TAFA: The Textile and Fiber Art List

Monday, January 19, 2009

A Man on the Street: Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

219 E. Martin Luther King Boulevard, Los Angeles, 2006.

A little deviation from fiber art here... I found this interesting slide show on the New York Times and thought it was worth sharing. Photographer Camilo José Vergara has been photographing urban landscapes for a couple of decades. In this series, he documents murals that include images of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Several of the murals were in Los Angeles in obvious Latino neighborhoods, interesting as historically Blacks and Latinos have experienced tension with each other, especially in situations where they competed for the same jobs. I taught ESL in a Mexican neighborhood for awhile, over 20 years ago. I drove by a large mural on the side of a Church every time I went down to the class. That mural had Dr. Martin Luther King Jr as a central figure, along with Gandhi and a couple of other peace makers. Wish I had taken a photo...

The class sought to address some of these issues as the residents of Little Village lived next to a Black neighborhood and there was great animosity between both. I'll never forget how one of my students, a gentle Mexican man in his 50's thanked me at the end of our 10 week session. He worked in a factory and had been at a machine, next to a Black man for years and they never said a word to each other. Because of the class, he decided to start greeting him and the two became friendly, even helping each other when their machines acted up. We have come a long way in 2o years, yet much work remains to be done. That work can start with a greeting...

Artist's Statement:

"In America’s poorest ghettos, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s portrait is one of the most popular subjects of public art. These images, which I have been documenting since 1977, regularly appear on the walls of the liquor stores, auto-repair shops, fast-food restaurants, mom-and-pop stores and public housing projects of Chicago, Detroit, Los Angeles, New York and many other cities across the country. The majority are the work of amateur artists. Though Dr. King is usually front and center, he is often accompanied by other inspirational figures: Nelson Mandela, John Paul II, Malcolm X, Rosa Parks, Mother Teresa, Pancho Villa. He is often accompanied by his famous phrase, “I have a dream” – a reminder that in many of the communities where these murals exist, the gulf between hope and reality remains far too wide."
- Camilo José Vergara

Visit the slide show to see all of the photos!


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“Whatever you say, say it with conviction.”

(Both by the master, Mark Twain)

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