The Worldwide Online Museum for Mural Art

International Empowerment Conference 2012 - Trieste, Italy

Last week I presented a paper on Community Murals in San Francisco at the international conference „From Discrimination to Empowerment“ in Trieste, Italy. Hopefully my article enables social organizations to make a better use of wall paintings as a visual counter-discourse and to implement inclusive Community Art Projects.

Community Murals are large-scale artworks on public walls that are painted by artists in collaboration with the neighborhood. They build community pride through self-presentation and also increase interest in social justice by educating outsiders about the struggle of ethnic minorities and disadvantaged groups. The influence of minorities to the mass media is very limited and they are often portrayed as inferior or second-class citizens. Instead Community Murals offer a great vehicle to represent minorities in a positive light, promoting the values of tolerance and solidarity. Compared to social media and other ways of self-representation on the Internet, wall paintings have a lasting quality.

Especially the Community Murals in the 1960s changed the self-understanding within the communities. Until that time, the minorities were living invisible in the periphery of society. Their concerns had been paid just little attention. With the Community Mural Movement disadvantaged groups expressed their anger and protest against the political conditions on walls. For the first time their heritage and collective identity was displayed in public spaces. They were seeking to gain strength from what the dominant society had tried to make a stigma. The Community Murals were reminding people of their cultural uniqueness and achievements of the past, what stimulated self-determination and fostered them to take control of their lives. Oppressed groups began to tell alternative narratives about their identity in the murals and contributed a coherent new version of American history. Until today Community Murals have a representative function, that corrects negative stereotypes and empowers minorities to fight for recognition, access to education and social mobility.

Although Community Murals are well established in educational and social fields in the United States the concept is almost unknown in Europe. In spite of its educational opportunities so far relatively little importance has been placed on the topic. The social and integrative components of Community Murals are largely ignored. The problem includes a lack of information about best practices and that the educational work with Community Murals is often not based on scientific evidence.

To bridge the gap between educational practice and scientific knowledge, I researched the stereotypes and the visual counter-discourse through Mural Art from minority groups in San Francisco. I particularly examined the artistic expression of cultural identity from Latin, African and Asian Americans as well as youth and the elderly, women, gay people and persons with disabilities. My study is based on image analysis, interviews with artists and community surveys. I examined the desire to portray the own cultural identity in Community Murals. The idea that cultural identity is a narrative construct led to the assumption that murals contain an identity forming function connected with biographical and mythological narratives. My study proves the impact of Community Murals on the self-organization of neighborhoods and shows that stereotypes and prejudices can be changed by visual counter-discourses.