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Among inner-city muralists, Obama is in serious rotation

Among inner-city muralists, Obama is in serious rotation
Luis Meat Market, West 42nd Place at South Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, 2013 (Camilo José Vergara)

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.


Faith in Christ Ministries, West 46th Street near South Western Avenue, Los Angeles, 2010
Faith in Christ Ministries, West 46th Street near South Western Avenue, Los Angeles, 2010

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

Mugshot Bar & Grill, 17305 Harper Ave. and Guilford, Detroit, 2010
Mugshot Bar & Grill, 17305 Harper Ave. and Guilford, Detroit, 2010
A. and J. Tires, 9154 Livernois Ave., Detroit, 2014 (above) and 2015 (right)
A. and J. Tires, 9154 Livernois Ave., Detroit, 2014 (above) and 2015 (right)
Fair Party Liquor Store, 6541 Gratiot Ave., Detroit, 2013
Fair Party Liquor Store, 6541 Gratiot Ave., Detroit, 2013
Cheers Soul Food, 7414 S. Main Street, LA, 2010
Cheers Soul Food, 7414 S. Main Street, LA, 2010

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