The Chicano murals movement encompasses the explosion of public art on the walls of buildings across the Southwest. It was the visual arts wing of the Chicano political movement, or El Movimiento, that took hold in the 1970s. The Chicano movement arose from prior moments of Mexican-American resistance, such as the Pachucos of the 1940s and 1950s and was heavily influenced by the Black Power movement. Chicano thinking was centered on self-determination, black and brown unity, anti-assimilation, and pride in Mexican indigenous roots.
The style of Chicano muralism was inspired by indigenous visual material as well as by Mexican muralists of the early 20th century, like Los Tres Grandes. Their work often included bold text proclaiming political slogans and messages of autonomy for Mexican-Americans, as well as depictions of cultural heroes, like Che Guevara, Cesar Chavez, or many other regional political leaders. The muralists often employed bright colors and a very graphic style. It was art that had a political purpose, often popping up on housing projects, public schools, and churches, with the intended purpose of reaching as many members of the Mexican-American community as possible.
These 5 Chicano murals are some of the most important or most indicative of the style. They range in location across the Southwest and are all worth a trip if you have the chance. Murals are a truly unique art form, as they are one of the most public and accessible. Murals are woven into the very fabric of most grassroots political movements and are communal ways to tell stories and impart important political messages. At IPMM, we believe in the power of murals to transform and to bring communities together.
We hope that you’ll get the chance to see some of these amazing Chicano murals in person!
Great Wall of Los Angeles – Judy Baca and Others, Tujunga Wash Flood Control, San Fernando Valley
The Great Wall of Los Angeles is a massive mural in the Tujunga Wash Flood Control Channel conceptualized by the artist Judy Baca, and executed by over 400 local youth and families. The mural tells the story of LA’s history from prehistoric times to the 1950s. The mural spans over a half mile of wall, and is still a work in progress, as the artist and other young muralists are always adding new events to its pictorial narrative.
The mural starts from prehistoric times and reaches into the 1950’s, illustrating how the great city of LA was built by immigrants and people of color. This mural is a landmark and nationally recognized as a critical piece of art history, as well as a revolutionary treatment of the city’s history. As a monument to and celebration of racial unity and solidarity, The Great Wall of LA paints an explicitly political message of strong and interconnected communities throughout LA. As one of the nation’s largest and most important cities, it is critical to America’s self-consciousness to understand LA as a fundamentally Mexican and Latinx city, built by immigrants and kept alive and vibrant by the very same communities, to this day.
Chicano Park – Residents of Barrio Logan, San Diego
Chicano Park is a landmark cultural destination as a piece of living art and as a piece of essential San Diego Chicano history. The park itself is the byproduct of a militant but peaceful takeover of the land by the residents of the Barrio Logan, a community that had long been marginalized and disinvested in by the city of San Diego. As the Chicano political movement grew, and voices like Cesar Chavez and Dolores Huerta got louder and more powerful, the people of Barrio Logan began to demand a park to be built.
Although they were initially promised a park by the city government, it soon became clear that they did not intend to follow through. On April 22, 1970, a student and community member saw construction men and tools at the site of the promised park, and found out that the city was trying to build a police station on the lot. Outraged, the community occupied the land for 12 days until they secured the go-ahead for what would become Chicano Park.
The park is home to the country’s largest collection of outdoors murals, which cover the entire 7.9 acre area. And incredibly, most of the muralists who began work at Chicano Park had no experience working on outdoors murals. Instead, many were neighbors and community members, who took up paintbrushes and paint to immortalize their story and their heritage. The Chicano murals cover many subjects, including the history of Mexico, realities of immigration, feminism, the civil rights struggles of the time, and self-determination. Today, the park is on the National Register of Historic Places, and murals are protected by a team of restorers and conservationists.
We Are Not A Minority – Mario Torero, Rocky, El Lion, and Zade, East LA
This mural was painted in 1978 by some of the same artists who were part of the Chicano Park struggle in San Diego. A tribute to Che Guevara, the mural includes his image, pointing a finger at the viewer. The phrase which takes up the bulk of the mural, ‘We are not a minority,’ is one that Mario Torero used in earlier screenprints. Torero’s message that groups and communities who may be minorities in the general sense are the majority and are in control of their neighborhoods is an integral part of Chicano political thought. The fight for self-determination occurred on many levels of political life, and is worked into much of the visual culture of the Chicano art movement.
This mural is meant to be an uplifting and striking reminder of the power of a strong and organized community, as the artists had all seen through the work at Chicano Park. The mural is located on the Estrada Courts building complex, which is a low-income housing project in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of LA. The housing project is known for its collection of Chicano murals, traditions, and barrio culture, which endures.
Rebirth of Our Nationality – Leo Tanguma, Houston
This mural is a declaration of rebirth and self-determination for Mexican-Americans. The mural is painted on the side of a building on Canal Street, and has recently been lovingly restored by the Houston community. The 240 by 18 foot mural depicts over 70 figures, all representing parts of the Chicano community and of Mexican-American history. At the top of the mural, the words “To become aware of our history is to become aware of our singularity,” are emblazoned. The mural attempts the ambitious: to show the struggles and tensions of being Chicano as a way to express the need for unity, community organizing, and solidarity with black and indigenous communities.
Leo Tanguma actually left Houston shortly after he completed this mural, frustrated with the experience of everyday racism and the lack of widespread acceptance when it came to his deeply political work. He returned in 2018 to see his mural restored and speak with a new generation of Chicanos who had grown up inspired and challenged by his mural. This piece is a perfect example of the deep impact of murals and public art. Rebirth of Our Nationality is a beloved icon to the Chicano community in Houston, and inspired generations of new Mexican-Americans to love their identity and embrace unity and community strength.
Los Angeles History: A Mexican Perspective – Barbara Carrasco
This 80-ft mural by Barbara Carrasco has had a tumultuous history, but is finally garnering the recognition it deserves. Commissioned for the Los Angeles Bicentennial in 1981, the mural was supposed to be exhibited at a prominent location in downtown LA during the festivities. However, it was never displayed as it was almost immediately censored by the very same folks who commissioned it. They were uncomfortable with the straightforward and unapologetic way that Carrasco depicted certain aspects of LA’s history, and issued her an ultimatum: get rid of large parts of the mural or have the piece censored in its entirety. Rather than sacrificing the integrity of her project, Carrasco allowed the mural to be fully censored.
The mural depicts a Mexican woman with her long hair flying out behind her. The woman’s hair is full of narrative panels, each of which tells the story of an episode in LA’s 200 years of history. Carrasco’s style is highly detailed and influenced by the Mexican muralism of the early 20th century. She is an adept visual storyteller, communicating tone, atmosphere, and context in the construction of each panel. Some of the panels are viscerally tragic or disturbing and others are celebratory and joyful.
In 2018, Carrasco’s mural was finally shown in its entirety in a new exhibition at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County, called “Sin Censura: A Mural Remembers L.A.” Up until 2018, the mural had only been shown twice, and each time very briefly. The museum is an important landmark for Carrasco and was a place she frequented as a child. The mural’s trajectory traces a familiar path for many Chicano artists.
Many artists were censored or rejected from art institutions for the radical nature of their work. However, the importance of the Chicano art movement lay somewhere completely different: in the Mexican-American political awakening and movement against cultural assimilation.
Murals are a democratic and anti-elitist art form. They are public, accessible, and often rooted in community, as in the case of the Chicano murals movement. That’s why we champion murals at IPMM and support the creation of new murals through our commission a mural program. And fittingly, the momentum from our murals goes right back into our local communities and schools that we bring art programming to. Murals encourage social change, and in our case, they directly fund it as well!
Commission a mural of your very own today! Or check out a how-to guide that breaks down the entire process. You can even read an in-depth case study of Pat Perry’s mural at the LInkedin Detroit office here.
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