Local Mexican muralist reveals new cultural initiative at Penn’s Landing
Amidst the hustle and bustle of divine aromas and sashaying indigenous costumes at the city-wide celebration of Mexican Independence Day at the PECO Multicultural Series at Penn’s Landing, one tent stood out from the fray of discounted soccer jerseys and splashes of vibrant color. Past the rainbow assortment of a sign proudly displaying M - É - X - I - C - O (yes, accent included), and a slew of commercial enterprises marketing their “cultural knowledge” by putting framed Virgenes de Guadalupe in front of their promotional tables, stood a quaint tent with children painting and a man in a pony-tail guiding their imaginations.
The artist-in-question was César Viveros Herrera, who is neither a stranger to Philadelphia nor to AL DÍA News, having completed a multitude of unique and grandiose muralistic projects for the Mexican community in collaboration with The Pennsylvania Museum of Art, The Mexican Cultural Center, The Penn Museum, The Mural Arts Program, and The Independence Foundation.
His murals tend to have a three-dimensional feel to them, an aesthetic trick that bounces magic off of gritty walls, and his murals always have a socio-cultural dynamic to them. Primarily, César incorporates his ideologies of advocating for restorative justice and compassionate inclusion within his artwork, honing in on stylistic choices that are reminiscent of two of his inspirations, Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo. Because he was born in Veracruz and has lived in Philadelphia for eighteen years, César’s works also depict images of the Mexican diaspora, representing those who live in The United States but still remain orgullosos of their roots.
César’s most impressive representation to-date of the Mexican-American community in Philadelphia, Nuevo Fuego, will be torn down soon. Like many businesses and homes being destroyed to make space for the new, Cesar’s art will be subjected to gentrification. But, this has yet to discourage the artist in his mission to increase the visibility of Mexican immigrants and the Mexican-American community in Philadelphia’s predominantly diversified neighborhoods, as he says that “The presence of new groups are coming in, and these are the groups that have given a form and a life to these abandoned buildings, but now that companies have seen their potential, they’re kicking us out.”
In order to counteract the erasure of the Mexican-American population, César’s new cultural initiative is to paint a mural… On a roof:
“We’re going to see the mural through a drone. It will be a mural that can be widely accessed online by the public. I want to break the barriers, both in the visual arts and in the communities of Philadelphia. The main figure of the mural will be The Goddess of Maize, which will serve as an analogy to the waves of immigration. There is a piece [of The Corn Deity], in particular, that is property of the city in The Philadelphia Museum of Art. It is a Pre-Colombian Era figure, but it is currently not on view for the public. That’s like how the Mexican immigrants are: You can hardly see us, and yet here we are.”
César is hoping to disseminate the project through a series of workshops in the city. The first began a few weeks ago at the Philly Block Arts Carnival hosted by The Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, and César is mainly reaching-out to children to collaborate on the impending mural, partly because the creation of the project is being endorsed by Founding Director of The Portside Art Center, Kim Creighton, which is a non profit organization that has the simple ambition to provide a space that keeps the community’s children creative year-round. The second workshop took place at Penn’s Landing on September 18th, 2016, right at the heart of a display of Philadelphia’s Mexican culture and pride.
And, because it seemed pertinent and appropriate to ask, I posed the question about Philadelphia’s “Sanctuary City” status to César, and what his thoughts on the issue are, considering his latest endeavor will hone-in on the influx of Mexican immigration into the likes of Kensington and South Philly:
“As an immigrant, I know and have lived the root of the problem [of immigration], especially the problem that has led Mexicans to not get their documents or papers yet. Here, at least we can feel safe. In other cities that do not have this policy, we are vulnerable to being detained or, worse, deported. The mayor is fulfilling the promises he made to us at the beginning of his campaign. I’m glad that they have adopted this stance, because here we remain. My hope is that, through my art and this new piece, the opportunity will emerge to open the dialogue about immigration.”
Check out the slideshow below for a glimpse at The Mexican Independence Day 2016 Festival at Penn’s Landing as a whole, and features of César’s new cultural initiative!