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(Martine Granby/MEDILL)

Interrupting murals in Pilsen – just for a day, to make a point

by Martine Granby
Oct 29, 2013

"A day without public art in Pilsen," started with a Propeller grant and a few sketches.

Last year Marroquin was awarded the grant and decided to use it toward her quest for documentation of Pilsen’s art history: “It won’t be named, it won’t be written by one person ever. The only way to ever put history in a place to have it exists is to have a radical oral public history project.”

Inspired by both “A Day without Art,” a national movement which began in the late 1980s as a day of remembrance and public awareness of the AIDS crisis, as well as the Catholic practice of covering or removing idols from inside the church during holy week.

About 10 murals were covered in black, lightweight landscaping fabric to create what Marroquin called a visual disruption. “So in the absence of, you focus on the thing,” Marroquin said.

A visceral exchange with her community, as to whether the murals still hold the same reverence as they once did.

“I want to hear about the way that people relate to decoration. I want to hear about the way that people relate to seeing their lives validated, to seeing their experience present in places, in a country that is shunning them and pushing them aside,” Marroquin said.

While DWPA was careful to receive permission from either the artist or building on which the each mural resided. Marroquin was also cautious not to negatively affect any businesses.

An artist and tour guide for the Pilsen Mural tours, Jose Guerrero, had three tours during DWPA; his clients were intrigued by the event. Guerrero said they found it very educational. He said a healthy discussion about art in Pilsen and how it is presented in the neighborhood was born of the stint.

Longtime resident, activist and artist Hector Duarte joined in solidarity by agreeing to cover his large-scale mural, which lives on the face of his home. “The murals give us a presence in the neighborhood,” Duarte said. It is important for him that the culture continues to live with the murals for the future generation. “If we erase all murals, the new generation will have nothing to see.”

A sentiment both Guerrero and Marroquin share is that the youth are the true stakeholders in this community.

Marroquin hesitates to call the team of enthusiasts a collective; comprised of adults and youth. Instead she aims give each person an ownership in this ongoing documentation of their shared histories. “It goes back to a more indigenous way of getting to solutions, where it wasn’t specifically one person being the sole leader, but all of us have some kind of perspective to bring to the issue,” said Elvia Ochoa Rodriquez, an artist and a key organizer for DWPA.

The morning of DWPA, the crew met at the local grocery store and café MeztiSoy. Donned in white Dickies coveralls and armed ladders, tape and rolls of the black fabric, broke into teams. Marroquin produced a map of Pilsen, which indicated murals they had permission to cover.

To further this project Marroquin and others hope to hold public forums from the stakeholders of the community: long time residents. Marroquin aims to take the discussions that are occurring and bring them to the public and often silent voices. “This is an activist community, this is one of the hallmarks of the community, murals are part of the activist movement.”