Memoria Canera

Writing as a Freedom Gesture

“When someone is deprived of everything, when he loses control over his own space and time, when he is reduced to in-dignity, only the dignity of his own conscience remains: only memory remains”
To Write not to Die. Writing in Franco’s prisons.
Antonio Castillo Gómez. University of Alcalá.

CE.RE.SO. High Security Center for High Impact Crimes. Michoacan Morelia
Centre of Social Reinsertion of Maximum Security for High Impact Crimes. Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico. Photo: HomeBox

Forbidden Signs

The word “cana” has being used in Mexico as slang for jail. Being in “cana” is an interruption of regular life’s dynamics, where social logics are exacerbated and transformed; a punishment space that fulfills the double function of confining those who are inside to isolation and punishment, and threatening those who are outside.

This system that our culture has designated as the proper way to administer justice, is full of contradictions. As the Argentinian sociologist and philosopher Emilio Ípola explains, in a place where signs are forbidden or extremely controlled, everything is sign and message, every word, every tiny gesture is inevitable and emphatically meaningful.1 In this sense, Memoria canera or “Memories from Jail” is an exercise of writing the unspoken, the hidden signs, sometimes yelling to be heard even though nobody listens.

Police officers observing the new calligraphy art mural by mexican artist Said Dokins in the high security prison, Morelia Michoacan
Memoria Canera Said Dokins Calligraphy Art Mural Prision in Morelia. Photo: HomeBox

Memory Spaces

Said Dokins started the creating process by establishing conversations with the people deprived of liberty. From those encounters, Dokins gathered phrases, experiences, words used frequently in the prison’s daily life, but also poems, long writings, tales, feelings… Every sign had a story behind, sometimes dramatic and bitter, some others, ironic, even funny, but always showing the brutality of life in confinement.

Calligraphy Art mural by the street artist Said Dokins in Haig Impact Prision
Memoria Canera. Said Dokins Calligraphy mural CE.RE.SO.
High Impact Crimes , Morelia. Photo: HomeBox

Memoria Canera is a reflection about identity, memory and life in jail. Its about the underground culture that emerges in there, from the language, that includes the slang used inside, the nicknames of the people, to the deepest thoughts about confinement and freedom.


The mural is made out of the collection of fragments the artist wrote all over the background, forming a texture of letters and signs where the interns poured their own story. As he writed them down on the wall, he was performing an act of inscription of memory that re-signified space -that place of surveillance and control designed to objectify and alienate human beings-, when printing a little piece of each participant on it, so their trace could be displayed for all to see, for all to remember.

Over this calligraphic lattice, Dokins traced a geometric figure symbolizing the crossroads of life, that indelible unexpected concatenation of experiences that define one’s present.

The Mexican artist Said Dokins with the prisoners of the Michoacan penitentiary to his mural calligraphy art
The artist Said Dokins collaborates with the inmates of the high security prison in Morelia to create a monumental work of calligraphy. Photo: HomeBox

Three Murals

Memoria Canera was part of a three mural series made by the outstanding Mexican Street Artists Said Dokins, Six, and Spike with the intention to bring light on the discussion about Cultural Rights, particularly, in the Centers of Reclusion where artistic and cultural practices can be a valuable tool against exclusion and marginalization.

1 Emilio de Ípola, La bemba – Acerca del rumor carcelario y otros ensayos. (Buenos Aires: Siglo XXI Editores, 2005.

Memoria Canera

Huge Calligraphy Art Mural in Supermax Prison in Mexico.

This mural is an exercise of inscribing collective memory through the calligraphic gesture to fight erasure in a context where memory is probably the most important treasure.
Date: 2019-20
Place: Prison in Morelia, Michoacán, Mexico.
Medium: Collaborative mural

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