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"Mural movement would spruce up campus, unify students"

The Modern Languages Building stands as an artless brick structure that is bisected by a breezeway. The exterior gives no inkling as to what is housed inside its walls.


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Murals visually depict a history. What if we harnessed the mural forum to decorate this building so that it represented what was inside? Certainly the departments of French and Italian, Spanish and Portuguese and Arizona Public Media could come up with something eye-catching and emotionally moving to paint on its outer walls. Students should unite as a campus community to make this edifice exemplary. An interesting portrait would be much more stimulating to our working university brains than the monotony of red bricks.


The building has plenty of blank walls that would make divine canvases for images representative of all of the departments. There is enough blank space that each department could get their own side of the building, to create a mural representative of their department.


We would need to create a forum where the university community and possibly even the Tucson community could give their input as to what the mural should represent.


With about half of the UA's students being merged together under the new College of Letters, Arts and Sciences, there is plenty that these students could come together for. The university should use this common link among students to create a community project. Perhaps every person could bring a can of paint or chip in a few dollars toward the project.


""The merits of mural art are that they provide a history of the place where they are painted,"" said Ana Perches, senior lecturer in the department of Spanish and Portuguese. ""In Mexico, it was very strong after the Mexican Revolution (in 1910) where there was a need to express things that the country had gone through. A need to explore. It was also a critique of Mexican politics.""


A mural need not be confined to the Modern Languages building but it would be adequate for the building that houses the Spanish and Portuguese department to have a mural, a medium of art that has been successfully harnessed by Chicano artists.


Chicano murals can be seen throughout Tucson, from downtown to El Rio Neighborhood Center in South Tucson. In a 1990 New York Times article, Tucson native Tom Miller wrote of the city's most colorful man-made landmarks: ""Murals are the great egalitarian art form; they are inexpensive to paint, free to view and available to all.""


The border culture is all around us and often people don't realize what is special about their own city. The ambitious project of a mural brings people together as a community. It is not simply giving people a paintbrush and telling them to paint on a wall, it is an organized collage of images and symbols that tell a story and spark discourse.


""Definitely murals can be controversial, they create discussion,"" Perches said. ""I think the benefit of murals is that they invite you to have a conversation about history, they ask for participation like a type of performance art. You can look at it from different angles, the light of the day changes. It is not like paintings in a museum where they have artificial light so it always looks the same.""


A successful mural is grounded in a unifying aesthetic, directed by an artist or group of artists. But the actual work must be done collectively. This activity brings people together to work on a common goal. Our culture often emphasizes independence as a strong character trait but as the silly acronym for T.E.A.M says: Together Everyone Achieves More.


""Physically there's no way one person could do it,"" Perches said. ""Murals are a voice of the people, not of the elite.""


As Perches often points out in her Spanish class lectures, the complete history of the southwest is often overlooked in public schools. Tucson was still part of Mexico in 1848. Often this is the point where social studies start the history of the state of Arizona, ignoring the past of the land. A Chicano-style mural could be a medium to tell the entire, often overlooked, history of Arizona. This would include perspectives from underrepresented minorities such as Native Americans, African-Americans, and the often overlooked Asian-American immigrants who helped to construct the railroads as early as the 1800s.


""Chicano murals learned from Mexican murals,"" Perches said. Mexican murals were usually painted inside authoritative buildings, like museums or government institutions. This meant that only the people inside the building could view the mural. Chicano murals took the medium to the streets, literally, and started painting murals on the outsides of buildings so that everyone could freely enjoy the art. ""It doesn't have to be a perfect, solid wall. Murals work creatively in the space that they have.""


Murals are representative of Southwestern culture and the UA should adequately reflect its environment by bringing murals onto its campus. If everyone in the newest and largest college helped out in this mural project then it could certainly become a reality on this campus.


-ÿAlexandria Kassman is a creative writing and Spanish senior. She can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.


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Updated December 5, 2021