Cat people, Mesoamerican art, Japanese video games and emojis all combine together to make up the new mural outside the Paul Creative Arts Center (PCAC.) The mural, “Hope is a Discipline,” is the work of the Texas-based artist Michael Menchaca.

The son of Mexican immigrants, Menchaca weaves Mesoamerican influences into his work; he does this to bring part of his own identity into his art.

“All I can do is put myself and my perspective and my heritage in the world and let it do its thing,” he said.

For Menchaca these identities represent both his Native American and European heritage.

Some influences in the mural are Mixtec codices, which were used by the Aztecs to record their current events.

“It’s a way of honoring the indigenous ancestors of my heritage,” said Menchaca. “I am trying to re-indigenize myself.” In that same vein, Menchaca said he’s trying to preserve our current events.

Menchaca also combined this with European mythological creatures, creating an international way to talk about our events. “I am pulling from different continents to evoke a shared experience,” he explained. Menchaca said the cat people are supposed to represent the Latinx community.

Menchaca said he tries to “visualize current events” with his art. “Every artist is a reaction to their time and the events unfolding in front of them,” said Menchaca. But what does “hope is a discipline” mean?

“If one is to have any faith in our political system or survive day to day during the pandemic you have to remain hopeful and not be bogged down by pessimism,” said Menchaca.

The quote comes from Mariame Kaba, an American activist and grassroots organizer, who focuses on prison reform.

Another part of the mural’s message is about screen time, said Menchaca, and how in our society we engage with the tools given to us by a handful of tech companies;Therefore we are subject to their abuses of our privacy.

“It brings awareness of our current economy and how we share information and data and how that can foster an undemocratic or surveillance state for certain folks,” said Menchaca. He wants the mural to open a discussion about how we use technology and how free it is. It’s about “how the internet has been co-opted by corporations and the government to manipulate the citizens,” he said. Menchaca also has a simpler message he wants to send with his mural: have hope. “It’s a very stressful time to go to school during the pandemic,” said Kristina Durocher, director of the University of New Hampshire (UNH) Museum of Art. Durocher worked with Menchaca during the creation of his mural.But discipline is the other part of the equation. “Discipline to just keep going to school,” said Menchaca.

Durocher said Menchaca was chosen to do the mural by a panel. “They were looking for work that would speak to the times. They were looking for work that would be graphic, visually arresting,” said Durocher.

According to Durocher, they weren’t looking for anything with a specific message, but rather something that upholds the UNH values like diversity and sustainability. Durocher also said the panel didn’t give any input or interfere with the artist’s creative process.

Unlike a standard mural, Menchaca’s art is not made with brushes and paint. Menchaca’s medium is digital drawing tools which he uses to create his art. The art was then printed out on a massive sheet which was attached to the wall.

Durocher appreciates the mural’s complexity. “You can look at it, then look at it again, then see something different. Then look at it again and see something different,” she said.

Photo courtesy of Anna Kate Munsey// TNH Staff