Author: Sara

The Art of the Walls

The Art of the Walls

As statues of oppressors toppled around L.A., Meztli Projects emerged to uplift Indigenous artists and provide spaces for creative expression. Here is the story of how they became one.

It was the same spring day, two days before the Indigenous United Front conference, that a mural was painted on a wall of the L.A. County Arts Commission’s auditorium in the heart of the city. It showed a small, smiling woman, her fingers spread in the universal sign of peace, and was tagged “I am here, I stand still.”

It wasn’t the first time someone had painted a painting in downtown L.A. It wasn’t even the first time people had placed one. A hundred small, colorful canvases had adorned the walls of L.A. for nearly two decades, long before Meztli started to create murals — an indigenous art form called “art on the walls.”

The mural was part of a long history of political resistance in the city — from the 1968 riot at the Los Angeles Riots, to the Los Angeles Police Department’s brutal 1992 beating of Rodney King, to the city’s ongoing fights against land theft and gentrification to name a few. In this city, the lines between art and activism have faded. Some have taken the form of graffiti, while others have evolved into murals. But the L.A. County Arts Commission’s mural, made by artist Meztli, is one that hasn’t crossed that line.

A mural of Meztli on the walls of the LAC Arts Commission auditorium in 1980, the year L.A. held its first indigenous protest march. (Photo: Courtesy Meztli Projects)

Meztli started the project as a way to make art when he was getting a little bored with the murals the LAC Arts Commission was painting. He and three other artists, all of whom have been on the commission for years, were tired of seeing the same paintings over and over again, and wanted to create their own. In the 1980s, they painted the mural as part of their effort at community-building through art.

“They were putting these things up all over the city and really needed something to occupy space on the walls,” Meztli said. At the time, they were all just artists — not artists with a political focus — “we were just

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