Community Canvas examines public murals as a communicative art form. Murals are meant to be seen. Their expressive force can educate, enlighten, inspire, enrage, and engage. Pilsen, a largely Mexican neighborhood near downtown Chicago, hosts a complex and vibrant mural tradition. Muralists mark the neighborhood culturally, politically, and aesthetically with their works.
In the course of multiple visits to the neighborhood over five years, I have documented the murals of Pilsen using photos, mapping, and note taking. Though this may be a poor reflection of the in-person reality, an inventory of the murals, their locations, and prominent themes serves as a means to comprehension. Pulling the data together into an inventory of Pilsen's murals provides an unobstructed, though not necessarily comprehensive, view of an artistic tradition that encompasses an entire neighborhood.
Murals communicate messages. An active mural tradition creates a dialogic space within which messages are sent and received. Each mural adds an utterance to the conversation. In the case of a concentrated mural tradition, where multiple murals share a relatively small space, the messages reverberate between the murals and viewers' perceptions to create a complex interplay. Each mural is a moment, an utterance, a statement that becomes a part of the dialogic space, the communicative stream of Pilsen's mural tradition.
The physical nature of murals allows for the possibility of layering or superimposing images—and, by implication, layering or superimposing discourse within a mural tradition. Ongoing mural activity in the form of additions and alterations to existing murals and the creation of new murals define active mural traditions. So while murals may seem like a static discursive form in comparison to verbal conversation, they belie that assumption when one examines them over a period of time. An active mural tradition is an emergent discursive form.