Barack Obama’s face started showing up on the walls of schools and tire shops, bars and carnicerias right after his election in 2008. I’ve been photographing inner city murals for four decades, and in Los Angeles, Chicago, New York and Detroit, Obama is the only U.S. president — aside from, occasionally, JFK — who is in serious rotation in the wall-painters’ pantheon.
Obama is often portrayed with symbols of American power — the flag, an eagle — or in a lineup of African American greats from neighborhood VIPs to Martin Luther King Jr. and the first lady. In a South L.A. mural by Chuy Vasquez, a beaming Obama replaced a flag-draped MLK in 2013. The new image, which is still in place, puts Obama above and behind white, black and brown children pledging allegiance, the Statue of Liberty, a farmer at work and a giant parrot in the colors of the Mexican flag. (Two smaller images aren’t in the frame: a Central American pyramid and Christ atop a globe.
FOR THE RECORD
In Camilo José Vergara’s Op Ed photo essay, a bird in a Los Angeles mural was identified as a parrot. It is a quetzal.
“Obama es el presidente,” Vasquez told me, describing his work. “Obama es para todos.” Something for everyone — one muralist’s version of the Obama legacy.
Documentary photographer Camilo José Vergara is a National Humanities Medal awardee. His latest book is “Detroit Is No Dry Bones.” Camilojosevergara.com