Wendy Alexander/The Madera Tribune
Youth leaders from the Madera Coalition of Community Justice gather to work on a mural they are painting on the wall of the California Rural Legal Assistance building. Real life historical leaders are represented with super heroes who reflect the leader they are.
Superheroes have begun assembling near downtown Madera on the wall of California Rural Legal Assistance, but their faces may not be as one might expect, though familiar even so.
CRLA, Madera Coalition for Community Justice and the coalition’s Madera Youth Leaders have partnered with creative outreach consultant Erik Gonzalez to spray-paint a mural of “social justice superheroes” that may be finished this weekend, according to Baldwin Moy, directing attorney at CRLA.
The mural features superheroes resembling Wonder Woman or Iron Man but with the faces and logos of figures in 20th century U.S. history.
“The idea was to take advantage of the popularity of superheroes in movies now … and translate them or their full body figures into looking like real social justice heroes,” explained Gonzalez. “We’re kind of taking a real (life) re-mix of the (DC Comics) Justice League … For example, we have Thurgood ... (Marshall) who was the first African-American Supreme Court judge, so we gave him some of the characteristics of Thor.”
The justice holds a courtroom gavel that evokes the comic book form of Mjolnir, the hammer of Nordic god Thor. A dozen figures stand side-by-side on a background of red, white and blue. Above the lineup are the faces of Martin Luther King Jr., Cesar Chavez and U.S. President Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Fenced in, the unfinished mural can be seen facing 126 North B St., where CRLA and the coalition share a building, but another picture covers its other side.
“We have Lady Justice, who is carrying ribbons, and those ribbons are counterweighted by heroes holding them on the other side,” Gonzalez said.
The cover of 1988 Metallica album “...And Justice For All” inspired the imagery. “That album cover depicts people pulling down Lady Justice,” Moy said. “This one, instead of tearing it down, people are pulling it up.”
Work on the mural began Feb. 10 and continued until Feb. 15, when rainy weather forecasts prompted a pause. This wasn’t the first such delay to the project, which originally was slated for late last year. It should start again today and may be completed “within four days if everything goes well. Shouldn’t take more than a week,” Gonzalez said. “Part of it is, because we’re including youths (as artists), it’s taking a little bit slower. We’re teaching techniques and making sure everything is being done correctly. Then I come in at the end to make sure everything works out.”
The youth involvement has been “awesome” due to their enthusiasm, he said, with participants “racing over” to work on the mural after school. “Everyone’s extremely well behaved. Awesome crowd. The majority of the participants are young girls. There are maybe seven boys and 15 girls.”
Young people were always central to the project, which came out of discussions the coalition had with Madera Unified School District about “ the possibility of having a public art space for young people,” Moy said.
Though some called CRLA to propose artwork at Zero Gravity Skatepark, the board of directors for CRLA agreed with Moy’s thinking that “if we’re talking about a public art space, we should start with our own building.”
The young people taking part in the painting already talk about other potential mural sites, Gonzalez said. “They capture one of the other roles that murals play and that’s to beautify the neighborhood (and) to repair surfaces that are either damaged or abandoned.”
That doesn’t mean they intend to put up murals of their own without permission however.
“One of my missions is to reintroduce the spray can as a new modern medium and to show young people that it can be used for creative purposes,” Gonzalez said. “We no longer think of spray paint as a tool for destroying property or painting furniture ... We also take time to educate people of the consequences that exist if they were to destroy property … The whole idea is to differentiate constructive behavior from destructive behavior.”
The painting by young people won’t end after the mural project comes to an end.
“The kids are really jazzed about ... the mural project, and they’re asking what’s next what do we do after this,” Gonzalez said. “I’m designing some art activities they can do after I’ve left that I’ll be coming back for. And we’ll be showcasing their talents at the art show of the (International Women’s Day) festival” on March 18 in Visalia.
Their mural already has fans in Madera.
“We’ve just got a lot of great feedback from the community,” Gonzalez said. “People stopping taking pictures of themselves with the artwork. People bringing snacks for the youth and helping out.”
CRLA is a nonprofit legal service program for low-income Californians. The Madera Coalition for Community Justice is a self-help organization to assist low-income Maderans with food, housing, environmental justice, child development and comprehensive sex education. Madera Youth Leaders promotes leadership, advocacy and higher education among its members.
For more on Gonzalez, visit www.erik85.com. For more on Madera Youth Leaders, visit www.maderaccj.org/madera-youth-leaders. For more on the coalition, visit www.maderaccj.org. For more on CRLA, visit www.crla.org.