Un Pueblo Sin Murales

Artist: , , and

Created: 1977

Sponsor: Original, Centro De Arte; Restoration, Mayor’s Office on Latino Affairs and Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission

Un pueblo sin murales (“A people without murals”) also known as the Adams Morgan Mural or the Riggs Mural, is the oldest piece remaining in place from the beginning phase of the contemporary mural cycle in Washington. The work was designed and executed by Carlos Salozar and Filipe Martinez, Chilean immigrants who joined thousands of their compatriots in fleeing the repressive Pinochet regime in the 1970s. The two co-founded Centro de Arte, a nonprofit cultural organization seeking to promote Latino artistic expression and community. The crowded surface conveys the frenetic and confusing Latino subculture of the period, a time when thousands of immigrants from Latino countries converged on the neighborhood to join relatives and seek political asylum.

At the top of the mural a small Washington Monument establishes the setting, but the action clearly takes place far from the Federal City. According to Carlos Arrien, a local artist and arts administrator who worked on the mural as a youth, the ghost-like figure with the center eye in the upper left represents the omniscient, oppressive presence of the government (perhaps immigration authorities). The upper right contains monstrous figures gathered around a table, playing monopoly under an unshaded light reminiscent of Guernica. The image symbolizes the real estate speculation that decimated affordable housing in the area, with bankers financing the conversion of historic apartment buildings into condominiums. The painting is far from universally bleak, however: Below, cubist-style figures work with paints—perhaps representing the muralists themselves. The bottom foreground, from left to right, shows a multi-racial group, a dancing couple of indeterminate gender, and a lively band. A small painting adjacent to the mural carries the caption that expresses the work’s theme: Un pueblo sin murals es un pueblo

The crowded surface conveys the frenetic and confusing Latino subculture of the period, a time when thousands of immigrants from Latino countries converged on the neighborhood to join relatives and seek political asylum. At the top of the mural a small Washington Monument establishes the setting, but the action clearly takes place far from the Federal City. According to Carlos Arrien, a local artist and arts administrator who worked on the mural as a youth, the ghost-like figure with the center eye in the upper left represents the omniscient, oppressive presence of the government (perhaps immigration authorities). The upper right contains monstrous figures gathered around a table, playing monopoly under an unshaded light reminiscent of Guernica. The image symbolizes the real estate speculation that decimated affordable housing in the area, with bankers financing the conversion of historic apartment buildings into condominiums.

The painting is far from universally bleak, however: Below, cubist-style figures work with paints—perhaps representing the muralists themselves. The bottom foreground, from left to right, shows a multi-racial group, a dancing couple of indeterminate gender, and a lively band. A small painting adjacent to the mural carries the caption that expresses the work’s theme: Un pueblo sin murals es un pueblo desmuralizdo (“A people without murals are a demuralized people.” In both English and Spanish, “demuralized” is a pun on “demoralized,” suggesting that the rise of public art expressing Latino life in Adams Morgan helped draw immigrants from many different homelands together into a single community.

Centro de Arte completed six murals over several years, picking up on the energy that was sparked by Chicago’s protest mural, the Wall of Respect (1967); the movement spread to Latino communities and causes, linking the Civil Rights struggle of African Americans to issues taken up by the United Farm Workers under the leadership of Cesar Chevez and others. Latino art has continued to be an important subgenre in the Washington mural cycle, with the Latin American Youth Center in Columbia Heights providing sponsorship and direction. The much-faded Un pueblo sin murals, a neighborhood icon, was restored with local funding in 2005.

Artist Juan Pineda originally refurbished the mural in 2005 and then again in 2011 after an earthquake.

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