Live mural painting sparks community and culture on campus


Victoria Ivie

Artist Claudio Talavera-Ballon painting the first part of a mural in front of the Cal State LA library.

Victoria Ivie, Managing Editor

The scrape of white pencil onto the panel was faint, the artist leisurely bringing to life six outlines of people crossing a blue river that reflects the slightly cloudy sky. Paint supplies littered the tarp near his feet. This was the scene at the university library of a muralist painting live.

“This project was born out of the will to have more art, more color on campus,” said Gabriela Fried, a Cal State LA professor. “The idea is to gather, celebrate and respect migrant communities among us.”

Claudio Talavera-Ballon, a Bay Area artist, is Peruvian and feels very passionate about the subject of migrants.

“I tell stories through my paintings so this story is about migration,” Talavera-Ballon said of the mural. “Everything under the sky is about the travels at the border. All the things people have to deal with when they’re crossing the border.”

While the mural will handle very serious topics of abusive border patrol, the dangers of crossing the border and families running from danger, Talavera-Ballon also wanted to include migrant joy.

“The green part is this country and there are going to be happy people who have made the crossing,” he said. “People pursuing the American Dream, reunited with family, the Dreamers and DACA recipients. It’s going to be about the dark side and good side of migration.”

This is the only piece he is working on in Los Angeles this year so far but he has some of his work featured in San Francisco at the World Transit Center, some missions and many commissioned pieces around the world.

This artist-in-residence event was originally planned for March 2020 but COVID put all events on hold. The project involved the collaboration of faculty and students, according to Fried.

The event was sponsored by the Dreamer Resource Center, Latin American Studies Program, Departments of Sociology and Anthropology, the College of Ethnic Studies and the Critical Migrant Studies Group. Some of the student organizations involved included Latin American Student Society (LASS) and the Ethnic Studies Student Committee (ESSC).

Fried felt this event was, unfortunately, perfectly timed to reflect on current events. “Right now, we are witnessing the crisis in Ukraine where in a matter of days, millions have had to flee,” she said. “Many of our students come from a legacy of migrating. We’re trying to celebrate more of the diaspora. It is so important to recognize work toward more human rights for migrants and also celebrate them and their stories. We hope this inspires other people to do the same thing.”

Fried, who has been a faculty member for over 15 years, is Uruguayan and her parents were exiled from Uruguay because of political leadership. She teaches Latin American studies and Sociology.

While most students have returned to campus this semester, one of Fried’s Latin American classes is mostly on Zoom. For her, this event was also about rebuilding some feelings of community that were lost during COVID.

“Today is the first time I’ve seen some of their faces,” Fried said. “We were all hugging, it was great. It’s beautiful when human beings get to connect instead of being in a flat Zoom screen. Art is a vital resource.” The mural Talavera-Ballon is painting is a bit unique in that it is to be done on two large and moveable panels.

“On campus, it is actually so hard to get a wall even though we have a lot of walls that are boring and gray and uninspired,” Fried said. “They’re empty and they could be brimming with collages or something. We have a lot of student or community artists we could be using.”

Even though it was too hard to get a wall for the mural, Fried is taking it in stride and is planning with other student groups to arrange multiple locations where the mural can be viewed around campus.

Future plans include a second event either in the summer or fall semester to have the artist come back and finish the piece and do a grand reveal event. Fried hopes to have artist-in-residence events every semester.

This event also had free collage crafting for students at the USU as well as forms where students could reflect and write down what the word “migrant” means to them.

“This event made me realize how important our testimonials are. Our migration stories are worth telling because they bring us closer together and remind us that we continue to exist above all that has tried to oppress us,” said ESSC President Christina Cortes.

Latin American Studies major Josieline Hernandez, who is about to graduate, felt a deep connection to the event’s theme because she is a wife to an undocumented migrant and a daughter to migrant parents.

“This event brought art to the university which is great and brings opportunities to connect people,” Hernandez said. “As a master’s student who is about to graduate, it’s important for me to stay connected to the university. After graduating, it’s going to be part of my lifestyle as a curator to be able to take art into the community and connect people with art.”