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Contested mural in SF is coming down

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Workers building the Contemporary Art Museum have covered a mural painted in 1980 by Santa Fe artist Gilberto Guzman in preparation for its removal. (Eddie Moore/Albuquerque Journal)

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – The retirement of the “Multicultural” mural, a 40-year-old work of art painted on the side of a state-owned building being renovated into a contemporary art museum, is now underway.

Despite a pending federal lawsuit filed by the artist, Gilberto Guzman, the Department of Cultural Affairs said the retirement of the mural is going forward as it originally planned.

On Friday, a tarp was placed over the mural, which Guzman and others are trying to preserve.

“The renovation process on the east wall has begun,” Daniel Zillmann, director of communications and marketing for the department, said in an email. “(Thursday), window insets were removed and (Friday) morning, the construction netting was put in place.”

U.S. District Judge Kea W. Riggs in April denied a preliminary injunction to stop the mural’s destruction. In her order, Riggs stated Guzman failed to show he was entitled to an injunction or prove irreparable harm.

Theresa Sanchez, advocate and liaison for Guzman, said it’s important to recognize the future of the mural and Guzman’s rights are still being litigated. She added she hopes the judge realizes the mural was for the community, and the community still wants it.

“It’s obvious that the renovation of the mural cannot be done on the wall,” Sanchez said. “He was already ready to do a new concept on a new wall. So, I don’t know why they twisted it to say that he was the one who was stopping the construction.”

Guzman filed the federal lawsuit against the Department of Cultural Affairs in March, claiming the department breached his contract. He says the contract allows him to refurbish the mural throughout its natural life.

Guzman originally painted the mural in 1980 on the east-facing wall of what was then known as the Haplin Building. The building is now being reconstructed into the Vladem Contemporary Art Museum. The department has said it would pay homage to Guzman’s mural with a digital recreation and plaque.

The mural depicts an Indigenous woman spreading her arms across the wall of the building. Other New Mexican elements are incorporated in the mural, including a train, a canyon and people of different races coming together.

The last time Guzman restored the mural was in 1993. The mural was painted directly over the stucco on the building and over in-filled windows, which made it unstable over time, according to Cultural Affairs.

“It just leaves an empty spot in your heart,” Sanchez said of the mural’s removal. “We as locals go by there. It really was a vision – an iconic vision – of all the people who settled Santa Fe.”





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