Three months ago an idea to create an urban art festival in Spanish Harlem accentuating the connection between Puerto Rico and El Barrio spawned from the minds of cultural forerunners Jose Morales and Celso González. That idea has culminated in a week long string of events dubbed Los Muros Hablan, which will begin Monday as 11 muralists splash their stories on walls in Spanish Harlem and a bridge’s underbelly in the South Bronx.
Artists Don Rimx, Betsy Casañas, Axel Void, LNY, Juan Fernandez Rivera, Roberto Biaggi, Pastel, Viajero, Elian, and Manny Vega will transform areas of El Barrio into visual interpretations of the idea of diaspora– the dispersal of a specific population into a smaller geographic area such as the Puerto Rican presence that thrives in El Barrio. In addition to the murals, there will be artists’ talks at Museo del Barrio on Wednesday, August 21st, and a block party on 105th street Saturday, August 24th, the last day of the mural celebration. Musical acts Orquesta El Macabeo, Flaco Navaja and the Razor Blades, DJ Velcro, D’Marquesina, Miguel Luciano, Buscabulla, Lalaboy (impersonating Iris Chacon), and Ricardo Cabret will perform.
Artist: Don Rimx & Nepo
At the center of Los Muros Hablan is a concept that reminds the community of the long history of Puertorriqueños in the tight-knit community of Spanish Harlem. “One of my main goals and my main dreams is to connect history with the culture already existing in El Barrio,” Jose Morales, producer of the event, says. Muralism is a way to facilitate direct contact with artists and the public without a museum setting which can sometimes turn people off, he explains. Painting in the street and on public property is a way to break down barriers, create conversations within the community and get youth interested in history.
Melissa Mark-Viverito, NYC Council Member and the first Puertorriqueña to serve in her council, was essential to making the event happen. “In East Harlem we have high gentrification pressures and a lot of displacement. With that, comes the possible erasure of communities and the invalidation of long struggles that have happened here. I think Los Muros Hablan is a way of affirming our existence, our contributions, our presence,” she says.
Jose Morales and Celso González, producers of Los Muros Hablan also have plans for El Barrio in the future. They both run an alternative artspace in Santurce, Puerto Rico called La Respuesta, a space that hosts events ranging from philharmonic orchestras to musical acts like Calle Trece. The space has been highly successful in engaging the Puerto Rican community in Santurce with performance, theatre, plastic and public arts, so they are looking to do the same here and open a similar space in El Barrio.
The artists involved come from a range of places including Puerto Rico, the U.S. and different parts of Latin America giving the event diverse and cosmopolitan exposure to a spectrum of styles and perspectives. Betsy Casañas, a muralist from Philadelphia with Puerto Rican roots, identifies as a public artist, first and foremost. Her mural will be a portrait of a 22-year-old girl who grew up in a family riddled with drug addiction. “A lot of my work is art and activism, art and change, transformation. The idea of exposure, if were not exposed then we have no idea.”
In another mural, Celso González will create a double-headed parrot with one face looking toward Puerto Rico and the other toward the sparkly skyline of NYC. Celso says, “We would like to create a bridge between Puerto Rico and New York City because there’s obviously a big connection between the two places. Puerto Rico is not only what happens on the island but what happens here as well.”
NY-based Puerto Rican artist Don Rimx says, “El Barrio es un lugar mítico que lleva muchos años de historia. Se va a pintar un poco mas de historia de una comunidad de Nueva Yol!” Make sure to check the calendar for updates on Los Muros Hablan events throughout the week. It’s the beginning of something big.