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Flint, MI—With one or more works of art popping up around the city every week, Flint has become a poster child for the ever-growing mural art movement. For the city’s Latinx community, these murals, many of them created by Latinx artists, have brought on a wave of representation and visibility not commonly seen in the city. Boston-based Colombian artist, Felipe Ortiz, spent the week of July 5, creating a mural on the corner of Martin Luther King and Pasadena. Swooping lines reminiscent of both feathers and thick jungle leaves are superimposed over a sky blue and a deep black while birds, their wings forever spread, make their way across the mural.
For Ortiz, who spends much of his time working between Boston and his home city of Cali, Colombia, traveling between countries started to become an abstract idea. As he thought about migratory birds and the freedom with which they travel, he asked himself why humans don’t do the same.
“I am an immigrant, in the process of moving between countries. I found myself thinking about these migratory birds that are making a trip very similar to mine from the east coast of the country down to the Caribbean and parts of Colombia. So I asked myself ‘us humans, we’re a migratory species as well, why don’t we have that freedom and ability of moving and adapting to new places? Why do we hold ourselves back with these borders and political agendas?’ When you look at the sky and see the birds, there are no borders for them,” Ortiz said.
That same week, Dominican artist Kilia Llano adorned the side of the new Martus Luna Food Pantry building on Fenton Road with the image of a Latinx Flint child holding a bottle of water, alluding to the Flint Water crisis and the toll it took on children.
Despite being the latest, these murals are by no means the first. Other Latinx and Latinx-inspired artists from across the country like Angelina Villalobos, Freddy Diaz, Nuria Ortiz, Charles Boike, Sebastian Oyardbide, and Simo Vibart, to name a few, have put their mark on the city, leaving behind larger-than-life testaments to Latinx excellence and culture.
Joe Schipani, executive director of the Flint Public Art Project, which hosts many of these artists during the days they spend working in Flint, said he likes to look at Flint as one large and inclusive gallery.
“I look at it like it is a gallery, if you go into the Flint Institute of Arts and you only see one genre of art, it only speaks to one crowd of people. When you look at a gallery that has multiple genres or cultures in it, now you have a wide audience and a wide variety of languages and cultures represented,” Schipani said.
For Flint’s Latinx youth, like 19-year-old Evelyn Camo, seeing Latinx-inspired art up around the city has served as a source of inspiration and as an avenue to explore her own art and style even further.
“Latinx culture has always been part of my inspiration, most of the things I do have a lot of color, especially vivid and vibrant colors, which can be appreciated a lot in that culture … I grew up watching the creations of artists like Jesús Rafael Soto, Carlos Cruz Diez, Frida Kahlo and although he is not Latino, Andy Warhol, all of them taught me to open my mind, be creative, play with designs, textures, colors, patterns and helped me become the artist that I am today,” Camo said.
On top of finding inspiration in the art itself, Camo has been able to draw inspiration from her community. She said being a burgeoning artist in Flint has proven to be less daunting than expected.
“Being an artist in Flint is something very nice, there is a lot of support for us. When people hear that you are an artist, they are interested in you … citizens always find an area, a wall or a place where you can express your art. So many people have been helping me to represent my art and find my voice as an artist in this city,” Camo said.
Camo has mostly stuck to painting on small canvas. Soon however she will be working with the Latinx Technology and Community Center to paint the cement beams on the Broadway Boulevard I-475 underpass. Her design will implement hieroglyphs and alphabet characters from Native American groups throughout South and Central America.
Despite only living in Flint for three years, Camo said it’s clear to her the city is changing. Attitudes toward art and artists are making Flint a city where, for her, Latinx art can blossom.
“It’s something that you can see as part of the change because Flint is becoming a city full of art and it is something very beautiful,” Camo said.