Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Trouble in Paradise...





The Above photos are details taken from a mural that was painted in 1999 in Albuquerque. I was a part of a project that got local high school students together with working artists to create public art works. At the beginning of the project I was selected to work on a bus stop bench that was covered in tiles, and had a painted back drop (it is still there on Central Ave. and Broadway, and on a side note if you look at the painted sections, we all chose images, and mine of a mustard bottle with wings was selected, as at the time I was a huge Mustard Plug fan....) So as work progressed on the benches, we were asked if we could assist with another of the projects. The mural team ran into a snag, OSHA regulations at the time stated that no one under the age of 16 could go on the scaffolding, so they needed two kids who were old enough to work on the mural. I gladly volunteered to help, and got to work on this project that had already run into some trouble to start. The architect who designed the building, the main library downtown, was upset at the thought of his ugly creation being painted on, so a compromise was met, a frame was installed to attach panels so that no paint would touch the surface. While working on this job, I was fortunate to meet A.G. Joe Stephenson, a master muralist who was originally from Jamaica. In fact one day I was blasting The Skatalites in my headphones, he walked over and asked me if I was listening to Ska, and that was the beginning of our friendship as well as my first mentor in the arts. I went on to work with Joe to do some "filler" for some areas in the mural. A design was submitted and approved with the majority of the main elements in place, so as sort of a side project Joe and I decided to add one addition to the area with the Mayan figure holding the Codex. We took it upon ourselves to create a mini history of Latin America: The first panel (which became the controversy) had an image of a conquistador stabbing an Indigenous person with a cross, the second section was the head of a mayan figure smoking a cigarette (as a symbol of post-contact survival) and finally the last image was of a rabbit holding a deer antler, this last image was taken from another codex it was a symbol of celebration to signify the revitalization of culture for all Native People.... Well, all went well with the project and the mural was completed. No one had noticed the small section until about a month later and people were pissed including the local church down the street as well as the mayor's assistant at the time Phil Baca. He took it upon himself to paint over the offending section himself, thus the first panel is blank and a different color. This event made the local news, and was cited as being defiant of the whole spirit of community and the the theme of the mural which was "Knowledge Is Power"... Joe said that an attorney was willing to take up the case against the city and its censorship, but at the time I was a minor, and my family said I should let it go. The city made the argument that the offending area should be removed because it was not in the original approved design, event though there were other elements in the mural that were added post-approval. The argument made for keeping that small area intact was that if there was something offensive that should be removed it was the image of a homeless man who educated himself by using a public library... I guess the guy was also an outspoken racist, but he got to stay up. I'm certainly not trying to bellyache about what happened, but people in this town are in denial if they think that historical genocide didn't happen. Plus if I don't speak to this moment in Albuquerque history as well as my own personal history who will?.....

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