Saturday, March 21, 2009

Muralismo Part 2

At home, he nurses the muse, gets his hands dirty on a few guerrilla mural projects, including an anti-apartheid mural on a makeshift shanty on the west mall in the middle of the Univerity of Texas campus, which he paints alongside his brother-in-law Rolando Castro, a gifted young artist from Del Rio, Texas. The mural and shanty are torched within days by anonymous perpetrators. It is his first experience with politically motivated vandalism that seeks to whitewash the historical facts and erase the evidence of oppression. Perhaps the low-budget mural had made frat boys and racists uncomfortable enough to lash out.
Today, as an editor and a cultural curator who was finally brave enough to make his way westward to the creative homeland that first touched him with those monumental murals born in the fire of change and anEast LA renaissance, he has to ask himself, have things really changed that much? Fledgling graffiti artists are persecuted and often mistakenly profiled as gang-affiliated even though the art form has been validated at the highest echelons of internationally elite art institutions. A moratorium on new murals in Los Angeles is gridlocked in a process that city politicians, policy makers and bureaucrats seem unable to unravel. And finally, the children in neighborhoods that are consistently deprived of arts and humanities in a steadfast effort to deny them the very things that make them less likely to become statistics and vandals are no longer connected to their own cultural and artistic traditions. They are largely disassociated from the history and thus the significance of murals that spoke to the generation that came before.

They have no idea who Yreina Cervantes or Judith Hernandez or Judy Baca are or what SPARC (Social & Public Art Resource Center) was all about. They were never told or taught about Wayne Healy or Frank Romero or Carlos Almaraz or even Eloy Torrez, all artists who have lived or worked on the Eastside or in Downtown LA. Meanwhile, the iconic Anthony Quinn mural, a symbol of everything good and beautiful in Los Angeles, falls into disrepair. Almost makes one think there are those only too happy to see a legacy fade. All soapbox rants aside, the mural is LA. The city is not Hollywood, not some snooty invitation-only reception at the Getty that helps the landed or the moneyed gentry feel somehow superior. It lives, instead in it’s forgotten status as the mural capital of the world, a laurel that no longer applies.
Murals are an antidote, and art heals. There can be no other explanation. Consider this: millions are spent yearly on graffiti abatement while NOTHING is spent on mural programs that engage the young people who are crying out desperately to be noticed. Where do you think tagging and graffiti begin? They are emblematic symbols of fragile human identities, young souls who spray paint on walls because they have no other modes for self-expression. The solutions are there. The artists are still here. They are only too happy to revisit the neighborhoods where they first began transforming public spaces into outdoor galleries and museums. Our city needs them more than ever. Our children will die without them, rotting in jails or medicating themselves into oblivion because art is necessary. It is not a luxury or a privilege. Don’t you see? (Image above: El Corrido de Boyle Heights, mural at César Chavez and Soto by David Botello, Wayne Healy and George Yepes.)

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