Murals as Emancipation from a Colonial Mentality in Marginalized Communities 

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By Cristian Roldan 

Art museums have historically been sanctuaries to preserve the cultural heritage of civilizations destroyed through colonial enterprise. The curation of appropriated objects, passed from generation to generation through inherited private property, has been a way of representing the “other”, that is to say we, the colonized, from an eurocentric point of view. 

By romanticizing the legacy of our ancestors while marginalizing their descendants, they have controlled the discourse of “otherness”: exoticizing what’s profitable, discarding contradictions, instrumentalizing the assimilated, and ignoring the marginalized. The ‘others’, reduced to “artisans”, “outsider artists”, and “street artists”, have found difficulties and inspiration in inequality and organic billboards on community walls. More than representing art, murals serve to make public a narrative different from the mainstream as a means to represent people and their history in a dignified way without the need of bureaucrats and institutions as middlemen. This is why their streets and walls become canvasses for disadvantaged artists, and people who have been ignored and invisibilized, in dissonance with the hegemonic discourses. It’s a way to reclaim their own voice that for so long has been silenced and usurped. 

Public art provides the visibility that has been denied marginalized people resulting in a means to exert control over them. As psychologist Silvia Bleicmar reveals, the invisibility of the marginalized emerges as a State strategy to exert systematic violence with impunity. The invisible become an echo in the middle of the desert. Murals serve as the proclamation of the marginalized to come out of the fog and publish their own ideas and interests from a protagonistic perspective; in contrast with the narrative from mainstream media which historically has objectified and demonized the “other”. Murals in marginalized communities intersect design, collective aesthetic and abstract ideas that transform abstract thoughts into an accessible form in the visual sense. In this way, public spaces become politicized scenarios. 

Muralism has the capacity to politicize public spaces, transforming them into scenarios of learning and reflection. Its capacity to stimulate the social imagination, as Maxine Greene expressed, helps to reveal society as an unfixed product, constructed by our daily actions and collective consensus. The potential of murals to codify ideas into images serves as an accessible tool to disseminate a train of thought distinct from the dominant discourse, one that is owned by the people where they can: 1) represent the marginalized in a dignified way 2) preserve their collective memory and reinforce their identity ( essential to the Puerto Rican people after five centuries of colonization producing a migration that erodes traditions and their sense of identity) 3) articulate social problems and claim social justice, and 4) publicize the presence of marginalized people who have often been invisible to the public eye.