Murals adorning Riverside are visual stories – San Bernardino Sun

By Frances J. Vasquez | Contributing Columnist

Riverside’s alleyways, walls, and adobes are adorned with visual stories — tales, legends and narratives are portrayed in vibrant images. Muralists are expressing their voices in various art spaces. There’s a renaissance of muralism in Riverside — like a geographic collage, they are producing art everywhere: Store fronts, buildings, schools, alleyways. Murals are inspirational and provocative modes of visual storytelling. Like an urban canvas, muralists convey their community’s history, social justice concerns, and aspirations.

Tesoros de Cuentos bilingual creative writing group meets at the SSgt. Salvador J. Lara Casa Blanca Library in Riverside. Inspired by a unity event by then-State Poet Laureate Juan Felipe Herrera, we aspire to give literary voice to the Chicana/o community.

We pivoted from inward introspection of memoir and memorial writing, to an outward perspective into the community to derive writing inspirations from the abundance of spectacular murals throughout Riverside. Arts aficionada Kimberly Olvera-Du Bry collaborated with the workshops — our theme, “Storytelling via the Arts: Riverside Murals.”

Frances J. Vasquez serves on the Inlandia Institute board of directors and coordinates Tesoros de Cuentos bilingual writing workshops in Riverside. (Photo courtesy of Lily Rivera)

As plein-air artists, we ventured into the environment to view and write about stories within the murals. Powerful images emerged with messages of social justice, equity, repression — and of love, resilience, triumph, and hope. These images delight the senses to inform, incite, provoke, and express tales of unity, cultural pride and identity.

Writer and artist Ed Fuentes wrote that “… murals have long been a mechanism for telling the story of place, relating political stances and portraying the heroes of a community.” Fuentes affirmed, “Visual tales inhabit a space in mainstream arts culture and a place in the larger narrative of Riverside, adding other storylines.”

He posits that Chicano-heritage muralism is part of our DNA inheritance from the long tradition of muralism in Mexico. Casa Blanca has compelling examples like the César Chávez mural by Tony Ray — viewed from Casa Blanca Street. It celebrates the work and legacy of Chávez and the activists who worked for social and environmental justice.

The “Riverside Tales” mural by Pável Acevedo, F.C. Aragon, and Carlos Castro honors the Harada family legacy and numerous multicultural civil rights luminaries. Guest artists included Maurice Howard, Inland Mujeres, Darren Villegas, and others. The magnificent mural graces an alley on University Avenue near Orange Street. Acevedo immortalized his daughter Pilar as the goddess Calafia holding her staff. Kudos to Andy Melendrez for serving delicious homemade refreshments.

Pável Acevedo’s book, “The Shell in the Clouds” El Capazón en las Nubes” Ma’ Conch’t do’t Nub’t” represents three languages: English, Spanish, and Zapotec. He writes, “The Legend of the Turtle and the Buzzard,” “… is derived from Zapotec oral tradition spoken in Oaxaca. The moral of the story is self-acceptance…. inspired by Zapotec stories, in a contemporary context, shared by his grandfather to explore migration, immigration, borders and the duality many immigrants contend with after leaving their homeland for a new nation.”

The butterfly motif is visible in numerous Riverside murals symbolic of change, hope, and transformation. Mariposa Alley on Ninth Street near City Hall features colorful Monarch butterflies in migration — created with repurposed cans by artist and restaurateur Martín Sanchez. Across the alley, a sign beckons, “Love Blooms Here” with an array of fanciful flowers and butterflies. “How to Fly” mural was painted by Joey Koslik and Patrick Barwinski.

A whimsical “Dia de los Muertos” mural by Jesus A. Castañeda is featured at Placita Restaurant on University near Chicago Avenue. The José Guadalupe Posada-inspired skeletal Mariachis and dancers perform on a starry night. Symbolism is ubiquitous: Nopales, “papel picado,” butterflies, hummingbird, rabbit moon, pyramids, and more.

A mural by Jesus A. Castañeda is featured at Placita Restaurant on University near Chicago Avenue. Scharlett Stowers Vai, from left, Albert Contreras, Dora Harmon, Frances Vasquez, Jose Luis Vizcarra, and Richard Gonzalez at the mural site on April 22, 2022. (Courtesy of Kimberly Olvera-Du Bry)

Muralist Juan Navarro led a tour of Eastside Arthouse and El Trigo Restaurant mural on Park Avenue. It was painted by portrait artist Rosana Cortez with Navarro’s help. It showcases the artistry of Mexican floral embroidery and the visage of a beautiful Latina with a red rose in her hair — framed with wheat sprigs and illuminated by a brilliant moon.

“Riverside Resilience” by muralist Darren Villegas adorns the backside of The Box Theater on Fairmount Boulevard. The large, impressive mural touts the city’s attributes of arts and innovation: parent orange tree and its fruit and blossoms, schools, and arts and culture.

Motherly love is boundless. One local mother’s love inspired the creation of an amazing mosaic mural. Her child endured overt racism in school. “She went to school one way and came back a little bit different because of that experience,” stated Rochelle Kanatzar in an article by The Inland Voice. Support came from several artists and friends to create a mural inspired by Maya Angelou’s celebrated “Still I Rise” poem:

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