Start your tour in the unlikely location beneath the I-94 underpass in the historic neighborhood of Walker’s Point. This unique collection of murals, called The Wonders of Latin America, depicts 34 scenes from the Latino world, painted onto support beams and pillars. Images include the underwater colony of Baja California, the jungles of Venezuela, and various animals and plants from those ecosystems.
This project was a collaboration between Venezualan Raoul Deal from the UW Milwaukee School of Art, Mexican Robert Cisneros, Juan Flores, Jose Augusto Paradisi, and local youth from the community. It was painted in 2002, and won is the winner of the Mayor’s Design Award.
The United Community Center, or Centro de la Comunidad Unida, is three blocks directly west, and is worth a visit to learn more about the neighborhood’s history of supporting Latin American artists and grassroots community initiatives. Its lively events calendar features performances, gallery exhibits, and group tours.
If you were ever curious about what a Mayan queen might have looked like, you will find out at the next stop through a mural titled, “Viva la Raza.” Located on the west side of the building that houses Gina’s Beauty Salon at 705 W National Ave, this mural kicked off the community-based artist scene in Walker’s Point. Although “Viva la Raza” translates literally in English into “Long Live the Race,” the figurative meaning is much more symbolic. It encourages pride in a Mexican heritage, but it is also connected to the deeper history of the Aztlan, or the Meso-American empire that extended through what is now Mexico and Central America prior to the arrival of the Conquistadors from Spain.
This inspiring and cosmic mural depicts an Aztec Queen and a god supporting the stars, planets, and constellations of Aztec and Mayan mythology. The artist visited the Mexican archaeological site of Chichen Itza before painting the mural, to connect himself to the vision of what he wanted to communicate through his art.
“Viva la Raza” was a collaborative project between artists Chacho Lopez and Ben Stark, both of Milwaukee. Stark is founder of the non-profit organization, Painting it Forward, which provides opportunities for artists to create culturally-relevant murals in economically vulnerable communities throughout the US and worldwide. In 2016, Stark and Lopez led another collaboration during the creation of a four-story mural in Colombia. In 2017, they painted a 180 foot long and nine foot high mural at a school in San Andres De La Barranca, Mexico.
Lopez is also a tattoo artist at Walker’s Point Tattoo Company, and across the street from another mural along the route.
Less than one block from the “Viva la Raza” mural is another majestic painting called, “Mural of Peace.” It depicts an eagle and a dove, meeting each other over a backdrop of a world map, while an explosion of color extends from the dove’s outstretched wings. The dove holds an olive branch in its beak, communicating the universal symbol of delivering peace after an extended time of conflict.
This is an inspiring mural, even at a superficial glance. Upon closer examination, you will see additional layers of meaning woven into the dance of colors and paint. During an interview with WUMW 89.7, Milwaukee’s NPR, the artist, Reynaldo Hernandez describes how, “after I was almost done [painting the mural], I started thinking ‘well there’s not really total peace in the world, there’s always tension, so I added the lighting right in the middle of the mural, in the back of the globe to show tension — hot spots or war zones.”
The mural is not painted directly on the building, but instead is painted on 300 4×8 foot wooden panels. In 2016, a section went missing and a ripple of surprise spread through social media, and the Milwaukee Latino artist community. The Esperanza Unida International building, which had supported the art project since 1993, had been sold to developers, and was being renovated to make room for upscale apartments called the Mercantile Lofts. Apparently, building codes required natural light for the apartments and the mural was removed without Hernandez’ knowledge or consent. Ultimately, Hernandez was able to find a negotiation with the developers, and the mural today is fully intact, with windows inserted into revised wooden panels.
Our next stop is five blocks east of the “Mural of Peace,” and is a mural titled, “Bienvenidos a Walker’s Point.” This piece was a collaboration between the entirety of the Walker’s Point Creative Collective. It took over 130 hours to complete, and used more than 300 cans of spray paint in its creation.
Located directly across S 2nd Street from Chacho’s tattoo shop, “Bienvenidos a Walker’s Point” is a dedication to the Walker’s Point neighborhood from locals who eventually founded important community organizations and businesses, including the Walker’s Point Creative Collective, and Walker’s Point Tattoo.
As a commemoration, the mural depicts landmarks from the neighborhood: the Basilica of St. Josephat on the corner of 6th and Lincoln Avenue; the Escuela Verde charter school on Pierce Street; the Daniel Hoan Memorial Bridge; and the Allen-Bradley clock tower. Interspersed throughout these landmarks are also images of the artists’ personal lives. Some of the houses are the artists’ childhood homes. The man with the guitar is artist Adam Correa’s grandfather, and a founding member of the Walker’s Point neighborhood.
Other notable illustrations include a skull floating among cloud, a clock tower set to the time of 4:20, and a dog taking a poo. The entire mural was painted freehand, and the details are impressive. It was completed in July, 2016, by the artists in the featured image of this post.
The artists used the Spanish language to communicate a testimony to the neighborhood’s vibrant Latino culture. Although real estate developers are referring to the area as the “Fifth Ward,” the artists of the Walker’s Point Creative Collective stand firm in their proclamation that it is “Walker’s Point.” As the area continues to move toward gentrification, their presence as artists and as members of the community, set the boundaries needed to maintain their history and defend their future.