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In the next few weeks, the Rutgers Center for Latino Arts and Culture (RUCLAC) is set to unveil a mural headed by muralist Layqa Nuna Yawar and painted by Rutgers students and postgrads on the exterior of their College Avenue building.
After working on a mural for the Esperanza Neighborhood Project in New Brunswick, Yawar said he was approached by RUCLAC to paint a mural for its new location, which was established in September 2017. To design the mural, Yawar set up workshops where he invited students and postgrads to share what they wanted to see and who they wanted to represent in the piece.
“In the end, we ended up making a mural that speaks of tradition being passed down and representation of the postgrads and students that were part of the workshop,” he said.
One student who participated in the workshop is Angelica Calderon, a Mason Gross School of the Arts junior who is majoring in visual arts with a concentration in photography.
Calderon said the students discussed social and political issues in the Latinx community, such as anti-Blackness and the attitude of the current administration toward minorities. Yawar and the students then brainstormed how to incorporate these issues into the mural visually.
“I identify as Afro-Latinx, so me being in the piece is a good visual … there’s Black Latinx's out there,” she said.
Another student in the mural is Gibran Garcia, a Rutgers alumnus who said he first found out about Yawar when walking down the street with his friend Dio Cholula, who suggested they check out the workshop. Garcia majored in computer science, but said he was interested in the mural because he did a lot of front-end programming -- the more visual component of programming.
Garcia also said the mural created a more welcoming space for minorities of all majors.
“I was in computer science,” he said. “There’s not much representation of minorities and women.”
Calderon, Gibran and other students in the workshop became models for the mural, representing not only themselves but also tropes of their cultural identity, Yawar explained.
At the top of the mural is Calderon, who poses as an ancestral figure handing down knowledge from the sky. In the center, Garcia and Monica Torres, a Rutgers alumna, join hands to make a fist, which Yawar said represents the unity of the Latinx community. Their arms are also part of a cascading waterfall, a metaphor for knowledge and education. At the bottom of the mural are two kids with plants springing from their heads to represent how their minds grow from the waterfall.
“Having their ideas be represented so they belong, they have a feeling of ownership over the mural,” he said. “We’re painting their faces, so it’s a way they can feel connected to it.”
Yawar, a Mason Gross School of the Arts alumnus, said he quit making art after graduating in 2004 because he did not see himself being represented in the mostly white and aristocratic art market. Unable to get a job even in New York City, he moved to South Korea to become a teacher.
There he started to make art again on the streets after a two-year break from drawing and painting.
“A lot of what I do, I didn’t learn in school,” he said. “I learned this from the street, from being with friends.”
To Yawar, street art was a different method of expression and representation, where he did not have to deal with the academic nature of art galleries and museums. He said while school was a good place to brainstorm and share ideas, art lives outside of academia.
“What is important is bringing those different perspectives together and creating a new dialect between them,” he said.
When it came to how others would perceive the piece, Yawar said murals are mirrors.
Someone who is intolerant might see people they do not want in the country, someone who is more open-minded might like the piece and support the people who made it, and someone within the Latinx community might feel proud, he said.
Overall, Yawar said the main reason he made the mural is to signal to minorities that RUCLAC is a safe space for them.
“They can find a home here, they belong, this is their home,” he said.