Muralists, Curators, Advisors
David Botello, East Los Streetscapers (b. 1946)
Artist and muralist David Botello has more than forty years of experience working with art and the communities of East Los Angeles. A Los Angeles native, he has trained as a painter, muralist, sculptor, designer, and art restorer. In 1969, Botello joined with brothers Jose Luis and Juan Gonzalez in founding the Goez Art Studio and Gallery as a space for local artists to create, exhibit, and sell art. Four years later, he was among the first artists to paint murals at the Estrada Courts public housing project in Los Angeles. Together with his elementary school friend, Wayne Healy, Botello co-founded Los Dos Streetscapers, known later as East Los Streetscapers. Together, Botello and Healy have produced a wide range of public artworks using a variety of media, including canvas and tile murals as well as porcelain, enamel, and concrete art installations. Botello’s solo and collaborative artwork has been exhibited throughout the United States and Europe. He and Healy continue to work together at their studio in Commerce, California.
Barbara Carrasco (b. 1955)
A Los Angeles-based muralist and artist working in a variety of media, Barbara Carrasco has given key visual representation to the social justice movements of the late twentieth century. Her banners for the United Farm Workers, large-scale public art projects, paintings, and drawings have been featured in numerous publications, and she has exhibited in the United States, Europe, and Latin America. Her mid-career survey exhibition, A Brush with Life, was held at the Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, in 2008, the same year the Girl Scouts of America created a merit patch based on her iconic image of Dolores Huerta. Her original mural sketches and drawings are included in the permanent collection of the Library of Congress, her oral history and documentation of her mural work are archived at the Smithsonian Institution, and a permanent collection of her papers is held at Stanford University. Carrasco received her MFA from the California Institute of the Arts and her BFA from University of California, Los Angeles. She has taught at University of California, Santa Barbara and Loyola Marymount University and was appointed the 2002–2003 University of California Regents professor at University of California, Riverside. The recipient of numerous fellowships and grants, she serves as a board member of the Dolores Huerta Foundation.
Yreina D. Cervántez (b. 1952)
Yreina D. Cervántez is a third-generation Chicana, born in Garden City, Kansas, raised in Southern California and currently based in Los Angeles. She earned a BA in Fine Arts from the University of California, Santa Cruz and an MFA from the University of California, Los Angeles. She is a tenured professor in the department of Chicana/o studies at California State University, Northridge. Working primarily in painting, printmaking, and muralism, Cervántez’s art combines imagery and ideologies from indigenous cultures and urban Los Angeles. She has exhibited at Avenue 50 Studio, Hammer Museum, Los Angeles County Museum of Art (LACMA), Los Angeles Municipal Art Gallery, Self Help Graphics and Art, Skirball Cultural Center, Social and Public Arts Resource Center (SPARC), and Tropico de Nopal Gallery Art-Space. Her work is held in several collections, including LACMA, Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, and the Smithsonian Institution and has appeared in numerous publications.
Roberto Chavez (b. 1932)
Artist and educator Roberto Chavez profoundly influenced the first-wave Chicana/o art movement in East Los Angeles, where he was born. He earned a BA and an MA in pictorial arts from University of California, Los Angeles. A United States Navy veteran, he trained as a photographer’s mate during his service. Chavez began his teaching career at UCLA Extension and in 1969 joined the faculty at East Los Angeles College (ELAC), where he co-founded the Chicana/o studies department and developed new courses in Mexican art, pre-Columbian art, Chicana/o literature, and Teatro. He taught at ELAC through 1981. Chavez produced murals across the city, including in Westwood and Estrada Courts, and showed with Ceeje Gallery throughout the 1960s. He has exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the United States, including the Smithsonian American Art Museum, the Autry Museum of the American West, and Pasadena Museum of California Art. In 2014, the Vincent Price Art Museum presented a retrospective exhibition of his work, Roberto Chavez and the False University.
Ernesto de la Loza (b. 1949)
Born in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, Ernesto de la Loza has created artwork for the city’s communities for over forty years. As an active member of the Chicana/o mural movement, he brought art to working-class Chicana/o communities, filling concrete walls with images that inspire unity, consciousness, and hope. De la Loza served as the project director for the Estrada Courts murals and has painted about forty-five public artworks throughout Los Angeles. Additionally, he has used muralism as a platform for training young, self-taught artists to take chances and develop new public art forms and visual languages that represent cultures often rendered invisible within U.S. society. De la Loza’s aesthetic palette takes cues from his travels abroad and his commercial work as well as his public art. He has studied plein air, airbrush, oil, and easel painting, and as a commercial artist, he gained skills in painting signs and billboards, hand lettering, and typography, developing the versatility and technical skill needed to explore painting in numerous aesthetic styles. De la Loza has served on the board of Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles and taught courses at Self Help Graphics and Art. He continues to produce new art and restore his murals.
Wayne Alaniz Healy, East Los Streetscapers (b. 1946)
Despite being the grandson of muralist Adolfo Alaniz and a member of a highly artistic family, Wayne Alaniz Healy initially pursued a BS in aerospace engineering and a BS in mathematics from California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, and later received an MS in mechanical engineering from University of Cincinnati. He worked as an aerospace engineer before becoming a full-time artist and muralist in 1991; eight years later, he officially earned his MFA in art from California State University, Northridge.
Healy began selling his paintings in Cincinnati during the late 1960s. He later returned to East Los Angeles, where he was raised, and immersed himself in the mural movement through the Mechicano Art Center. In 1975, he cofounded Los Dos Streetscapers (now East Los Streetscapers) with grade-school friend and fellow artist David Botello. After two decades of painting murals, the Streetscapers developed multimedia public art projects using sculptural and architectural elements, combining Healy’s talents in art and engineering.
Healy’s solo work includes serigraphs, silkscreens, and etchings in addition to drawings and paintings. He has participated in exhibitions around the world, and his art is held in private collections on six continents. He has also worked as an educator, training young artists through East Los Streetscapers and offering workshops, lectures, and participatory projects for K-12 youth. He has taught at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona; California State University, Northridge; and Otis College of Art and Design.
Alma López (b. 1966)
Over the last two decades, Alma López’s art has been exhibited in more than one hundred national and international solo and group exhibitions in Mexico, Italy, Ireland, and throughout the United States. Collections of her work are at Museum of International Folk Art, Oakland Museum of California, and McNay Art Museum. Born in Mexico and raised in Los Angeles, López received her BA with Distinction in art from University of California, Santa Barbara and her MFA from University of California, Irvine.
In 1999, La Gente magazine dubbed López a “Digital Diva” for her groundbreaking, photo-based digital series Lupe & Sirena. That series, and most of López’s visual work, raises questions about popular Mexican icons from a radical Chicana feminist lesbian viewpoint. One of those images, Our Lady, is the subject of the book Our Lady of Controversy: Alma López’s “Irreverent Apparition,” which López co-edited with Alicia Gaspar de Alba. López continues to work as a visual artist and teacher and currently teaches courses on Chicana/Latina art and artists, Arts Censorship, and Los Angeles Queer Art and Artists for the Cesar E. Chavez Department of Chicana/o Studies and the LGBTQ Studies Program at the University of California, Los Angeles. Through her work, activism, and popular website, López is considered one of the most visible and cutting-edge queer Chicana feminist activist artists.
Sergio O’Cadiz Moctezuma (1934–2002)
Sergio O’Cadiz studied architecture at Universidad Nacional Autonoma de Mexico before settling in Huntington Beach and establishing an art and architectural design studio in Costa Mesa. He later moved his studio to the City of Orange, becoming an important presence in Orange County’s gallery scene, gaining notoriety in the community, and making significant contributions to Southern California’s public art landscape. He participated in the Chicana/o mural movement and also created public architectural designs and sculptures. O’Cadiz developed an eclectic style and expansive body of work, informed by European masters as well as pre-Columbian and Catholic iconography that reflected his Mexican identity and Jesuit education. A muralist in the Mexican tradition (drawing inspiration from Diego Rivera, Jose Orozco, and David Alfaro Siqueiros and their Aztec and Mayan precursors), O’Cadiz invented an original, poured-concrete relief mural technique exemplified in the stunning façades of Santa Ana City Hall and Cypress College Auditorium. He was an architect, freelance designer, and consultant while also pursuing his creative work as a prolific painter and sculptor until his sudden death in 2002. His distinctive artistic legacy lives on in his many public works throughout Southern California.
George Yepes, East Los Streetscapers, (b. 1955)
George Yepes was born in Tijuana, Baja California, Mexico. He participated in the Chicana/o mural movement as a founding partner of key muralist collectives, including Public Art Center, El Centro de Arte Publico, Concilio de Arte Popular, and Corazon Art Productions. From the late 1970s to 1985, he worked with muralists David Botello and Wayne Healy, forming the collective East Los Streetscapers. Born in Baja, Mexico, he was raised and educated in East Los Angeles. After earning a degree in business administration from California State University, Los Angeles, he took painting classes at East Los Angeles City College, working for many years as both an accountant and a muralist. In 1992, he established the Academia de Arte Yepes, the first free mural art academy for students in Los Angeles. In 1993, Yepes and his students participated in a fourteen-year series of projects resulting in The Marriage of Art, Science and Technology, the first national education model for science, technology, engineering, and mathematics. That year, he also partnered with architect Ricardo Legorreta to design seven public transit stations beneath East Los Angeles for the Los Angeles Subway project. In 1998, Yepes was selected to create a 70-foot vaulted ceiling mural, The Promise, at the state capitol in Sacramento. He has painted social, historical, and sacred images seen in museums, churches, and hotels; on guitars, record albums, and book covers; and in movies. His work is in forty museum collections and numerous private collections.
Erin M. Curtis
Erin M. Curtis earned a PhD in American studies and an MA in public humanities at Brown University. She was a Smithsonian Institution predoctoral fellow at the National Museum of American History, and has written for Eating Asian America: A Food Studies Reader (New York University Press, 2013) and Hidden Stories of Chinese Restaurants in the Americas (forthcoming). Curtis is currently senior curator at LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes in Los Angeles, and previously held positions at the Skirball Cultural Center and Local Projects.
Jessica Hough earned her MA in curatorial studies from Bard College and her BA in art history from Occidental College. She is director of exhibitions at the California Historical Society, where she has worked since 2012, overseeing the production of several exhibitions each year and serving on the senior management team. Previously she was director of exhibitions, publications, and programs at the Hammer Museum at UCLA, director of the Mills College Art Museum, and curatorial director at the Aldrich Contemporary Art Museum.
Guisela Latorre earned a PhD in art history from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and an MA in art history from University of Cincinnati, Ohio. She specializes in modern and contemporary U.S. Latina/o and Latin American art with an emphasis on gender and women artists. Her first book, Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California (University of Texas Press, 2008), explores the recurrence of indigenous motifs in Chicana/o community murals from the 1970s to the turn of the millennium.
Gustavo Arellano is the editor of OC Weekly, an alternative newspaper in Orange County, California; author of Orange County: A Personal History (Simon and Schuster, 2008) and Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America (Scribner, 2012); an essayist for various publications; and a frequent commentator on radio and television. He earned an MA in Latin American studies from UCLA. His work includes ¡Ask a Mexican!, a nationally syndicated column in which he answers any and all questions about America’s spiciest and largest minority.
Susana Smith Bautista
Ms. Smith Bautista is an expert on museums, digital technology, the arts, and strategic communication. She completed her PhD as a Provost Fellow at the Annenberg School of Communication and Journalism, University of Southern California, where she also received her MA degree in Art History/Museum Studies with honors (Phi Kappa Phi). Her art historical expertise includes Chicana/o, Latina/o, and modern/contemporary Latin American art. She has over twenty-five years of experience in the art world in Los Angeles, New York, and Greece working with museums, commercial galleries, and nonprofit art spaces; curating exhibitions on Latina/o art; lecturing; and writing art criticism and articles. She was Executive Director of the Mexican Cultural Institute of Los Angeles, Editorial Director of www.LatinArt.com, Associate with the Daniel Saxon Gallery, and Deputy Director/Director of Public Engagement for the USC Pacific Asia Museum. Born in Pasadena, California, Smith Bautista served the city as Arts and Culture Commissioner for six years. She researches the role of museums in the digital age, how new technologies are affecting traditional museum practices and communities, and digital literacy needs in museums. She is the author of Museums in the Digital Age: Changing Meanings of Place, Community, and Culture (AltaMira Press, 2013). Smith Bautista has presented her research at numerous international conferences and has taught at both the USC Annenberg School for Communication and Claremont Graduate University’s Arts Management Program. Recently she was part of the research team for the Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibition Aztlán to Magulandia: the Journey of Chicano Artist Gilbert “Magu” Luján at UC Irvine Art Gallery, October 7–December 16, 2017. She serves as executive director of the Pasadena Museum of California Art.
Born in Santiago, Chile, Isabel Rojas-Williams has lived in Southern California since 1973 and has actively studied, documented, and lectured on the social-political art movements of Los Angeles. Her work includes teaching art history at California State University, Los Angeles, where she also earned her MA in Art History, and curating multiple exhibitions documenting the city’s rich legacy of urban art. Among her many professional accomplishments is the inclusion of her thesis Los Angeles Street Mural Movement, 1930–2009 in the research archives of Sala de Arte Público Siqueiros in Mexico City. Rojas-Williams has received numerous awards for her curatorial, civic, and creative contributions to Los Angeles. In 2009, she was appointed as an advisor for the Siqueiros Interpretative Center and served as Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa’s art liaison (2009–13) to the Latino Heritage Committee, African American Committee, and Asian American Committee. She is also the vice president of Los Angeles-Mexico Sister Cities program. In 2010, her video Siqueiros: a Muralist in Exile, which includes her research on murals from the United States, Argentina, and Chile, was exhibited at the Museum of Latin American Art as part of the Siqueiros Paisajista/Siqueiros: Landscape Painter exhibition. The video was honored by Chile’s President Sebastián Piñera for documenting the artistic connection between Chilean Nobel laureate Pablo Neruda and Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros. The Pablo Neruda Foundation has also added her research on Siqueiros to its archives. In her former position as Executive Director of the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles, Rojas-Williams played a major role in the crafting of the mural ordinance signed by Mayor Garcetti in 2013, which lifted the 2002 mural moratorium on private property in Los Angeles. In October 2014, the Los Angeles City Council honored her as one of the fifteen “Latinas in the Arts” who has made an impact in the cultural landscape of Los Angeles. In January 2016, Rojas-Williams was chosen by City Council and City Impact Lab as one of the exceptional “2016 Impact Makers to Watch.”
Ms. Venegas is an art historian, writer, independent curator, and Professor Emerita of Chicana/o Studies at East Los Angeles College. She earned an MA in Art History from UCLA and an MA in Chicano Studies from San Jose State University. She is a renowned scholar in the field of Chicana/o art history and is recognized as an early scholar in Chicana feminist art history and the cultural politics of Día de los Muertos ceremonials in Chicana/o and Latina/o communities. Her articles and curatorial essays are published in numerous catalogs and also appear on her website: www.chicanoart.org. As a commentator on Los Angeles’s curatorial and multicultural visual arts landscape, Professor Venegas’s extensive experience in the Chicana/o art community spanned the early years of Chicana/o art production. Her involvement with Self Help Graphics, the Concilio de Arte Popular and its publication, Chisme Arte, and The Avenue 50 Studio grounded her as a scholar in the field of Chicana/o art history in Los Angeles. Noteworthy among her exhibitions are Expresion Chicana, Mills College, 1976; Image and Identity: Recent Chicana Art from La Reina del Pueblo de Los Angeles de la Porcincula, Laband Art Gallery, Loyola Marymount University, 1990; A Brush With Life: Barbara Carrasco, Mid-Career Survey, Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, 2008. Resurrected Histories: Voices from the Chicano Arts Collectives of Highland Park. Ave 50 Studio, 2011; and Roberto Chavez and the False University: A Retrospective, Vincent Price Art Museum, East Los Angeles College, 2014. She is the curator of Getty’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA exhibition Laura Aguilar: Show and Tell, Vincent Price Art Museum, September 16, 2017–April 9, 2018.
Report Damage to a Mural
If a mural in your community needs maintenance or restoration, email the City of Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs (DCA) at DCA.PublicArt@lacity.org. Include your contact information, address, and an image of the mural. You can also call the DCA’s Public Art Division’s main line: 213-202-5555.
Register a New or Vintage Mural
The CityWide Mural Program assists with the registration and development of original and vintage murals. Murals created prior to October 12, 2013 are considered vintage original art murals and can be registered by property owners or artists without paying a fee. For more information go to http://culturela.org/murals/.
The Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) charge for the maintenance and restoration services for murals. MuralShield is a coating system that protects the durability and restores acrylic and aerosol murals. For more information visit http://sparcinla.org/muralshield/.
Donating to the Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA) and the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) supports efforts to create and conserve murals in Los Angeles.
Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA): https://www.paypal.com/cgi-bin/webscr?cmd=_s-xclick&hosted_button_id=VD5Z5SJEQEHD6
Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC): http://sparcinla.org/our-causes/
Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA): http://www.muralconservancy.org/members/volunteers
Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC): http://sparcinla.org/internships-2/
Visit a Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA Exhibition
The Great Wall of Los Angeles: Judith F. Baca’s Experimentations in Collaboration and Concrete, California State University, Northridge, October 14–December 16, 2017
EmIgdio Vasquez and El Proletariado de Aztlán: The Geography of Chicano Murals in Orange County, Chapman University, September 13, 2017–January 5, 2018
Prometheus 2017: Four Artists from Mexico Revisit Orozco, Pomona College Museum of Art, August 29–December 16, 2017
Surface Tension by Ken Gonzales-Day: Murals, Signs, and Mark-Making in L.A., Skirball Cultural Center, October 6, 2017–February 25, 2018
Visit a Mural
The Mural Conservancvy of Los Angeles maintains a database of murals in Los Angeles County. Visit the database.
Read a Book
- Holly Barnet-Sanchez, Tim Drescher, Tomás Ybarra-Frausto – Give Me Life: Iconography and Identity in East LA Murals
- Alan W. Barnett, Community Murals: The People’s Art
- Yoko Clark & Chizu Hama – California Murals
- Eva Sperling Cockcroft and Holly Barnet-Sánchez – Signs from the Heart: California Chicano Murals
- Erin M. Curtis, Jessica Hough, and Guisela Latorre – ¡Murales Rebeldes! L.A. Chicana/Chicano Murals Under Siege
- Sandra de la Loza – The Pocho Research Society Field Guide to LA: Monuments and Murals of Erased and Invisible Histories
- Robin J. Dunitz – Street Gallery: Guide to over 1,000 Los Angeles Murals
- Virginia M. Fields & Victor Zamudio-Taylor – The Road to Aztlan: Art from a Mythical Homeland
- Colin Gunckel – The Oscar Castillo Papers and Photograph Collection
- Carlos Francisco Jackson – Chicana and Chicano Art: ProtestArte
- Guisela Latorre – Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California
- Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles – Map and Guide to the Murals of Los Angeles
- Chon A. Noriega, Terezita Romo, and Pilar Tompkins Rivas – L.A. Xicano
- Chela Sandoval and Guisela Latorre – “Chicana/o Artivism: Judy Baca’s Digital Work with Youth of Color,” in Learning Race and Ethnicity: Youth and Digital Media
- SPARC – Great Wall of Los Angeles Walking Tour Guide
- Stanley Young – The Big Picture: Murals of Los Angeles Commentaries
Check out a Web Site
How did ¡Murales Rebeldes!come about?
Erin M. Curtis: LA Plaza de Cultura y Artes and the California Historical Society had the opportunity, along with 70 participants across Southern California, to participate in the Getty’s region-wide initiative, Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA, which creates a dialogue between Latin American art, Latino art, and Los Angeles. Jessica Hough, on behalf of CHS and LA Plaza, initiated the idea of a project that explored the contributions of Chicana/o muralists to the region’s history, art history, and public art. This resulted in the ¡Murales Rebeldes! exhibition and publication. I joined the project at an early stage, when I was hired as Senior Curator at LA Plaza. As a historian of Los Angeles, I was immediately taken with the ways that Chicana/o murals depict histories of the city that aren’t often told in more official contexts and wanted to explore how and why these histories became targets of backlash.
Jessica Hough: I had been doing a lot of thinking about América Tropical, David Alfaro Siqueiros’s mural on Olvera Street, which is just a stone’s throw from my office window. The controversial mural was whitewashed just a short time after it was painted. I liked the idea that we might initiate a project that looked at the mural’s impact on generations of artists and the murals that have emerged in its wake. As I began to dive deep into L.A.’s Chicana/o murals, I was amazed at how many artists had referenced Siqueiros’s mural visually in their work, even though when they painted their murals América Tropical still sat beneath layers of whitewash! I also began to realize just how many Chicana/o murals had suffered a similar fate. That’s when I knew we had a project, and I couldn’t wait to understand more. After reading Guisela Latorre’s book, Walls of Empowerment: Chicana/o Indigenist Murals of California, I reached out to her for her opinion. She was sold on the idea.
Guisela Latorre: In the epilogue of my book Walls of Empowerment, I wrote about the unsurmountable challenges Chicana/o muralists faced at the close of the twentieth century. The country’s conservative backlash had led to a decrease in mural commissions and a lack of funds for conservation. When Jessica contacted me about her idea for a new project about Chicana/o murals, I was eager to participate. The project gave me an opportunity to see what had happened to Chicana/o murals since my book was published. I was surprised to learn just how systematic and widespread the destruction and disappearance of Chicana/o murals in Los Angeles had become.
Why did Los Angeles become such an important city for murals?
EC: Los Angeles was once the mural capital of the world. There were about 2,000 murals made in L.A. during the 1960s and 1970s, an era that coincides with the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. A majority of the murals painted during this time were created by Chicana/o artists. In fact, the Chicano Art Movement also began during this time in Los Angeles and all over the Southwest.
JH: Chicana/o art was a key component of the Chicano Civil Rights Movement, and Los Angeles was a center of the Chicana/o movement, along with other cities in the Southwest. Chicana/o art reflected the movement’s emphasis on Chicana/o pride, history, and heritage, and the unequal treatment of Mexicans and Mexican Americans. I also think that the sprawl of our city, the spaces between buildings, and the vast expanses of concrete make L.A. a perfect canvas for artists.
GL: Art historian Shifra Goldman wrote that the West Coast led the country in the quantity of murals. Some of them were created as part of the Works Progress Administration during the Depression, which gave artists work opportunities to create public art, including murals. During this time, though, many artists here were influenced by leading Mexican artists of the Mexican Mural Movement, which began around the 1920s. Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and others brought their social and political perspectives to Los Angeles. They showed Chicana/o artists that wall paintings could communicate social justice messages in very powerful ways.
It seems as though Mexican and Chicana/o murals always caused controversy in Los Angeles. Why?
EC: Controversies around Los Angeles murals extend as far back as 1932, when the famous Mexican muralist David Alfaro Siqueiros painted América Tropical in the Mexican-themed marketplace of Olvera Street. The people who commissioned the mural requested it to reflect the benign theme of “Tropical America” as part of Olvera Street’s commercial appeal. But Siqueiros had other ideas. He wanted to show the realities of American imperialism and its effects on indigenous populations. When the mural was unveiled, viewers were surprised to see a graphic depiction of the crucifixion of a Mexican Indian on a cross crowned with an American eagle. América Tropical was considered dangerously anti-American and was whitewashed within a few years of completion. Interestingly, it isn’t the only Siqueiros mural whitewashed in Los Angeles. His mural for the Chouinard School of Art, Mitin Obrero (also known as Workers’ Meeting or Street Meeting), was whitewashed in 1932 due to its political content.
JH: Like América Tropical, many people felt threatened by the murals that were created during the Chicano Civil Rights Movement. Like Siqueiros, Chicana/o muralists of the 1960s and 1970s used their art to express their frustrations, dreams, hopes, and grievances against a society they viewed as largely oppressive. At a time when Chicanas/os had limited outlets of communication, murals served as a newfound form of artistic expression and community building.These murals were, in a sense, an artistic “call to action” for Chicanas/os to take pride in their identity and to protest for equality. But as we learned from our research, not all murals were destroyed for political reasons. Some were simply undervalued or misunderstood.
GL: Chicana/o artists exposed social inequality and discrimination in direct and unapologetic ways.They also believed that their culture and history needed to be celebrated and recognized as an important part of U.S. history. So it’s not surprising that many would oppose the ideas Chicanas/os presented in these murals. These artists did not necessarily object to disagreements with their messages; they welcomed dialogue. Yet, many of their murals were whitewashed, neglected, censored, and even destroyed. Their artistic and social messages are now lost. Recovering their histories—despite their sometimes controversial messages—is important to understanding and telling the history of Los Angeles.
How did you come up with the idea to focus on murals “under siege”?
EC: We wanted to find out why so many Chicana/o murals had ceased to exist over the past few decades. We assumed that most of these wall paintings had been censored and eventually destroyed as a result of their contested nature. What we encountered over the course of our research, however, was far more complex. While many murals had been deliberately destroyed or whitewashed due to their supposedly subversive or threatening content, many had been made to disappear in less conspicuous ways.
JH: The ¡Murales Rebeldes project gave us a chance to research and write about murals that have been lost while we still had the benefit of being able to talk to the artists who made them and connect with others from the community involved in the execution of them. The longer the murals are gone, the further away in memory they slip. Our project really tries to revive these works of art so that we can insert them into their proper place in art history and social history.
GL: To be “under siege” can mean to be in a vulnerable position or to become a target of attack. We discovered that Chicana/o murals in Los Angeles were under siege for various reasons, including passage of anti-graffiti laws and the 2002–2013 citywide mural ban. But we also considered the role of our legislature in providing opportunities for mural preservation and conservation. Today some organizations are helping muralists by preserving their art. But the road ahead is still not clear. The ¡Murales Rebeldes! book ends with a call to action by Gustavo Arellano—editor of OC Weekly and author of ¡Ask a Mexican!—urging individuals, communities, and organizations to make greater efforts to preserve this artform for Chicana/o artists and communities; to him, indifference is also to blame for the disappearance of Chicana/o murals.
How did your backgrounds influence the content of the ¡Murales Rebeldes!publication and exhibition?
EC: Each of us brought her own experiences and approaches to the project. As a historian of Los Angeles—a city with a contested past and ongoing struggles over space and place—I am deeply interested in questions about who has the right to tell history and who has the right to occupy public space. I want to examine how these questions have manifested themselves continually throughout the city’s history. Through my research, I have come to see murals as metaphorical extensions of Chicana/o communities and even Chicana/o bodies, bearing public witness to personal and collective experiences. It is important that we remain mindful of the power that these visions and representations have for artists and communities.
JH: As an art curator, I was drawn to photography of the original murals, preparatory sketches by the artists, and influences of other artists, art styles, and artworks. Photography, in particular, of Chicana/o murals is a crucial means of documentation. But, I learned, it is only one important way to uncover the stories of Chicana/o murals. When combined with correspondence, press coverage, oral histories, city records, and the artists’ own recollections, we can properly contextualize these works as events in time and space.
GL: As an art historian, I had long been committed to giving artists a voice in my research by carrying out interviews and oral histories and interspersing those accounts into my academic arguments. I also understood the importance of individual narratives within the larger scope of arts and activist movements. Moreover, I was patently aware that their voices were silenced on various levels in our society. Our emphasis on individual mural stories worked to highlight the muralists’ unique perspectives.
What murals are featured in ¡Murales Rebeldes?
EC: Barbara Carrasco’s L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective was painted in 1981 and censored the same year for scenes depicting the marginalization of minority populations. Filling Up on Ancient Energies by East Los Streetscapers (David Botello, Wayne Alaniz Healy, and George Yepes) was created in 1980 and bulldozed in 1988 by the property owner to make way for a parking lot.
JH: Roberto Chavez’s The Path to Knowledge and the False University was painted in 1974–1975 at East Los Angeles College and whitewashed in 1979 by the same administration that commissioned it. Sergio O’Cadiz Moctezuma’s Fountain Valley Mural was painted in 1974–1976 and destroyed in 2001 due to its excessive decay over the years. Willie Herrón III’s The Wall That Cracked Open, which deliberately included his and others’ graffiti, was painted in 1972 and whitewashed in 1999 by the city’s graffiti abatement crews.
GL: Two murals by Ernesto de la Loza are stories of disappeared and disappearing murals. Resurrection of the Green Planet was painted in 1980–1981 and is now deteriorating. El Nuevo Mundo: Homage to the Worker was painted in 1996 and destroyed in 2000. Resurrection is a mural that has been neglected over the years, while the story of El Nuevo Mundo reveals how murals can disappear when a building’s ownership changes hands. Yreina D. Cervántez and Alma López painted La Historia de Adentro/La Historia de Afuera (The History from Within/The History from Without), in 1995 to represent the role of ethnic populations in Huntington Beach’s history. Whitewashed in 2009, its destruction indicates that murals depicting the history of minorities are often not a priority when it comes to preservation.
Why were they chosen over other works that were also disregarded?
EC: We were looking for compelling stories that demonstrated the many different ways that murals can become imperiled. We chose examples of murals that were under siege–that were censored, erased, destroyed, damaged, neglected, and devalued. Whether these murals were subjects of controversy, disrespect, or economic or political pressure, it was the stories behind the whitewashing, destruction, and censorship that we gravitated toward. For example, some murals and their artists, such as Filling Up on Ancient Energies by East Los Streetscapers, broke legal ground for other muralists in ways that are still significant today.
JH: We chose murals based on certain criteria. Existing documentation was essential for us to be able to tell a mural’s story, including photography, the mural’s commissions and public reception, and the artist’s original intent. Another critical factor was the artist’s (or heirs) willingness to support our research and writing.
GL: Most of the murals featured in ¡Murales Rebeldes! are no longer in our midst, but they speak eloquently of Chicana/o artists’ conviction to preserve the city’s mural legacy, one that honors Los Angeles’s most marginalized populations. Our project tells the stories of only a few of the many Chicana/o murals that have disappeared. The artists we feature are not the only ones who have seen their work destroyed or neglected.
How is the ¡Murales Rebeldes book different from an exhibition catalogue?
EC: Very early on, we realized that the book could expand upon the exhibition’s exploration of the political, social, and cultural aspects of Chicana/o murals. It also could reach a larger audience locally, regionally, and nationally—not just those who were interested in the subject matter, but those who could not come to see the exhibition.
JH: As we began our work on the book, a colleague suggested that it would allow us to “resurrect” lost murals. That concept stayed with me throughout the process and gave our work urgency. I felt we had a mission. In the book, we could bring these murals “to life” with more visuals than we could display on the gallery walls and share more of each mural’s unique story. The challenges involved in “re-creating” on museum walls some of our murals that no longer exist could be compensated by the larger number of illustrations—over 175—that are featured in the book.
GL: I had not contributed to an exhibition catalogue before, but having the opportunity to write essays for a wide audience about these murals and the contexts in which they arose and were painted was extremely appealing to me. As academics, we don’t often get a chance to reach audiences outside of university settings or make our research accessible to general audiences.
Does the Chicana/o community still express itself with murals?
EC: There are Chicana/o muralists working today, but the not to the extent seen during the period covered in the project. It’s important to remember, though, that historic murals are still present and still are vital parts of the communities where they were created. They are powerful expressions of community history and pride, and their political and social critiques are frequently still relevant.
JH: I agree that the heyday of Chicana/o muralism is past. That is one of the reasons that this project is so important. We are documenting a period that is waning.
GL: Because of the limitations and restrictions placed on the creation of public art, Chicanas/os are relying less on murals as vehicles for self-expression and more on other forms of art, such as smaller scale painting and drawing, performance, and literature. The heyday of Chicana/o muralism is certainly behind us, but I am optimistic that the future could bring us another golden era of Chicana/o public art. This is a population that is irrepressibly resilient and creative.
What is the status of Chicana/o murals today?
EC: The status of Chicana/o murals is highly uncertain. The threats to murals that we highlight in ¡Murales Rebeldes! are still present. However, organizations such as the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) and Mural Conservancy of Los Angeles (MCLA) are working to protect, conserve, and restore historic murals, as well as support the creation new artworks. The recent passage of a mural ordinance in Los Angeles, which provides a legal path–albeit a complicated one–for the creation of new murals, is also a generally positive sign.
JH: The mural ordinance does protect murals but it has also put in place a vetting process that can be intimidating or even an obstacle to murals being produced. So yes, it’s complicated. I’ve also heard from business owners who now don’t want to allow a mural for fear they will never be able to remove it.
GL: In spite of the important work of SPARC and MCLA, Chicana/o murals remain under siege. In other words, Chicana/o muralism is still an endangered art form. It is my belief that we all have a responsibility to promote greater awareness and appreciation of Chicana/o art.
Where are the mural hotspots in L.A. if someone wants to visit murals?
EC: The East Los Angeles area is definitely a mural hotspot for Chicana/o murals: Silverlake, Estrada Courts, Boyle Heights, and City Terrace. Also, Judith F. Baca’s The Great Wall—half a mile long—is located in the Tujunga Wash flood control channel in the San Fernando Valley.
JH: It is really fun to walk through downtown Los Angeles on a mural tour. Elloy Torres’s The Pope of Broadway is one of my favorites. And of course we have a recently revived stretch of murals that were painted for the 1984 Olympics along the 101 freeway downtown.
GL: Orange County’s Chicana/o murals can be found in Anaheim, Placentia, Orange, Fullerton, and Santa Ana.
Do murals sometimes say “too much?” Should the content of murals be edited?
EC: I think it’s important to shift the focus away from whether a mural says too much and toward who has decided that a mural says too much. We need to look at the power structures in place in our city and country, for whose benefit they exist, and why those people have found murals threatening. For example, Barbara Carrasco’s L.A. History: A Mexican Perspective challenged authorities with an interest in suppressing uncomfortable but true aspects of the city’s history in favor of a more triumphant narrative. It spoke truth to power. In my opinion, there is almost no way a mural like this can say too much.
JH: Would you ask Picasso if he went too far with Guernica? Or Siqueiros with América Tropical? We are a country built on free speech and we value individual self-expression. Public art is always subject to critique and there is always the risk that a mural will not be accepted or will offend. But making art by consensus is worse. We have to make space for our artists to speak and trust that most of the time we will end up with an artwork that is good and meaningful.
GL: I think muralism is at its best when it evolves from a collective process whereby muralists consult or consider local communities in some way before their images go up on a wall. It’s not constructive when artists insert themselves into an urban space and impose their individual visions of the world on the wall. During this collective process, there will be some editing and negotiation of images and content. After all, these are the communities that will live with the murals on a daily basis. But once this collective process has produced an image that reflects the will and the spirit of a community, it is not right to subject it to censorship and destruction. Such actions stunt the possibility of public dialogue and silence the voice of communities. We are currently living in politically difficult times when the rights of many populations depicted in murals (including the residents who live in close proximity to these works) are under attack by the current administration. The hateful rhetoric of Donald Trump and other politicians tells us that Chicanas/os, Latinas/os, and other people of color are not legitimate citizens of this nation. A healthy and uncensored community mural scene can be an important lifeline to these communities that themselves are under siege.
Above Image: Detail, Sergio O’Cadiz Moctezuma, Fountain Valley Mural (1974–1976); Private Collection of the O’Cadiz Family