By Russell Zazueta
For decades, Chicana/o artists have colored Los Angeles’ public buildings and walls with large murals that call attention to Mexican-American culture.
On Saturday, the California Historical Society and La Plaza De Cultura Y Artes presented “Murales Rebeldes! L.A. Chicana/o Murals Under Siege,” where people can learn about the history and stories behind Chicana/o artwork that was censored, whitewashed or destroyed during the latter half of the twentieth century.
According to La Plaza’s CEO John Echeveste, Chicana/o artists had very limited opportunities for expression in the museums and galleries, so they used the city, even their homes, as a canvas to paint murals depicting heritage pride or in protest of racial mistreatment. The more murals that popped up, the stronger the voice of the community, and it opened the door for a new generation of artists.
Today, he said, there are artists who work to restore the remaining murals of the past, and that the urban artwork continues to be a staple of L.A. culture.
Echeveste gave the opening speech at the reception, saying that the central message of the exhibit and its public programming “is that when a mural is destroyed, when a mural is whitewashed, when a mural is demolished or censored, our voice is silenced.”
He goes on to say that the murals have given the community power and meaning at a time when it needed it the most, and maybe the lesson learned from it is we need more murals today.
He encourages all Chicana/o artists to continue the community’s art legacy, noting that it has given the community a voice, along with social and political power.
Many of these artists attended and represented their artwork inside the exhibit hall, answering people’s questions about the art on display, while other artists were asked by appreciative fans to join in on selfies.
With three rooms of exhibits, walls filled with historical value, cultural pride, and images displaying the stark truth of that time. Much of the artwork has endured a lack of recognition by institutions because of its controversial history depicted.
There is an exhibit that shows sequential photographs of a mural-painted wall standing, being demolished and in rubble ruin. There are paper sketches of classic cars, education themes, dinosaurs, Mayan deities, oil refineries and cacti encased in glass, and film footage on the history of murals in L.A.
Somebody actually salvaged stone pieces over 20 years ago from one of the walls razed, and is on display with each stone containing a piece of the mural.
Chicana artist Barbara Carrasco was there to represent her extraordinary and long, horizontal mural called “L.A. History / A Mexican Perspective.” Woven in the lady’s hair are 51 images detailing the history of Los Angeles.
Some of the depictions that it comprises: the site of the 1871 lynching of Chinese miners;The L.A. Times reporter Ruben Salazar who died during the August 29, 1970 Chicano Moratorium march; The urban redevelopment projects such as Dodger Stadium and Bunker Hill.
The mural was created in 1981 and hasn’t been displayed to the public in over 25 years until now – the last time being in the booking room at Union Station in 1990. In a couple of weeks, for the second time in its history, her mural will be displayed at Union Station in the central corridor.
Another present Chicano artist, Willie F. Herron III, played a role in lifting the ban on murals in 2002, and he currently works with the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles in restoring the 1984 Olympic murals sprawled over the walls of the Hollywood Freeway and the Harbor Freeway.
One of his best works, “The Wall That Cracked Open,” is displayed at La Plaza. The mural was a response to a violent gang attack his brother encountered. But it got whitewashed years later. Since then he has restored it, and continues his quest to help restore the giant Olympic murals that were painted over by the city.
La Plaza will host “Murales Rebeldes! L.A. Chicana/o Murals Under Siege” until February.
On MuralesRebeldes.org, a picture of Carrasco’s artwork “languishes” in storage, including L.A. History / A Mexican Perspective, because of censorship. Don’t miss out on this rare opportunity to catch a glimpse of her mural and what many officials called Chicana/o art controversial.