Centered around lucha libre, the popular form of Mexican wrestling, this project leverages the vernacular of the sport as a metaphor for the conflictual nature of defining one’s identity. “Lucha” translates to fight or struggle in English, but connotes an underlying righteousness or struggle against oppression in Spanish. The qualities of fighters’ identities are often encapsulated in a mask. The theatrics of the fight hold other relevant metaphors: opponents might represent individuals or institutions perceived as oppositional actors in one’s experience defining themselves; the spectators might represent actors who witness or observe one’s experience defining their identity either as supporters or detractors; the arena itself might represent the scope within which one sees these defining experiences playing out. Through a range of interviews and workshops, Black-identifying participants constructed narratives about their own racialized experiences in México.
First, participants designed luchador masks that represent some aspect of their afro-Mexican identity. In a “lucha” to defend your identity, what would you want prominently displayed on your mask?
After designing their masks, participants articulated the elements of a scene that reflects a formative moment from their lived experience defining their identity: Where did the “lucha” take place? Who was your “opponent” in that scenario? Who would have been in the “audience” to witness the struggle? From a deck of cards, participants then selected a luchador move that represents some aspect of their defining moment and acted out that scene with another participant playing the role of their opponent. See the video summary above for more action.
Leveraging the visual vernacular of lucha libre began as an experiment in designing an object to facilitate a conversation. The first iteration of this object was an interview in which participants designed a luchador mask with elements representing central aspects of their identity. Lucha libre, a definitively Mexican form of wrestling, speaks to an element of national identity and cultural politics that relate to themes mestizaje as a nationalist project and afromexicans’ relationships to the state as a result. Lucha libre’s morally endowed characters hold implications for the types of actors who may exercise agency in a Mexican context. Metaphorically, lucha libre offers robust world-building opportunities: masks and characters come imbued with morality and meaning; interactions, positionality, relationality, and physical movements between actors mirror interpersonal and institutional interactions; power dynamics, vulnerability, and competition play a role as well.
The approach detailed above emerged after a combination of secondary research, field engagements, studio practices, and more structured interviews. Though the project started with contextual and historical framing from a literature review and interviews with folks actively advocating for Afro-Mexican rights, my approach evolved as each inquiry led to knew understandings about place, people, and the constantly changing constraints of fieldwork.