Murals: Redefining Culture, Reclaiming Identity


By Eva Sperling Cockcroft and Holly Barnet-Sanchez

A powerful essay on the connections among art, identity, and activism. Excerpted from the introduction to Signs from the Heart: California Chicano Murals, we recommend the full book which includes four essays by leading artists and scholars and 36 color images of California murals.

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Chicanas/Escuelas, Chicano Park, San Diego, California. (c) 1978 Yolanda Lopez and Mujeres Muralists de San Diego: Julietta A. Garcia-Torres, Cecillia de la Torre, Rosa de la Torre, Eva C. Craig; Coutesy of the Chicano Park Steering Committee.

A truly “public” art provides society with the symbolic representation of collective 
beliefs as well as a continuing reaffirmation of the collective sense of self. 
Paintings on walls, or “murals” as they are commonly called, are perhaps the quintessential public art in this regard. Since before the cave paintings at Altamira some 15,000 years before Christ, wall paintings have served as a way of communicating collective visions within a community of people. During the Renaissance in Italy, considered by many to be the golden age of Western art, murals were regarded as the highest form in the hierarchy of painting. They served to illustrate the religious lessons of the Church, and to embody the new humanism of the period through artistic innovations like perspective and naturalistic anatomy.

After the Mexican Revolution of 1910–17, murals again served as the artistic vehicle for educating a largely illiterate populace about the ideals of the new society and the virtues and evils of the past. As part of a reevaluation of their cultural identity by Mexican Americans during the Chicano movement for civil rights and social justice that began in the mid-1960s, murals again provided… Read the article (PDF).

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