Judy Garland in a traditional Mexican dress as Dorothy from The Wizard of Oz. Jorge Negrete as a Mexican soccer player celebrating winning the World Cup. Al Pacino’s Scarface character dressed as a charro threatening a chicken he’s holding. These are just a few of the images Oaxacan locals can find scattered on various street corners of their already colorful city. The detailed and life-like stencil street art (think Bansky meets JR) is the brainchild of Oaxacan artist Froy Padilla Aragón better known as Efe de Froy.
Speaking to Vanguardia, Froy explained how the mashups are merely an exploration of his own bicultural upbringing. “It’s a vision of an 80s kid who got up on Saturday morning to watch some anime, some gringo cartoons, then in the afternoon you’d binged the Back to the Future trilogy and then at night, while eating with the family, you’d catch a classic from the Golden Age of Mexican cinema on one of the local channels,” he shared. “Whether you wanted to or not, you were growing up with cultures with vastly different characters.”
It explains why so many of his works borrow from seemingly distinct pop cultural traditions. Take his black and white photo-realist portrait of Luke Skywalker hugging an image of María Félix in full Leia garb while holding not a Star Wars gun but a bouquet of red flowers. The photo he’s aping is immediately recognizable. But with the focus on the colorful flowers (Félix’s father was Bernardo Félix Flores, her mother Josefina Güereña Rosas) and the unmistakable look of Félix’s striking eyebrows (she was known, after all, as a perfect femme fatale), the image takes on quite a different valence than the original. There’s a new story being woven, by taking a sci-fi hero and princess and melding them into a kind of melodrama tableau.
Similarly, he’s able to bring together Mexican superstars into genres that would never have been a part of. It explains Froy’s love of putting Negrete and Pedro Infante, for example, into Star Trek uniforms, or stressing the kindred spirits of Wednesday Addams (the sulky girl from The Addams Family) and one Ms Frida Kahlo. And at others, the mashups are designed to just have us laughing out loud. How else to explain this imagined Back to the Future reboot starring a young LuisMi and Chabelo? The Mexican crooner, especially in his heyday, could definitely give Marty McFly a run for his money when it came to charm, and the host of the Sunday morning show En Familia con Chabelo, is just the right amount of kooky to pull off the role of the crazy time-traveling scientist Doc Brown.
That’s why, at their heart, Froy’s murals feel like Internet memes come to life. Unfortunately, the striking murals have not gone over well with everyone. While there are those on social media who’ve commended Froy on his quirky IRL-take on photoshop mashups, celebrating his sense of humor of marrying two popular cultures that often run parallel to one another, there are those who see them as merely cheapening Mexico’s rich cultural tapestry by tacking them onto Hollywood icons. Its critics have gone further, pointing out that such street art does a disservice to Oaxaca’s beautiful architecture.
And it appears the local government might agree. Just a few days ago several of Froy’s works (including his portrait of painter Frida Kahlo in Audrey Hepburn’s famous Breakftast at Tiffany’s pose, black dress, pearls and all) have been covered up with “Pintura No Autorizada” signs. Oaxaca’s Dirección General del Centro Histórico has deemed Froy’s works as violating the city’s rules when it comes to decorating historical buildings, using unapproved colors and paints.
It’s unclear what will become of Froy’s Instagram-friendly portraits. A hit during the city’s Guelaguetza, when tourists visiting the region for the annual Los lunes del cerro event snapped pics and shared them all over social media, they may soon endure only in those photos and in people’s memories. That has been for a long time the fate of any kind of street art but we’re sure Froy’s talents will soon find ways to keep his pop culture-riddled mind and talents entertained. So keep an eye out. Because the mind who can mashup E.T. and Mexican food (T.A.M.A.L.) and can turn Thalía’s María la del barrio into a Starbucks logo, is definitely the kind of artist you want making more work.