“Nuevo Amanecer” (“New Dawn”) mural has become the main icon to represent the Cultural Center and draws lots of attention as a backdrop to a wide array of Center activities every week. It is also recognized nationally and internationally for being one of the few revolutionary murals that has survived in Managua. The “Nuevo Amanecer” mural was painted in the 1987 by a collective of artists from various countries, including Argentina, Spain, the U.S. and England. But just as the founders, the muralists were very intentional about getting input from the local community and making sure everyones’ opinion was taken into account; especially the women at the Center at the time.
With dual symbolism as both a political and religious mural, many people have different opinions of the mural. Yet after all of these years, we were curious, what does this mural represent for people here at the Center today? And what can it tell us about the birth of Christ during this advent season?
So here are a few perspectives on the “New Dawn” mural that we gathered from people at the Center
Daysi Alvarez (Sewing Instructor, has attended mass and been involved at the Center since it’s founding)
“I like all aspects of the mural because it connects religion and politics in a time when they were very intertwined, int he ideology and practice of the Nicaraguan revolution. But it also represents this grand plan and hope for the future with the Christ child. I like this painting as well because it shows martyrs who died in the war from this community, including some of my neighbors. I even taught the daughter of a woman painted in the mural in one of my sewing classes.”
Diego Castillo (Age 10, actively involved in youth choir and orchestra)
“My favorite part of the mural is the child, representing when Jesus was born. I also see a lot of people reunited and bringing gifts to the child. When we sing I feel like we’re also bringing gifts and worshiping him with song.”
Gleris Ruis (Center Accountant and frequently attends the weekly mass)
“My favorite part of the painting is the Christ Child. I often focus on the child during mass as well as the women floating above him. What’s interesting is that in contrast to most paintings of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, in the time period and culture he was born, this painting shows Jesus born into Nicaraguan culture during the time period of the revolution”
Josefa Rodriguez (Artistic Promotion Coordinator, has lived in Batahola and been a part of the Center since its founding)
“To me the mural means God with us, because you can see God with all the people–of diverse economic, social, religious, and political backgrounds. I had always grown up believing God was a punisher, but with the help of Father Angel I began to change that perspective. Now I see God as love, and love in action because we can find God among us. To me the traditional depictions of Jesus’ birth reflect this old image of God that I had growing up. A Jesus without feeling–a white baby born in Bethlehem surrounded by donkeys and sheep and that was it. But in the mural I see the real birth: Jesus here among us, as symbol of new birth, new humanity and new hope.”
For me, I see the “Nuevo Amanacer” mural as a radical one. Despite the origins of the Center being Catholic, we don’t see the traditional mother Mary being featured, nor the typical white-skinned baby. Instead we see Jesus from the perspective of the poor, how he really came into this world; in a lowly manger.
It’s been so great to be back in Iowa spending Christmas with my family this year, but it has also made me step back and compare the two different Christmas traditions that I have now experienced. Nicaraguan culture has helped me remember the importance of the present. Here in the states, it feels like many of the Christmas sermons I’ve heard are on the birth story (the past) or Jesus coming so that we can be saved (future). But the theme I see when I go to mass or look at the “Nuevo Amanecer” mural is the present. People come to offer the child whatever they have, here and now. Whether that’s a few mangos, bananas corn, or music. Over and over again I’ve experienced the incredible ability of the poor to give so graciously, not worrying about the future. Maybe that’s why Jesus says it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. We can so easily cling onto the material things during the Christmas season. The decorations, presents, the snow…but those things just distract us from the real reason we celebrate. And that reason is that Jesus is working just as radically today as he did when he was born thousands of years ago.
I think the “Nuevo Amanecer” mural is a good way to remember that Jesus’s birth was important, and so is our salvation, but in the end what matters most is the present. God is here among us, and God’s glory and grace is seen most clearly amongst the poor and the hurting. And just as Jesus did, we need to accompany the poor and the outcasts, living radically for peace and justice here and now. If we’re too busy with all of the material traditions of Christmas we miss the whole point.
It’s easy to get caught up in spending time with loved ones this Christmas season. And I hope you all did. But I challenge you as you look ahead to the new year, to notice those who might have been hurting and lonely this holiday season. Those who might not be easy and convenient to love. Seek them out. Strike up a conversation. Bring them some cookies. Invite them over for dinner. Try to see God’s light even among the helpless and lowly, remembering that our savior once entered this world in the same manner.