An about 15-foot tree. A Mexican sycamore with only one scraggly leaf sprouting from a top branch. That tree can symbolize many things. For Mexican artist Pedro Reyes this sycamore symbolizes this.
“What is going on here is to take an agent of death and turn it into an agent of life. No? It’s a very old idea. You know, what’s called swords into ploughshares or other analogies.”
Those swords were guns. Reyes initiated a project in Culiacan, Mexico. A city, he says, which has one of the highest gun-related deaths in Mexico. People donated weapons. They steamrolled those weapons and created shovels from that metal. In all 1527 weapons were turned in, 1527 shovels were manufactured and 1527 trees will be planted. Reyes says that he’s trying to change culture slowly with this symbolic act.
“Curbing gun deaths is not a problem that you’re going to solve by throwing money at it, or with technology, actually it’s about culture, no.”
Parts of Reyes’s project will be on display at the Cronicas exhibition at FotoFest. Mexican artists in this exhibition are addressing the effects of the ongoing drug war. There are photos made at crime scenes and a montage video of news footage that takes critical look at some policy decisions. Jennifer Ward a curator for the FotoFest exhibition says Pedro Reyes’s installment is one of the more hopeful parts of the exhibit.
“There are a lot of difficult images in the exhibition, and I feel like Pedro being an activist is hopefully trying to turn around what’s going on in Mexico.”
Here at Guadulupe Plaza Park that hope can been seen in the small, currently scrawny tree. It’s being planted away from the other trees: the palms, the elms, and the pecan trees. Barry Ward with Trees for Houston dug the hole that will house the Mexican sycamore.
“When they’re alone like this they get a nice big canopy and great, big beautiful leaves that’ll be brown on one side and green on the other.”
Ward says with the right watering, this tree could be around 40 feet in five years.
All photos courtesy of KUHF intern Gerald Rich