The Mono Bichi Monument – Conception, Confirmation and Conflict

Famed Nogales Landmark the Largest Nude Statue in the World

Mono Bichi - top

The two statues known as the Mono Bichi are a unique Nogales, Sonora landmark that is a beloved symbol of Nogales, Sonora. It has become a popular symbol of the Mexican city, featuring a statue of revered Mexican President Benito Juarez and behind him a naked man with a spear killing a strange creature.

A naked man with a spear killing a strange creature?

Officially known as the Monument to Ignorance (Monumento a la Ignorancia), the sculpture, located just behind a statue of revered Mexican President Benito Juarez, is the largest nude statue in the world. The naked man is the representation of a Yaqui Indian who is killing a beast that represents ignorance, a creature represented as the combination of a bat, eagle and bull.

This one-of-a-kind monument has an interesting and somewhat controversial history that involves religion, public art, history, culture, urban development and the clashes that sometimes arise between them.

The Mono Bichi was first conceptualized in 1962, when a group of local masons and others in Nogales, Sonora wanted to erect a monument to revered Mexican President Benito Juarez. At the time, local journalist Don Jose Pomposo Salazar was chairman of physical improvements for a federal agency that would provide funding for the endeavor, and he agreed that it would be a worthwhile effort.

Pomposo contacted a friend in Mexico City to find a sculptor to do a bust of Juarez, and soon after that renowned Spanish sculptor Don Alfredo Just Jimeno, best known for his masterpiece sculpture Manolete, located outside de Plaza de Toros in Mexico City, came to Nogales to discuss options for the monument.

Mexican President Benito Juarez represented as presenting the Mexican Constitution in 1857

Mexican President Benito Juarez represented as presenting the Mexican Constitution in 1857

In discussing concepts with the sculptor, Don Jose Pomposo stated his opinion that Nogales could be living in ignorance, in no small part because at that time all of the city’s movie theaters had been closed. Reportedly Just Jimeno replied, “Well, what do you think of this idea – let’s kill ignorance.”

The resulting concept was lauded for its form and uniqueness, but it was not embraced by everyone in the very religious environment of early 1960′s Nogales. The proposed work of public art aligned opposition between two forces that were prevalent at that time in Mexico: the church, and those Mexicans who had a more modern, liberal perspective.

A local priest who held a great deal of influence over the community, Father Nacho, immediately opposed the project. He circulated petitions and admonished his parishioners to demand that the statue not be portrayed in the nude.

In the ensuing public debate Don Pomposo countered his arguments, pointing out that the Vatican in Rome had a number of nude statues, and the famous fresco “The Last Judgment” by Michelangelo on one wall of the Sistine Chapel that is full of nudes. If the Pope would allow so many nude statues and images, why would Padre Nacho oppose one?

Pomposo eventually won the debate, and in October of 1964 Mexican President Adolfo Lopez Mateos came to Nogales to dedicate the statues.

A photo of Padre Nacho still hangs in the Nogales church where he served

A photo of Padre Nacho still hangs in the Nogales church where he served

Apparently the vaunted Padre Nacho had his own secrets and sexual predilections, or at least that was the speculation after his testicles were severed from his body as he was being tortured before he was murdered in 1985. Read more.

Resistance Fades, Adoration Grows

Shortly after the inauguration, a car drove by the monument and fired shots at the naked statue. The man who was guarding the site reported the incident to Don Pomposo, who gave him a pistol and told him that if it happened again, to fire back. The next night the car returned and fired a shot, and the guard discharged his pistol in the direction of the car, which never returned.

The Mono Bichi reportedly also received a diaper for a time, to cover his private parts. But no one bothered to maintain or change his diaper, and it soon disappeared with the help of the winter rains and wind.

Since that time, the Mono Bichi has become an integral component of the psyche of Nogales, Sonora, a symbol of the city that its residents adore. But in 2008, controversy was to again surround this unique monument.

The head and shoulders of the Mono Bichi rise above the overpass that forced its relocation in 2009

The head and shoulders of the Mono Bichi rise above the overpass that forced its relocation in 2009

We Need to Move the Mono Bichi. No You Don’t

In 2008, city officials announced plans for a traffic overpass to be named after one of Nogales’s most prominent and beloved natives, Olympic medalist Ana Gabriela Guevara.

The problem was, the Mono Bichi monument was directly in the planned path of the road construction. City officials came up with a plan to relocate the statues 60 meters (about 180 feet) from their original location to accommodate the construction of the overpass.

This was not acceptable to a group of Nogales citizens, who questioned why the monument had to be relocated to accommodate the road, rather than the other way around. They believed that the place where the statues were originally placed should be their permanent location. And there were also concerns that the statues, which had by then become part of the heart and soul of Nogales, would be damaged during a move.

So the Nogales Heritage Pro-Defense Committee was formed to oppose moving the statue. Members protested and handed out flyers in what was ultimately interpreted as being a conflict that not only focused on the preservation of local art and heritage, but encompassed larger issues at odds with one another – heritage versus modernity, and progress and development versus the traditions and culture of border communities.

Statue of revered Mexican President Benito Juarez, part of the Mono Bichi monument

Statue of revered Mexican President Benito Juarez, part of the Mono Bichi monument

Project officials were able to convince the group that the statues could be moved without damage, and the conflict was ultimately resolved. And in February of 2009 the statues were moved to their current, and what will hopefully by their permanent, location.

To this day this unique piece of public art stands as a symbol of Nogales that is adored by its residents and admired by visitors. And it remains a lasting symbol to Don Pomposo’s vision of a Nogales where people do not live in ignorance.

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