Broad in scope and exuberant in style, Murphy's newest work is Itzel, an engrossing two volume novel of turbulent times.
the late-night meetings organizing the US antiwar movement of the sixties to the false bottom vans carrying Central Americans to Canadian Sanctuary in the eighties, Itzel takes us on a whirlwind ride through our continental heritage even as its narrator,
contemplates her own coming of age inside the events—personal and political—that surrounded the massacre in Tlatelolco that ended Mexico’s student movement of 1968.
The first volume of Xerar Murphy's two volume novel,
Itzel I: A Tlatelolco Awakening, was published by Guernica Editions in 2019. Itzel II: A Three Knives Tale is upcoming in 2020. A hybrid work decades in the making, it all started while walking across a treeless Calgary park in 1981 when its first line sprang into mind right after Murphy had taken down a solo exhibition of her constructions. Itzel was an Auschwitz survivor it said, as she remembered the older woman once her closest Mexican friend. Only the second syllable of the name altered. It's finishing touches came fifty years after the events around which its story gathers like morning clouds around the Popocetépetl.
Recipient of multiple awards and prizes, Xerar Murphy was honoured with a grant from The Canada Council for the Arts to return to Mexico in 2018 during the 50th anniversary commemorations of the Mexican student movement of 1968 to put finishing touches to Itzel, exactly fifty-one years after she moved to Mexico. The novel’s two volumes chronicle the participation of a young activist from Brooklyn in the events leading up to and away from the Tlatelolco Massacre of October 2nd, along with the lives of her closest friends.
Note how in the photo above the army comes shortly after dawn to raise the flag as it does each day, only today on October 2nd on this official day of mourning it will only be to half-mast. Yet they do it with special pomp and circumstance, press corps, public officials, a brass band, as if to erase the institution's culpability in the Massacre. At noon to your left a map of Mexico drawn in chalk is filled with shoes and other articles of clothing as were left behind in Tlatelolco. ¡El 2 de octubre no se olvida!
The return to Mexico allowed Xerar Murphy to commemorate the Massacre among old friends, and to watch as thousands entered the Zócalo in celebration of the 68 Movement’s lasting accomplishments. After much traditional music from a band in existence since Mexico’s Revolution of 1910, participants left to the ironically and brilliantly chosen chorus of a Beatles’ song: Oh, I believe in yesterday.
In this photo as the demonstration breaks up, paper mache heads of President Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, the president who ordered the Massacre, burn in effigy. The small red white and blue object is an antimonumento, a crowd sourced monument made by local artists thenR positioned together with a petition signed by thousands to let it stay. It contains the logo of the CNH, the National Strike Committee who led the '68 Movement together with 68's Olympic dove.
From large wreaths to handmade signs, glasses of water to small bouquets of cempaxochitl—the orange marigold of the Day of the Dead—the Plaza where the Massacre occurred and from where the demonstrators have marched fills with memorials. And with memories. Bodies are outlined in chalk or paint on the paving stones. And the words repeat: Ni perdón, ni olvido. Neither pardon, nor forgetting.
October 2nd will never be forgotten.
It was the army.
It was the state
More than once, movement participants were greeted by tanks
Such photos are reproduced on the base of the antimonumento
Our Struggle will never sell out
We will win
Xerar Murphy has been the recipient of many other grants and awards from the Canada Council, The Alberta Foundation for the Arts, and Arts New Brunswick, as well as Canada’s Golden Beret Award for her spoken word work and contribution to her community.
Note that earlier work was mostly produced under the name Sarah Murphy.
She also received an Arts Council England International Artists Fellowship on which together with Keith Jafrate and Shaun Blezard she produced, toured and created a CD of her spoken word monologue when bill danced the war, a tribute to her Choctaw father’s heroism.
Here, the CD cover produced by the UK's Word Hoard.
This monologue was later performed at Ladyfest Ottawa's First Women, First Voices with Cheryl L'Hirondelle and Bear Witness.
In yet another version, it was performed in New Brunswick & Maine with the duo Wave.
This CD cover is from that version and shows Murphy's father standing with his Japanese family under the Nagasaki atom bomb marker, an event chronicled in the monologue and in a separate article by Murphy, "Ground Zero."
Born and raised in Brooklyn Xerar Murphy became active in the early Civil Rights movement at 14 and soon occupied a position on the National Council of the Students for a Democratic Society with whom she later organized against the War in Vietnam.
Here, in 1965, at yet another conference—smokin' a not so very big ceegar—as a member of mankind, Xerar Murphy prepares herself for a man to man talk in the men’s lounge.
At 17 With Tim Murphy and Dan Millstone
In later years when Xerar Murphy would teach MLK's 'I have a dream' speech to students of English as Second or Foreign Language, she would tell them that she had a dream that day, too., though she does not remember it.
Having done her duty as a picket captain on the march and after several days of very little sleep, she was sleeping under a tree during the speeches,
Now regional organizer for New York SDS, Xerar Murphy addresses the audience as Dan Millstone holds an umbrella. Although years before the Pentagon Papers were published, she knew all their essential information, the ironies of that moment still escape her.
Within two years she will be in Mexico..
Although she will always remain an activist, there were many days of silent work in this studio. It and the large reliefs you see growing around Xerar Murphy are the source for those described in Itzel. The series includes the blood red large relief of the Plaza of the Three Cultures only minutes before the start of the Massacre in Tlatelolco. That relief is larger than the one in its preliminary stages you see beneath her right hand.
The first of these reliefs won the painting prize her graduating year from the University of the Americas in 1969. Another the Cuernavaca art prize the following year. It remains in the collection of Guadalupe Otero, to whom Itzel I is dedicated. Itzel II is dedicated to this picture's photographer, Armando Salgado, whose photographs of El Halconazo, the demonstation of June 10th 1971 re-enacted in Alfonso Cuarón's Roma, changed Mexican history.
Throughout her time in Canada, Xerar Murphy has worked with its Latin American exile and refugee community, from hearing rooms and interviews, to church basements and community centres, conferences and coffee houses, small podiums and large auditoriums, she has supplied translation and support. You see her here with Uruguay's great singer, songwriter and guitarist, Daniel Viglietti. This was in the 1980s. She will work with him again in the 2000s.
In 2008 Calgary's Chilean association presented Xerar Murphy with an award in recognition of her support with their community and other communities of refugees and exiles from all over South and Central America.