Walls, viaducts, bridges and storefronts across the city serve as canvasses for artists to share their political views about war, prison reform, voting rights, self-determination and other issues. Here’s a sampling of murals from Chicago’s communities of color.
~ Photos by Max Herman
In a fenced-in lot on the corner of Artesian and North avenues stands one of the oldest Puerto Rican-themed murals in Humboldt Park: La Crucifixion de Don Pedro Albizu Campos. Painted in 1971 by Mario Galan, Jose Bermudez and Hector Rosario, the politically-charged mural has been restored twice and was nearly covered up by a condo development. Joyce Fernandes, executive director of archi-treasures in Humboldt Park, says that thanks to a nine-year stand by the Puerto Rican Cultural Center and other neighborhood activists, the wall remained intact. Fernandes says the mural has become a neighborhood landmark.
A detail from the mural La Crucifixion de Don Pedro Albizu Campos shows Puerto Rican Nationalist Party leader Albizu Campos being crucified.
The mural, Prevent World War III, created by Marcos Raya and other socially conscious artists in 1980, stands out on the corner of 18th Street and Western Avenue. The mural, with its strong anti-war sentiment, was dedicated to the people of Nicaragua and all countries fighting against U.S.-backed dictatorships, Raya says. He plans to add scenes honoring the tens of thousands of lives lost to violence in Mexico.
Marcos Raya says that his depiction of revolutionary Che Guevara was repeatedly vandalized, which was one of the reasons he restored the mural in recent years.
The park at 5001 S. Cottage Grove Avenue was named in 1991 in honor of civil rights and prison reform activist Rev. Jessie “Ma” Houston. Three years later, a mural by Bernard Williams and other artists was painted in celebration of black arts and culture, including a portrait of Houston. Today much of the mural has been tagged over with the names of fallen neighborhood residents.
After painting a barbershop-themed mural for Kut-Zone on the West Side in 2007, artist Rahmaan Statik returned to Kedzie Avenue and Van Buren Street in 2010 to replace an adjacent, older mural that was falling apart. Statik says he wanted to convey an important message. After getting input from Kut-Zone’s owner, Statik focused on a quote from President Barack Obama as well as portraits of Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and other important figures in the black community.
I Will… The People United Cannot Be Defeated at 1300 N. Western Avenue was created by Northeastern Illinois University students in 2004 with a strong focus on voting rights and creating change. Portraits of political figures Mother Jones, Fred Hampton, Eugene Debs and Lucy Parsons are prominently featured in black and white.
The 20-year-old Have A Dream mural on King Drive in Bronzeville, created by Dr. Siddha Webber and others, was completely restored earlier this year. New details include sections dedicated to the Jackie Robinson West Little League team and President Obama.
With a focus on powerful figures and messages, the Have A Dream mural is mixed with depictions of political leaders such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. alongside quotes and prayers.
Sim’s Corner Wall of Respect by Wardell McClain has been a fixture on the corner of 47th Street and Champlain Avenue for years. Featuring a wide-ranging mix of politicians, activists, athletes, musicians, and even biblical figures, it is one of the few places you’ll see Jackie Robinson painted alongside Elvis Presley and Adam and Eve.
On a newer corner of the Wall of Respect, President Obama’s portrait is flanked by depictions of Muhammad Ali and Michael Jackson.