The Current State of Muralism (Part III)


When David Alfaro Siqueiros passed away in 1973, it was as if the torch was passed to other regions where political struggles had existed but didn't have a face. For many decades, the world looked to the Mexican Muralists for technique and inspiration, but in the '70s a new cultural renaissance emerged in the American Southwest and Northern Ireland. In the United States, the Mexican-American community in the Southwest had suffered political, economic, and cultural injustices by the dominant Anglo-Saxon community since the Mexican-American War of 1848, however, it wasn't until the end of World War II that the movement gained momentum. Programs such as the American GI Forum, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund, the Mexican American Political Association, and the Community Service Organization were created by the Mexican American community as a form of identity and cultural empowerment, to facilitate voting power, train local leaders, and establish political advocacy.

In Northern Ireland, a sectarian conflict emerged during the 1960s called "The Troubles," in which the constitutional status of the region was the central debate. The unionists and loyalists, mostly Protestants, wanted the region to remain part of the hegemonic United Kingdom, while the nationalists and republicans, mostly Catholic, called for a united Ireland. The debate was a deep-rooted cultural conflict in which ethnic and nationalist differences have caused a serious civil strife with those identifying as British and Protestant, versus those identifying as Irish and Catholic. The historical conflict goes back to the Irish War of Independence and the Irish Civil War, with periods of conflict since, however, it wasn't until the civil rights campaigns by the nationalists and republicans that began in 1964 that called to end discrimination against Catholics, equal voting rights, an end to gerrymandering of electoral boundaries, and a reform to the police force, that eventually ushered in a new era of troubles. Immediately after the campaigns, reactions by the other side led to the creation of paramilitary groups, factions, bombings, kidnappings, riots, and many other forms of political violence including the notorious Bloody Sunday where 26 unarmed civil-rights protestors were murdered by the British Army. Since the beginning of "The Troubles" period, political murals have appeared across the region from both perspectives.

In 1974, Judy Baca founded the first mural program in the city of Los Angeles, which produced more than 400 murals. Two years later she founded the Social and Public Art Resource Center, SPARC, which is currently housed in Venice, California, which was once used as a local jail. The non-profit organization was created as a community arts center to support community-based, participatory public arts projects and has since been used as a place for engaging civic dialogue. Several Mexican American artists emerged during the Chicano Movement of the '60s and '70s to produce murals that reflected the people of the street and their conflicts. Just as the Mexican muralists tapped into their indigenous and nationalist heritage, the Mexican Americans did the same while employing their American backgrounds as well. Places like Chicano Park in San Diego or the Great Wall of Los Angeles that Judy Baca helped create tell stories of people of color who have indigenous, mestizo, and mulatto roots that the dominant culture has tried to disappear. Political monumental murals have always told stories of a struggling people, the land, the ecology of the environment, and in Los Angeles it all started in the L.A. River.