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October 22, 2018

A Catalyst Excursion: Engaging History and Intercultural Context Through Pilsen’s Murals

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Every Wednesday, various Catalyst classes take excursions into the city, exploring topics of study through the lens of first-hand experience. On a recent excursion to the Pilsen neighborhood, Professor Lee Strickland’s Street Art class (a Keystone-3000 course) was treated to an in-depth tour of the area’s vibrant murals. Their knowledgeable tour guide, Luis Tubens from the National Museum of Mexican Art, was a powerhouse of insight, offering cultural and historical context to the artwork as well as relating the content to the day-to-day life of the community.

Luis Tubens standing in front of the J-Def Peace Project mural

Tubens explained that while Pilsen was once largely populated by Polish and Czech immigrants, the 1960s brought major developments in infrastructure to neighboring areas which in turn displaced a large Latino population to Pilsen. For many, this forced migration echoed a longer journey. Gulliver en el pais de las Maravillas / Gulliver in Wonderland, a mural which stretches around the artist Hector Duarte’s home and studio, speaks poignantly to the immigrant’s journey and to the struggle of integrating into a new culture.

Detail of "Gulliver en el pais de las Maravillas" by Hector Duarte

In addition to local history, Tubens discussed the history of murals and the role they have played in shaping communities and empowering their people. At the Orozco Community Academy, a venetian glass mosaic by Francisco Mendoza offered Tubens the perfect opportunity to discuss the Mexican mural movement led by Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente, and David Alfaro Siqueiros. A few blocks away the work of contemporary artist, Sentrock, provided a bold example of pop art giving voice to a new generation. Some murals spoke to social challenges such as gun violence or conflicting cultural identities, while others represented the community efforts to address these challenges.

Mural by Joseph “Sentrock” Perez & Yollocalli Arts Reach

Professor Strickland says her class is not made up of art majors but, rather, many of them are studying political science or criminal justice. Her Street Art class is an opportunity for students to address what they are learning in their major studies through a completely different lens.

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