Mural makes statement on wildlife, politics

Students from La Fe Preparatory School in El Paso help paint a large Sneed’s pincushion cactus featured on a new mural depicting endangered border wildlife. The public artwork is part of a national mural project. (Angela Kocherga / Albuquerque Journal)

EL PASO – An enormous mural celebrating borderland wildlife will be unveiled today as part of a national project spotlighting endangered species.

The 60-foot-long, 14-foot-tall mural is the work of artists from both sides of the border, and local children.

“The dirt, the plants here are so beautiful,” Azalae Custodio said as she painted alongside other students at La Fe Preparatory School, which is blocks from the border. The 11-year-old and her classmates helped paint a Sneed’s pincushion cactus.

“It’s only found here on the border,” Alan Diaz said as he brushed bright green paint on polyester fabric that served as a canvas for the mural that would be installed on a wall.

The cactus is featured along with an ocelot, an aplomado falcon, Mexican gray wolf and Chiricahua leopard frog, all endangered species native to the U.S.-Mexican borderland.

“We’re trying to talk about how these animals and plants exist on both sides of the border, and sort of represent the integrity of the landscape on both sides,” said muralist Roger Peet, the lead artist.

Peet is based in Portland, Ore., and travels the country as part of the Center for Biological Diversity’s endangered species mural project, which features native wildlife.

“They represent the essential interconnectedness of the landscape, and I feel that’s a useful political and cultural lesson for people, as well,” Peet said.

He plans to paint the next border wildlife mural in Silver City in the spring and looks forward to working with students on a large piece featuring an endangered Mexican gray wolf.

The nonprofit Center for Biological Diversity, which advocates for the protection of endangered wildlife, is among conservation groups opposed to the construction of a wall along the Mexican border.

“We’ve been fighting for our borderlands in the courts and in the streets. Now, we get to celebrate borderland species with a gorgeous piece of public art,” said Laiken Jordahl, with the Tucson-based center. “The Endangered Species Mural Project brings together art, science and community strength. We need all of these to help protect our borderland communities and wildlife.”

Artists Ivan “Shack”Melendez of Ciudad Juárez, Martin”Blast” Zubia and Jesus “Cimi” Alvardo of El Paso also worked on the mural, which will be prominently displayed in downtown El Paso.

“These are things we don’t generally talk about, and creating these murals tends to have these messages, create a conversation piece,” said Alvarado, who also serves as arts and culture director for La Fe Cultural Arts Center.

His students helped paint the bright green paddles and pink flowers of the Sneed’s pincushion cactus, and they clearly understood the message.

“This cactus is endangered,” 11-year-old Victoria Mendoza said as she blended shades of green. “It’s in the middle of the border, and we want to save it.”