Students, faculty, artists and dancers gathered at the event Empowerment through Art and Graffiti to paint their own graffiti and listen to speakers share their stories and messages about the importance of art and expression last week in Sneaky Park.
The second annual event was hosted by the anthropology department and served as a project for the class called Activism through Latin American Street Art.
“This event goes along with the class because we are learning about social movements and how people are voicing their opinions through politically influenced graffiti,” said Licett Figueroa, junior political science major.
“It is activism that is the main message: voice your opinion through something constructive, not violent.”
While students were encouraged to make their art political, they could paint whatever they chose.
Some panels were covered in random signatures and images of cartoons, one featured paintings of puppies, another messages of love, religious tolerance and the beauty of music.
One panel showed an immigrant farm worker and a message calling for immigration reform that benefits laborers who have been oppressed by politicians and bankers.
Bryan Torres, junior anthropology major, painted his own politically-charged panel. The piece showed a blend of Orwellian and Marxist imagery.
“To me it signifies the different pressures pushing on people to think certain ways, to act certain ways,” Torres said.
“There are three crosses signifying how the government has adopted certain ideals despite stating there’s a separation of church and state.”
Torres was also concerned with the issue of using up the world’s resources and how the working class mindlessly performs tasks while having their power and rights taken away from them, themes that were present in his art.
“The government and society as a whole pushes that and they try to make it seem like it is okay.”
Amber Alford, a Masters candidate from SIT Graduate Institute, has been doing an internship with the University’s sociology department and was one of the main event organizers. Alford credits much of the success of the event to adjunct instructor Gerlaine Kiamco who teaches the activism class and helped to make the event more prominent on campus.
“It is important to have a discussion about graffiti and see that it is not just vandalism and gangs; it is art and expression and it takes something like a university to start talking about it,” Alford said.
The class reached out to several clubs and organizations, including students from De Anza Middle School in Ontario, who were able to paint their own graffiti on a canvas they took back to their school.
The students were invited as a way to encourage them to stay in school.
Concern for the future of children in academics and in the arts was a common theme among the event speakers.
Prominent Los Angeles street artist, Adrian Navarrete, shared his stories of growing up in El Salvador and New York City and how his time on the streets as a kid got him interested in art. Quickly though, Navarrete realized there were problems with his passion.
“We just wanted to paint and express ourselves through art and I didn’t understand how that was a crime,” Navarrete said.
“We laugh about this now because we lived through it, but there is a hidden message behind all this; us not being able to express ourselves through art, you start thinking what’s going on? I did not want to be an illegal artist so I got into the academic arts and I bought the bureaucracy.”
Eventually Navarrete went back to graffiti art and has also been teaching art and dance to kids. His overarching message was that he wants people, specifically children, to see their potential to create change for themselves and others through art.
Throughout the rest of the event several other speakers talked about the importance of keeping kids off the streets, respecting different cultures and engaging in community activism.
The anthropology department is planning to hold a three-day conference for the graffiti event next year.
Katie Madden can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.