Art honors missing and murdered Native women and calls New Mexico to action
A mural graffiti has sprung up on a wall in Las Cruces, New Mexico, in honor of all Native Americans who have gone missing or have been found murdered.
Stories about missing Native American women never seem to leave the news, yet they never take center stage either. It seems that local artists have to take a less-than-legal approach to honor them.
Sebastian Velazquez, also known as “Vela,” painted the stunning mural of a defiant-looking Native woman holding her fist in the air. The mural covers all sides of the “Cruces Creatives” building, and it was painted right around the time of the 8th annual (il)legal graffiti art show.
The words on the bottom of the art piece say “No More Stolen Sisters”.
Graffiti has different connotations, depending on who you ask. With world-renowned artists, like Banksy, it has an air of rebellion. It is usually a way for a subculture movement to get a word in edgewise.
Because mainstream media has its own focus, some stories tend to fall by the wayside. This New Mexico story is one of them, and it has been happening for far too long.
The idea of a graffiti as a “mural” came about in Northern Ireland in the 1970s, when graffiti with political messages started popping up across the country. The Irish (on both sides) made large political graffiti the size of wall paintings, and those were dubbed “murals”. The graffiti artists painted them on the Peace Lines most of the time — Ireland’s equivalent to mini Berlin walls — that kept the different communities separate.
Is there a “Peace Line” between the New Mexico community and the Native New Mexico and indigenous communities? Perhaps that is exactly the message this graffiti mural is trying to pose.
The graffiti artist Velasquez said he opted for a mural on this issue because it had been there forever, and you couldn’t change it with a click of the remote control like you would a TV channel.
In May 2019, legislation regarding missing and murdered Native Americans was re-introduced by federal lawmakers. This had been in the making since 2017 and was spurred on by the tragic death of Savanna LaFontaine-Greywind. Her body was found in a river in North Dakota that year and, in commemoration of her life, the legislation is named “Savanna’s Act”.
She was just 22 years old.
The artist said this was his way of honoring indigenous women of Mexico too. Velasquez said, to paraphrase, that art was a healing balm to minorities and not a criminal act.
New Mexico is showing initiative in this case as well. Earlier in 2019, Governor M. L. Grisham signed a bill that would investigate issues of missing Native women via a task force.
They say life imitates art, but maybe in New Mexico, it’s the other way round.