the union of the opposites that builds the new Mexican society is symbolized; Thus, fire participates as a fundamental energy, to which is added the work of man, the energy of knowledge that comes from science and technology; and finally, the force of the spirit, represented by the ascending eagle.
Western Wall: The University and Mexico Today
On this wall, the artist captured his ideas about what the national university and culture should be. He sought a definitive synthesis of the national culture. Here, the subject to be developed was science and technique, as well as the role that university students should play in Mexican society. The closest image for this purpose was the university activity itself and, therefore, knowledge in its relations with society and productive life. For this, O'Gorman arranged pre-Hispanic, student and popular motifs in the lateral sections, not to mention sports. As this face faces the outer part of Ciudad Universitaria, towards Insurgentes Avenue, it also serves as identification of the University and of the role that this building would originally play in the set of buildings: the letters BN and HN refer to the National Library and Hemeroteca Nacional, respectively.
The National Autonomous University of Mexico is a prestigious public university in Mexico originally funded in 1551 as the Royal and Pontifical University of Mexico makes this institution the oldest in America. In 1910, UNAM was reformed as a liberal institution and obtained its autonomy from the government in 1926.
UNAM is a fundamental part of Mexico's history and future. It is embedded in millions of Mexicans' lifestories
, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México. Acerca de la Biblioteca, Dirección General de Bibliotecas. Invalid date. Accessed June 18th 2020. http://bibliotecacentral.unam.mx/murales06.html.