Implosion Project: Isla Vista Mural

The artifact I chose for this exercise was a picture I took of what remains of the mural inspired by the Chumash located in Anisq’oyo’ park. I was browsing through my photos and thought this would be a good item to choose for this project.

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I took this photo because I thought this scene needed to be captured. I have lived in Isla Vista for over two years and had never paid attention to it before. I found the mural interesting to look at and its imagery simplistic and graceful. The symbols resemble ancient Chumash art, but the mural portraying this culture is in sad condition. This mural is what I would call a hidden or “forgotten” piece of art, similar to the history behind it.

The physical state of the mural reveals the different perspectives people have on public art and indigenous people of California. For those that chose to represent and depict Chumash culture in Isla Vista recognized, chose to do so for a reason. They wanted to highlight Chumash’s historical significance and felt that it needed to be represented in Isla Vista. Often times indigenous history is swept under the rug and it is a very violent, silenced history. By painting this mural, the artists call attention to where the land we live on really came from. This of course involves the enslavement and killing of Chumash people when settlers came across the land and took over. This mural was painted as part of the Isla Vista Murals Project, still operating today, and not by Chumash people themselves since very few are still living. With that fact, Chumash culture could not be depicted through their own perspective and since their villages were destroyed, we can only speculate how they would perceive this mural. We, as students and residents of Isla Vista, live here as a result of this violent past. The mural brings this past to the surface. However, the mural is half destroyed, painted over, and “tagged” with graffiti. It is a mystery to the public as to why the mural was partly covered up: what was placed over the art for it to be censored and covered up? It was likely tagging, or graffiti, because Isla Vista is has a fairly liberal population. However, in the eyes of the person who was showing the mural to me, the mural was proposed to have been vandalized by people who were expressing racism, xenophobism, and/or ethnocentrism. It is hard for me to comprehend why someone would want to destroy a piece of art for these reasons, but unfortunately it can happen and that was surely this person’s view of how the mural’s condition came to be.

Did the people who painted over it realize that they were painting over a piece of empowering and historical art? The people who painted over the mural may not have known Isla Vista’s history or where the symbols, colors, and patterns come from.

Within the art piece itself are people working in a field, picking plants with their hands. Abstract symbols that resemble faces are within the same world, slightly separated from the humans. The mural resides on the edge of a local Isla Vista business and the wall that faces the park. The half closest to the street is completely painted over. It is situated as a part of Anisq’oyo’ park, which is named after the Chumash people and land. I think the mural was meant to call attention to the origin of the land we walk on everyday and coincides with the park’s name. This is a park that is utilized by many students and community members for events, but still attracts little attention.

When put in the context of Isla Vista overall, it differs from the other murals that we see and notice in the community. A majority of the murals reflect a specific, contemporary culture and community. For example, many murals reflect the “beach culture,” depicting oceans, beaches, surfing, whales, sea turtles, and mermaids. So put in the context of Isla Vista art as a whole, the Chumash mural indexes different identities which is why it may be overlooked by some people who walk by it. I think some people are not taught enough about how our land came to be developed into what it is now.

When looking at the mural, another important question came up: Why has this mural not been restored? Given the current political administration, which has been overtly racist and xenophobic, I think that as a community, we need to work more diligently to respect and celebrate California’s roots and silenced identities. We need to celebrate marginalized identities and histories, not erase or ignore them which is what those with majority identities have historically done.

Another question is: where are the people that painted the mural? It was a collaborative effort done years ago, so the people that helped create it are probably spread out in many places. Have they come back to visit it? If so, have they tried to help the state that it is in? These are all questions that come up when examining the mural.

A separate context that can be explored here is the picture itself. I took the picture while I was being given a tour, by a student in education, art, and Chicano studies. After he gave us some background information on the mural, I snapped several photos of it, not being able to capture it all. On my iPhone, you can only see the part of the mural that is still preserved. I liked what was left of the mural, the background colors move gracefully from a teal to a bright, sunny yellow. With an iPhone, the photo can be easily accessed and shared. I could send the photo to my friends, family, or share it with strangers on social media, but I chose to keep it in my photos app. Being able to document what I see by taking photos on a device that I carry with me everyday allows for the documentation of a personal history. This is a modern privilege, and a privilege that the Chumash people certainly did not have. Having an iPhone also brings up the issues of the digital divide– unequal of access to technology or impact of technology in different areas, demographics, and communities. Once again, there is an imbalance of power which is always prevalent and important in history.

The picture of this partly destroyed Chumash mural brings different ideas to the surface as different contexts are explored. Picking one thing, specifying it, and situating it through multiple perspectives can bring interesting ideas to the surface, flowing like a stream of consciousness. Not everything that I noticed from the artifact connected together and studying the artifact opened up an array of questions where I was only able to speculate the answer. While practicing this exercise, I realized how complex it is to conceptualize a single “artifact.”

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