Restoring the Chicano Dream, One Mural at a Time
Mural reunites collective in effort to fund restoration of public art.
By Gloria Angelina Castillo, EGP Staff Writer
If the grapes in Cesar E. Chavez’s hands could speak, one of the things they might say is, “glaze me.” The purple skulls clenched between the labor leader’s fingers are part of “México-Tenochitlán—The Wall That Talks,” a 100-foot mural in Highland Park that is currently undergoing restoration, after recently being vandalized,
Anthony “Eagle” Ortega, founder of Quetzalcóatl Mural Project, a cultural art collective, said once he and fellow muralists have finished giving the mural located at Avenue 61 and Figueroa, a fresh coat of bright paint in the following months, it will be glazed with a anti-graffiti product called Graffiti Melt Coating, that he estimates will protect the mural for 10 years.
The water-based version of the glaze will allow quick cleanup of graffiti with baby-wipes, said Ortega, who added that L.A.’s Department of Public Works will apply the glaze when the restoration is complete.
The mural was the collective’s first project almost 15 years ago and cost the city $50,000 to commission. Rage Against the Machine lead singer Zak de la Rocha funded part of it, according to Ortega.
Ortega estimates the restoration will cost about $3,000. John Densmore, drummer for the rock group The Doors, is funding a portion of the expense.
Ortega has asked the Highland Park Heritage Trust for $300-$500 to purchase paints and other materials, and says his group is urgently asking members of the community to help “rescue” the “beautiful mural before the problem is too big.” The group still needs $1,400, he said.
The tapestry of the community needs to be restored, if the fabric of Los Angeles is lost, so is the community, said Ortega, referring to the decaying state of many of the City’s murals.
Andy Ledesma, one of the original muralists who now serves as the collective’s cultural ambassador, remembers the mural was created by artists who lived within walking distance of the then Arroyo Furniture store wall.
“The mural is living iconography,” said Ledesma, noting that the muralists were teenagers to young 30-somethings when they worked on the Ave 61 mural back in 1995. “It portrays indigenous religion, traditional religion, activism, …” he explained.
Over the years, the mural has been defaced with tagger monikers and paint-splatters. The largest local gang, the Avenues, however, has respected the mural because some of their family members helped paint it , said Ortega.
Recently, the mural was defaced with the word “care” accompanied by the nickname of a well-known local street artist. While no one seems to want to publicly accuse the artist, the desecration of the mural brought the collective back together to figure out a way to revive the faded murals in the area, and to teach upcoming artists about the importance of respecting existing works of art.
Ortega said they have to touch-up the mural more often, most of the time without funding.
The Quetzalcoatl Mural Project, named after the Mesoamerican feathered serpent god, once participated in a cultural renaissance aimed at inspiring cultural pride and Chicano empowerment through tributes to Mexican history and folklore. Today, the group hopes to restore the murals and revive respect in the community for both the art form and the hard fought history it represents.
“If you look at the history of Northeast L.A., over the years this community has combated graffiti vandalism…we need to save art, and do it by developing a social message [that will] open people’s minds to the contributions we made as Chicanos to the history of this country—and I think the mural explains that,” Ortega told EGP.
The group hopes to find private funding to avoid city bureaucracy in awarding grants. It can take a year to receive city money to restore a mural, an eternity when taggers bomb the streets daily.
Rafael Corona and Jaime Ochoa, two of the recently reunited original artists, are also working on the restoration.
Corona specifically worked on the Aztec calendar portion of the mural. For him, it is a labor of love.
“If I do this for somebody I would charge like $8,000,” said Corona, who complained there is little funding for mural up-keep. “This is for the community [benefit] but no one gives us money to keep it clean and nice and neat.”
Ochoa and Michael McDaniel were commissioned by The ZMS Academy to paint a scenery mural on the other side of the same building.
McDaniel has a realist point of view on deterring graffiti. He, like the other artists, knows it is no accident when taggers hit a mural.
“Tagging is what it is, and the culture is to do what they do—so the only thing that you can do [to prevent tagging on murals], is do something that is relevant enough in the community that it can be respected,” said McDaniel, referring to the message of the mural, not just the quality of the work.
The group is open to educating a new generation about mural art, but know that funding will be a challenge in these tough economic times when arts funding is a low priority in California schools.
Ochoa has experience working with young people and teaching mural art classes, his mother, Cristina Ochoa, is a former curator for Self Help Graphics & Art.
“If more activities were funded, you could put a paintbrush in every kid’s hands,” the artists said.
“A joystick, a brush or a gun,” added Ochoa who begins another mural restoration project on Livermore Terrace next week.
Other artists who contributed to the original mural include: John Zender Estrada, Dominic Ochoa, Isabel Martinez, Oscar de Leon, Mario Mancia, Jesse Silva, Jerry Ortega. The mural is dedicated to Daniel Robles and UFW founder Cesar E. Chavez, Ortega said.Print This Post
July 23, 2009 Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.