Those of you who've picked up a physical copy of Houstonia's July issue will have hopefully perused our cover story on Mexican food in Houston, a story which begins with a full-page photo of artist Kevin Hernandez's mural at downtown cantina El Big Bad—the same photo seen above.
One of our readers called in with a thought-provoking take on the mural—a take that honestly hadn't occurred to us—concerning the subject matter. "I have a complaint because you have a woman above the article...and it has the Incan and Mayan influence to it, and the rabbits and the sun in the background and all that, and that's really troublesome to me," began the voicemail.
The reader continued: "And the reason why that is, I don't know if you know, but you're basically representing a culture at that point in time, that kills people. That ritualistically murders people and infants and children. And that's what the rabbits are for, that's what the sun god is for. And then the woman being there, because it was very sexually prevalent that they would have orgies, and you know, kill people. So...I didn't know if you knew that's what it represented. So you just need to look deeper into your history. And that's all. Thank you very much for your time."
Wondering if this motif was, indeed, the inspiration for the mural at El Big Bad, we turned to owner Lea McKinney to illuminate us on the matter. McKinney's response was equally interesting:
The 52 foot mural painted by local artist, Kevin Hernandez represents the heart and soul of our business at El Big Bad. It can be assured that neither Steve Sharma nor I, the co-creators of this concept, celebrate ritualistic mass murder of any kind. In its purest sense, the mural in question actually represents the Aztec mythological origin of the story of tequila and contains no references to orgies or mass killings of any kind.
As we realize, not everyone might be well versed in Aztec Mythology, to help get some perspective and hopefully gain some more understanding and insight into the meaning behind the mural, here is the mythological origin of Tequila AKA Mayahuel’s story.
Mayahuel, is the woman featured with an agave plant (please note it is not a sun) behind her head in the painting in question. She started out in Aztec mythos as a minor deity of fertility. This was represented by her 400 rabbit children, which you can see frolicking across the colorful and surreal landscape of the mural. One day during a feast, she and the deity Quetzalcoatl fell madly in love with each other. Her family did not approve and subsequently the lovers were forced flee and hide from Mayahuel’s wrathful grandmother by turning into a tree. Their efforts proved futile as her grandmother eventually found them and Mayahuel was killed. Disconsolate, Quetzalcoatl buried her bones and fell into a state of grief. The other gods sympathized with him in his anguish and allowed Mayahuel to be reborn, eternal as The Agave plant. Agave and its cousins give us Tequila, Mezcal, and Sotol.
One would be hard-pressed to find a culture that does not have any form of violence in its past. Colonization itself was a process that endorsed the systematic absorption and more often than not, destruction and subjugation of indigenous peoples. A process that most cultures and countries, including our own, have taken part in at one time or another throughout history. Additionally, in the name of religion, many cultures and civilizations have had a hand in some pretty brutal crusades over the ages; some that still carry on today. The fact that we can look back through history the world-over at actions like these and declare them barbaric is a testament to our moving forward together as a society. We just need to be careful not to generalize an entire culture or people based on the beliefs held by some of its citizens or ancestors.
Offense was never our intention. Creativity, fun, imagination, great cocktails and delicious food is our intention.
So there you have it: an elucidation of an enigmatic piece of art that, in our opinion, is best enjoyed while kicking back underneath it with one of El Big Bad's vampiros—a cocktail with a bloody interesting origin story of its own.