The “Declaration of Immigration,” left, and “Amor y Comunidad,” right, murals near West 18th Street and South Loomis Street in Pilsen, Wednesday, June 9, 2021. | Anthony Vazquez/Sun-Times
Mural art in Chicago has a long, honorable and often politically potent history of lifting up communities and giving them a voice. To trash a mural is self-defeating. The best ones speak up for those who have it hardest.
Walk along Pilsen’s 16th Street, a showcase for the neighborhood’s public art, and you will see walls filled with years of eye-catching bright colors and artistic, cultural expression. You also will find crude graffiti tags on every other mural.
Most recently on Monday, just two blocks to the south on 18th Street, two murals with strikingly positive messages — “Declaration of Immigration” and “Amor y Comunidad’’ — were vandalized and tagged with graffiti.
Graffiti vandalism has always been a problem, as you might expect, but it has become even more of a problem since the start of the pandemic. And while we have no particular words of wisdom about how to fend off such attacks — this is hardly a matter easily addressed by the police — we want to call attention to the desecration, if only to prick the conscience of those doing the desecrating.
Mural art in Chicago has a long, honorable and often politically potent history of lifting up communities and giving them a voice. The best murals over the decades have introduced us to successive generations of accomplished Chicago artists.
To trash a mural is self-defeating. The best murals speak for those who have it hardest.
Consider the two murals that most recently were vandalized.
“Amor y Comunidad” artist Herson Aldair, also known as 2MIL.
The “Declaration of Immigration,” which all but shouts pro-immigration messages such as “No human being is illegal” and features flags from Latin American countries hanging from barbed wire, was painted in 2009 by Salvador Jimenez, an assistant professor at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.
Immediately to the first mural’s right is the second vandalized artwork, “Amor y Comunidad,” a life-celebrating weave of red vines, with a big, red heart and children wearing masks of bulls.
This lovely mural was completed less than a month ago.
“We knew that was always a possibility, but the vandalism happened way sooner than I thought,” the mural’s creator, 27-year-old Mexican artist Herson Aldair, told the Sun-Times in Spanish. “I thought it was going to happen in about two years, but not much time passed before people sprayed it.”
“Amor y Comunidad” was partially repaired just days after it was spray-painted. But “Declaration of Immigration” will be much more difficult to repair, Teresa Magaña and Pablo Ramirez, co-founders of the Pilsen Arts and Community House, told us. The repair work is to begin later this summer.
To see the desecration of murals in Pilsen is particularly sad because the neighborhood has had such a long and bold commitment to the art form.
One of the first murals created in Pilsen was by Latino mural movement leader and Pilsen-based artist Mario Castillo. The year was 1968, a time when our nation was in the throes of the Vietnam War, the Cold War and the modern civil rights movement. Castillo painted an anti-Vietnam War mural — “Peace” or “Metafisico” (“metaphysical”) — on the side of the Halsted Urban Progress Center at 19th and Halsted streets
Now, Chicagoans like Magaña and Ramirez at the Pilsen Arts and Community House are helping to introduce young artists such as Aldair, also known as 2MIL, into the larger Chicago art scene.
For almost two years now, the Sun-Times has been calling attention to Chicago’s great wealth of public art in an ongoing series called Murals and Mosaics. You can read all the past stories, catch up on the most recent report online at suntimes.com, and consult an interactive map of dozens of murals before setting out to see them for yourself.
We urge you to do so. And we urge you to consider the pointed subject matter. You will find murals commenting on the street unrest of 2020, on LGBQT rights and on Latino pride — in the form of an Aztec god. You will find great beauty as well, such as the mural by the great Tony Fitzpatrick now being installed on a wall of Steppenwolf Theatre.
Chicago is an art gallery, with free admission to all, if those doing the vandalizing only understood.
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