Four Murals, Two Days

Under a blazing sun, surrounded by fifty school children, and not speaking a lick of Spanish, I wondered how am I supposed to help them paint four murals in two days? This was one of the many projects I partake in as part of my four month position as an Artist-in-Residence for the Creative Action Initiative. Here is the chaos that ensued.

Day One

My colleague Isa and I headed to Livingston, Guatemala, a remote fishing town surrounded by forest and only accessible by boat. We were the last to board and were stuck in the front row, the worst place to sit in rough water. The sea was angry that day and to make matters worse, there were no direct boats so we had to go from Punta Gorda to Puerto Barrios then double back to Livingston. It was like a two hour long roller coaster that left me literally butt hurt.

After recouping from the journey, we met up with our partners at Fundaeco, a marine conservation foundation working with four schools to paint murals for Earth Day. We checked out the wall in the park, ordered painting supplies, and called it a day.

Day Two

The walls of the building were pretty run down so the second day was allocated entirely to prepping. We were issued scrubbers and those paper face mask that does absolutely nothing then we were off to cleaning the wall. We primed the walls with four colors for each school. It may not seem like much but this was probably the most labor intensive day. Ironically, as we finished prepping, the municipality decided to put a fresh coat of paint on the other three sides of the building. I’m not sure if this was in their plan all along or if our efforts provoked the municipality but I couldn’t help to think how much easier it would have been had they got started before we prep the wall.

Livingston-Wall-Before Livingston-Wall-After
Before and after prepping the wall for the children.

Day Three

We woke up to heavy rain. We were also using water-based paint. The rain continued past 7 am, our schedule start time, and I questioned if this project has ended before it even began. Fortunately, the rain didn’t cause too much damage to the paint and everyone is always late so the weather cleared up by the time the children arrived. We enlarged the paper drawings into the wall using chalk. Once the drawing were outline, a simple dab of a color in each spot was really all the instructions they needed to start painting. Occasionally they asked me things I don’t understand but most of the time they were asking for colors which I quickly learned the names in Spanish. Whatever I couldn’t say, I’d mime like with brushstrokes.

Filling in a jaguar outline.

Day Four

Two murals down and two more to go, sort of. The clear coat applied to the finished murals to protect it from the weather also made the lighter color bleed through exposing the griminess of the wall. It actually has a interesting gritty texture, but not a look appropo for a happy mural. So we ordered some oil-based paint for the staff and I to touch up the finished murals while the children paint two new murals. 11am was our cut off for working with the children and we were left to apply the final clear coat in the afternoon.

Happy interracial couple?

Day Five

About one hundred fifty children gather for the Earth Day Celebration. The lead artists of each mural were presented certificates for their work and they snapped pictures in front of the mural. I reflected on the many things that could have gone awry and although the mural is not perfect, it’s amazing how much got done considering they had less than four hours each day.

The four completed murals.
Although my visit to Livingston was brief, it was enough for me to see why this work is needed. There’s a clash between conservation and tradition. Just wandering along the shops I saw countless turtle shells being sold including the highly endangered Hawksbill Sea Turtle. All the while, tourists were entertained by local musicians using turtle shells as an instruments. While the mural is a small step in the right direction, there’s still a lot more work to be done.
Hawksbill-Shell Turtle-Cropped
Left: The endangered Hawksbill Turtle shell being sold on the street.
Right: Turtles featured in the mural.

Timelapse of the murals.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *