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“As of December 1st, the Capítulo 3000 workers of @bellasartesinba are still waiting for pay for the month of October,” tweeted @conTRATOdigno, a group of cultural workers in Mexico advocating for better work conditions. The group then proceeded to declare a “total suspension of labor.”
The strike was organized this week by the “Capítulo 3000,” a workforce of Mexico’s arts institutions comprised of non-unionized workers considered service providers, not staff, who are paid on a monthly basis and lack the benefits of their unionized colleagues. Its motive, however, is nothing new. Last December, employees of the Instituto Nacional de Bellas Artes y Literatura (INBAL) in Mexico City closed the building and other museums under its purview to protest wage delays; extended lags in payment, sometimes lasting months at a time, have been a profound and systemic problem for years.
As the pandemic rages on in Mexico, and in-person actions such as last year’s museum shutdown are less feasible, workers are turning to the digital sphere to make their demands known. And while the exploitation of creative labor is no laughing matter, many have resorted to the most common form of Internet humor — memes — to shed light on the ongoing issues.
Capítulo 3000 workers have edited paintings by some of the country’s most famous artists to denounce the delay in payments. An image of Diego Rivera’s 1915 canvas “El Arquitecto” — housed in the collection of the Museo de Arte Carrillo Gil in Mexico City — is overlaid with the phrase “Diego Rivera’s Architect watching as INBAL continues not paying us while we keep museums open.” In another meme with a similar caption, the revered Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros also gazes out in disappointment.
The message is clear: Mexico’s artistic titans are judging silently from the grave, watching as a nation that yielded one of the world’s greatest cultural patrimonies fails some of the most vulnerable members of its arts ecosystem.
“Since the first protests in 2018, along with #YaPágameINBA and #YaPágameINAH, we started making memes to bring the museum-going public and their social networks closer to our demonstrations,” a spokesperson for @conTRATOdigno told Hyperallergic.
“Memes are part of our language now, and they are fundamental to creating connections between our public, workers, and people who are not familiar with the issues. By using artworks or artists exhibited in the museums, we ‘click’ with our visitors and generate empathy and sensibility for our situation,” they added.
According to the local newspaper El Universal, workers said in a statement that the decision to strike was made with “profound pain and disappointment at the need to implement such measures in the face of constant abuse and neglect by authorities.” Numerous public museums overseen by INBAL, the national organization responsible for Mexico’s cultural and artistic activities, are operating with limited staff due to the strike, including the Museo Mural Diego Rivera, Museo Casa Estudio Diego Rivera y Frida Kahlo, Museo del Palacio de Bellas Artes, and the Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros, as well as several theaters.
In the last few years, workers’ collectives such as #NoVivimosDelAplauso, #YaPágameINBA, #conTRATOdigno, and Movimiento Colectivo por el Arte y la Cultura de México (@MOCCAMEXICO) have organized to advocate for improvements in hiring and compensation practices in the cultural sector. Their demands grew louder this year, as the coronavirus pandemic crippled Mexico’s already struggling institutions. A coalition of museum professionals protested the government’s approval of a $440 million project to convert sections of Mexico City’s Bosque de Chapultepec park into a cultural center designed by artist Gabriel Orozco; those funds, they said, would be better spent to keep existing organizations afloat.
On November 25, @conTRATOdigno, the collective that represents Capítulo 3000-designated workers, sent a missive to INBAL director Lucina Jiménez expressing their concern over the wage delays and uncertainty around job security for the coming year. According to one worker who spoke to Hyperallergic on the condition of anonymity, the group received a response, but their demands have not yet been addressed.
“The goal of this action is to show the public at large that the work performed by Capítulo 3000 personnel is completely substantial, and involves operational areas including programming, content production, communications, and services to the public, among other equally important responsibilities,” said the group in a statement.