Feature: CHF Pilsen Murals Tour explores rich Latinx street art

National Hispanic Heritage Month (September 15-October 15) got off to a strong start with the Chicago Humanities Fest’s Pilsen Mural Tour, following last spring’s other insightful and invigorating neighborhood tours. local muralist Sam Kirk accompanied a lively group of enthusiasts for a stroll around Pilsen during one of the city’s last hot weekends, sharing his own work as well as the history of Chicago’s lush street art movement. (As well as prepared parents, CHF organizers also pulled a cart of cold water and snacks behind the sweaty hikers.)

Street art began to emerge around 18th Street in the 1970s to combat social injustice, gentrification and segregation of the Latinx community, Kirk explained as she led the group to a railroad overpass from 16th Street, a loud BNSF hitch spot, to show a line of natives. faces.

Detail of the “Galeria del Barrio” mural. Photo by Karin McKie.

The “Galeria del Barrio” mural was painted in 1976 by Aurelio Diaz with the help of local schoolchildren. The long, colorful row depicts 22 Latino and biracial men facing east, wearing headbands and conveying a variety of emotions.

Kirk was recently asked to restore the mural and was able to contact some of the children who originally worked on the piece to help. Some now adults brought photos of the original to help repaint. Kirk added that the railroad does not repair walls, so artists often have to do extensive surface preparation in addition to painting.

Next up was Kirk’s 2016 co-production with Sandra Antongiorgi, a collection of faces from women around the world, our “elders and ancestors.” She was moved by the tension following the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016 and wanted to create something to celebrate women (and representation really matters, as a trio of black women used the mural as a backdrop during the tour).

Sam Kirk’s Women’s Mural. Photo by Karin McKie.

Kirk explained that she used mostly acrylic paint and then black spray paint to draw the faces. She said the whole process took about two months to paint because the surface was quite porous and the rain caused the wall to leak.

Black and white wall detail. Photo by Karin McKie.

from Montreal En Masse Project collaborated with artists around the world to create a mostly spray-painted black and white mural (perhaps stop at the 2nd Restaurant then for a totally immersive B&W experience).

by Salvador Jimenez The 2009 “Immigration Declaration,” a two-story mural at 1401 W. 18th Street, continued the unadorned message of equality and justice.

Immigration declaration mural. Photo by Karin McKie.

Pilsen is known for its murals in alleyways and parking lots, and not just on busy streets. Mauricio Ramirez spray painted pixelated characters, and Caesar Perez, aka Czr Przadded a cellist.

Mauricio Ramirez Alley Mural. Photo by Karin McKie.

In 2021, Kirk created the “Fierce” pride mural because she wanted more LGBTQIA+ representation than is primarily represented in Chicago’s Lakeview neighborhood. She wanted to share stories, “#provokeculture” and create dialogue about important queer issues in her particular community.

She shared the process of creating mural projects, including commissioning and personal projects, how to guide proposals, and finding corporate sponsors (she worked with Effen Vodka on “Fierce”). Kirk also talked about adding a protective anti-vandal coating to keep his work intact for as long as possible. She said the clearcoat costs $150 a gallon (and she’s used four, another reason to seek sponsorship), but any added graffiti can be quickly washed away with soap and water.

Detail of Sam Kirk’s ‘Fierce’ mural. Photo by Karin McKie.

Watch a short video about the creation of this project here. Due to the transient nature of many outside projects, Kirk incorporates video and photo documentation into his work and collaborates with students from Luv Town Media to rotate and edit some parts. Kirk also creates programs for art teachers in schools with arts organizations such as I paint my mind.

Memorial mosaic of Jeff Maldonado. Photo by Karin McKie.

At the corner of 18th and Ashland is a row of shiny, shimmering mosaics to commemorate the violent death of Jeff Maldonado. Around the corner is the 18th Street Pink Line stop, not only a good way to access these several blocks of murals, but also the last stop on the tour. In 1998, Francisco Mendoza and youth from a Gallery 37 art program painted colorful murals throughout the station, including on the risers, depicting symbols of Mexican heritage.

CTA staircase. Photo by Karin McKie.

During your visit to Pilsen, also take a workshop or an art class at Pilsen Community Arts Houseand/or venture west to see Pilsen street artist Sentrock’s exhibition “The Boy Who Wanted to Fly” at Elmhurst Art Museum until January 15. See also our report on the tram tour of the South Shore CHF. Watch the WTTW documentary “Chicago by L” to get a glimpse of the rich history of all of Chicago’s neighborhoods as well. Then check out CHF’s fall programs:

Rick Lowe on the transformative power of art on 10/22

Chicago performance artist Jefferson Pinder on 10/29

Short story art with George Saunders on 10/29

A screening of THE KID by Charlie Chaplin with live musical accompaniment on 5/11

A SERIES of conversations and an after party — The Verge & Bit Bash on the impact of big tech on our world on 12/11

A Forum on Chicago’s Public Spaces on 11/29

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