A Mural is Worth a Thousand Words

If you Google search “whitewashing murals of East Los Angeles”, you will see that the censorship of murals in ELA is not a new topic.  (Read “Looking Up Murals” by Ed Fuentes in this week’s LAeastside blog).  By Internet researching you will also see that our East Los Angeles politicians were key in starting the mural and signage criticism, as they anointed themselves the politicians with the best taste in art.   All of a sudden everyone that commissioned a sign for their grocery store or mural for their public wall, must get permission to do so.  Could this spontaneous whitewashing of thousands of hours of artwork, and the loss of thousands of dollars in commissions, be the way to begin this dialogue?   It’s as if none of us were expected to notice that our art was all-of-a-sudden gone.  Mom & Pop businesses would rather take the loss than get involved in a civil litigation.  They don’t have the time or resources to fight a political machine. 


In the beginning of this public art criticism, graffiti spray paint art was scrutinized the most, because (without the benefit of any official study) the politicians said that spray paint art purportedly encourages gang graffiti.  Studies point out that lack of fair living income jobs, lack of training post-high school, lack of childcare, lack of social services and lack of community support, encourages gang participation (ergo graffiti).   


The muralists that have been a part of creating cultural pride through their visionary multi-medium works and making beauty out of housing projects and businesses that had been tossed away by the rest of the city—now have to become the activists to stop the whitewashing.  There are books, films and countless articles that extol the murals of Los Angeles.  Many cities in the world took a cue from East LA murals—resurrecting their local cultural pride through the lost art of the mural.


Ok, I agree that I too have wanted to whitewash a mural or two—especially that one off the 101 freeway where the menacing policeman is pointing a finger at passer-bys saying “BUCKLE-UP”.    Yet, as an artist who knows the passion, hard work, communicative method, cultural critique that public art is—-my consciousness would not allow me to stop or destroy an art project.  Instead I see it as an opportunity to dialogue with the creator and learn what they felt or meant by it.  I find whitewashing art as sinister as a book burning.  Note, however, that not everyone is like me—some still criticize public art by marring it.  Interesting to this, is that no matter how bad of an execution an image of Jesus or the La Virgen is, no one mars it.  Think about it.  This is the language and dialogue of mural art. This is one of our cultural critical languages in East LA.


How does one go from public civil servant straight to supreme art critique?   Oh—yeah, I forgot about the days of royal supported art commissions—-and here I thought we were in a new millennium.  Holding back public funds for mural commissions—makes me feel that I need to behave better as an artist.  It also helps me understand why Van Gogh cut off his ear.


If we allow our politicians to “know what is best for the community” without our in-put, without conferring with us—then we are no longer living in a democracy.  As the people of this city, we have the power and responsibility to make sure that our public servants represent us in the way we want and that each citizen is treated respectfully.  Whitewashing commissioned art and then not being able to determine who ordered the whitewashing—is not acceptable.  Although this is a time of hardship for the muralists, I think we can best support them by making sure that their voices and visions are not censored. 


I apologize to all the ELA politicians who are embarrassed by our art when they bring their West-side friends over to the barrio for tacos—but recognize that these impromptu and planned-out artistic endeavors are who we are.

10 thoughts on “A Mural is Worth a Thousand Words

  1. Well said, Victoria! When I’ve taken visitors from other countries around Los Angeles, they have been really impressed by the murals in East LA and to my surprise, the graffiti in the LA River. Taco trucks are also another favorite. Strange then, that these two indigenous (to Los Angeles) attractions are the under fire from politicians, who you would think would want to encourage tourist friendly places. Bureaucracy makes people stupid.

  2. It’s all part of the gentrification plan for the east side, disguised as “permits and permission”. I love the grocery store and taco truck art too!

  3. The biggest problem causing all of this white washing is because of the cities incompetence. I won’t get into too much detail because I’m writing up something on this very topic soon, but the law is unclear on the topic of murals. City law doesn’t distinguish what the difference is between tagging/graffiti and a community mural. Also the city doesn’t have any set guide lines on the laws involving murals on private properties. As a result art is being taken down for dumb reasons.

  4. http://www.elacamp.org

    proactive graffit abatement with a success rate well beuyond any jail sentence, I have murals running from compton to pacoima to eastlos untouched because of my community outreach and ownership program.

    That being said, the whole CD14 mural drama is from a few years back when Villaraigosa was councilman. He created a program to help fix vandalized/damaged murals as well as create a pot of money for new ones from local artists; I am not sure if the signage part was a component of the original program. Anyways, some loser dipshit named armando herman felt that his personal taste in art should dictate what and what isnt acceptable public art and he got a crew of ignmorant viejitas from the community to yell enough that the program was railroaded into destroying legal graffiti murals and erasing signage done for stores in a graffiti fashion. I remember going to a meeting with the cultural affairs commission where a lot of ex writers now artists showed up to tell this pendejo herman why he was wrong, and i straight schooled him on the subject and then was able to draw out him stating he is an ex tagger now haterator himself, it was quite entertaining (and a lot of aficionados gave me credit and wanted to “do things with my org” all of which never materialized, LA is very talk a lot and do nothing in that way).

    I run a small nonprofit dedicated to teaching art in the barrio and promoting positive artistic expression, be it with a brush or spraycan, and have basically detached myself from the Eastside/LA politico/activist/artist scene because Im about putting in community work and got sick of all the smoke being blown up my ass with no results. I fund our programs by taking a chunk of my earning from paid commissions I get and relying on my own volunteering and a solid crew of others dedicated to doing so ourselves, mind you our output has seriously decreased since the birth of my 2nd child and my accpetance into a rigorous planning undergrad program (which I just completed). This whole egotistic hollywood bullshit makes me hate LA, i have been treated so poorly by many politicos and supposed community activists trying to come up off our genuine conern for art empoerment in the comunidad. I got murals running in front of roosevelt and garfield highschools and begun the longest running and most successful legal graffiti sanctuary/gallery in all of Eastlos (Atlantic blvd alleys on west side of street), yet it is still a bitch, or maybe we dont have the time or capacity, to ge tthe funding to make this prgram something beyond paint in my abuelas garage and volunteering in our free time. any help would be appreciated.


    BTW, maybe Ill do a topic on my murals and experiences when I get the time, that Alza topic was muy firme.

  5. “Do bureaucrats have the right to appoint themselves the ones to be in charge of community esthetics?” There are two artists that I know of whose work is fed by the spontaneous-raw art found on taco trucks, as well as murals with various styles and messages. One of them, Arturo Romo is in the Phantom Sightings exhibit at LACMA, the other is Sesshu Foster, a writer whose work is taught at CalArts. I mention that, because art that is considered great can be inspired by so many factors.

    If a committee of artists/art historians are appointed to give the thumbs up or down to commissioned public art—isn’t that a whole lotta power for a few to have over an entire community of artists? I’d like to know more as to what happened that made these politicians want to pull the reigns in tight. I think the answer to all this is there, not in “what type of system should we set up to bless some and banish others?”

    Yes Art, I fund all my artistic endeavors too. I think it gives me the freedom to do what I want—but the downside is that my budget limits my output. Personally, I have been banned several times by people that (I believe) know nothing about art or fear the dialog that art can open. Teaching art and art history is a crucial and an important part to opening young minds in our community. Young people may feel detached from the public art they see, because they do not understand it and thereby don’t value it. In reality it is the foundation on which they stand. Thanks for all you do.

  6. It’s partly about racial shame and self hate, but the biggest component is the same for all politics. Money. This is about bringing in big developers and national chains. Those that stand to benefit the most are friends of and contributors to the politicians.

    I think what I find most offensive is the implied attitude of “See? We’re just like you whites! We can tone down our culture if you feel threatened by it.”

  7. Hahahaha, nice word play! I’m intensely interested in palabras y dichos. Is there a Spanish (Mex/Am) equivalent to “whitewash” that carries similar meaning?

    Back to the topic: There is definitely a pattern emerging when you look at the mural whitewashing, the sacrifice of mom & pop merchants to development, and last but not least, the attack on the loncheras. I’m sure there are other examples. Is it just me bring paranoid or is Gloria Molina behind all this?

  8. Lavando el coco? Oh–I think that means ‘brain washing’—same difference!

    Hmmmmmm, GLOOOORIA MOLINAhhhhhhhh?

  9. Victoria i just ran across your blog. Your commentary is right on. Over the last year I’ve gone around Los Angeles taking photographs of murals. it’s a same that a significant number of the murals have deteriorated and as you stated have been whitewashed. I recently took a picture of mural in pristine condition off of Cesar Chavez (Brooklyn Ave) near Five Points in ELA. I went back about two weeks ago to get a better photograph for my collection. To my dismay the mural had been recently white washed. I was so pissed, I walked into to the establishment to question the owners, they stated they had no knowledge of the mural being whitewashed and asked me to leave. It looked like they were afraid to talk about it.
    It looks like its time to organize.

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