Manuel Macias, who goes by MATR, painted this mural of an Aztec warrior in Pilsen in May.

Manuel Macias, who goes by MATR, painted this mural of an Aztec warrior in Pilsen in May.

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In Pilsen, Manuel ‘MATR’ Macias says his new mural of an Aztec warrior is meant to evoke struggle

He based the mural at 1451 W. 18th St. in Pilsen on a 2017 photo by Gustavo ‘Gus’ Mejia of a model dressed as an Aztec warrior.

SHARE In Pilsen, Manuel ‘MATR’ Macias says his new mural of an Aztec warrior is meant to evoke struggle
SHARE In Pilsen, Manuel ‘MATR’ Macias says his new mural of an Aztec warrior is meant to evoke struggle
The Aztecs once commanded a sprawling empire in what’s now Mexico — until a brutal conquest by Hernán Cortés led to Spanish domination.

Manuel Macias honored that Aztec history by painting a mural on an outside wall of a restaurant at 1451 W. 18th St. in Pilsen that he based on a 2017 photo by Gustavo “Gus” Mejia of a man dressed as an Aztec warrior.

Macias says he saw the image on Instagram.

“It just looked very spiritual,” says Macias, 29, who lives in Back of the Yards and goes by “MATR.”

“It touched me. It touched my heart.”

He says he got permission from Mejia, who is Mexican and now lives in Los Angeles, to model the mural on his image.

The photo by Gustavo “Gus” Mejia of a man portraying an Aztec warrior that Manuel Macias based his mural on.

The photo by Gustavo “Gus” Mejia of a man portraying an Aztec warrior that Manuel Macias based his mural on.

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The photo involved a model whose face was painted with a skeletal “catrina” design that invokes the Mexican Day of the Dead holiday. He’s seen with his eyes closed, hands crossed over his chest, dressed in traditional attire that includes a headpiece, Aztec patterns and feathers.

Jeanette Virgen, the makeup artist for the photo shoot, says, “Catrina basically means you’re mocking death. You can dress up fancy in all your frilly dresses, and you can wear the colognes, cover yourself in gems and throw the money up in the air. But, at the end of the day, we’re all skulls, and we’re all skeletons.”

Macias says he sees the warrior image as representing the struggles everyone must face and overcome.

“I imagine him just speaking to God and himself and feeling content with where you are in the moment,” he says. “There’s gratefulness in his pose.”

Macias painted the mural by hand. He says his biggest challenge was getting the scale right, staying as true to Mejia’s photo as possible.

Manuel “MATR” Macias in front of his Aztec-themed mural in Pilsen while it was still a work in progress.

Manuel “MATR” Macias in front of his Aztec-themed mural in Pilsen while it was still a work in progress.

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Macias painted over one of his previous works to create the new mural and was wary about how it would be received.

“You think you’re just going to do a painting, and then everyone walking by is just so happy, and you can see there is something shining through them,” he says.

Macias also embraced an Aztec theme in an earlier mural — one he did in 2020 at Cermak Road and Sacramento Avenue of an Aztec woman in a headdress holding a seashell.

Manuel “MATR” Macias painted this mural in Little Village in 2020.

Manuel “MATR” Macias painted this mural in Little Village in 2020.

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Murals

Chicago’s murals & mosaics

Part of a series on public art. More murals added every week.

Click on the map below for a selection of Chicago-area murals

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