If These Walls Could Talk: Murals in Southern California Marco Moreno (Cultural Anthropology M.A. candidate) on observing accessible art

Marco Moreno has been awarded HSS’s Outstanding Graduate Student Scholarly and Creative Activities Award, nominated by Dr. Karen Stocker. The award is issued by the Office of Research and Sponsored Projects to one undergraduate and one graduate student per college working on a research or creative project.

Moreno began his career at CSUF as a biology major, but gradually found psychology and later, anthropology. Upon enrolling in a several anthropology courses, including “Culture and Education” taught by Dr. Stocker, he declared it a minor.

If These Walls Could Talk: Murals in Southern California, his master's thesis, Moreno looked to graphic ethnography for inspiration, which he explains is a written and visual manuscript organized as a detailed account over time researching a place and representing the people that live in that place. Marco applied this methodology and focused on mural art.

Moreno’s interest “stemmed from the idea of wanting to learn how others learn, their values, beliefs, aspirations, struggles and those all tend to happen in mural painting. There are components of education, beautification, and teaching in murals.”

Moreno applies a personalized process to understand these pieces of public art. “I felt that I could use my (own) drawing as a method of recording the murals I was seeing. Using drawing and writing, I was able to understand the visual language and meaning inscribed in the mural. It also helped me communicate the intricate details of the mural into the final composition of “If These Walls Could Talk: Murals in Southern California.”

poem 7, Untitled (2018), edited 2/19/19 by Marco Moreno

"Graffiti walls evoke many interpretations. One of those might be of city hoodlums; others might interpret the graffiti as community service.

For me, graffiti has always been something I’ve been around, ever since I was a kid and we lived in Mexico. I remember seeing my older brother writing on his notebooks when he was in our room. I also remember seeing advertising posters for local candidates on those white walls around the plaza de toros (bullring). If the candidate was respected, the graffiti was adjacent to the poster. If they did not have the support of the community, it would not stay clean for long.

The summer of 2008, when I was sixteen years old, I remember taking summer school and writing my first piece. I wrote it on my red backpack and wore it all summer long."

Moreno was born and spent his younger years in Torreón, Coahuila in Mexico, where he grew up with his family and remembers seeing wall street painting. When he moved to Riverside, CA, he began seeing much more graffiti, much more mural, and street art.

Moreno has been interviewing artists, spending time doing participant observation in places where art is at, and talking to people of the community as a way to understand their relationship to the art. He would love to see this work published by the cities where the murals reside. “I think about it when I am writing; what it would look like to be in my hands, or what someone else would look like when they have it in their hands.”

What’s next? Moreno has applied to the Peace Corps, “I have been at University eight years. The Peace Corps will allow me to do some service while getting my bearings on what I seriously want to do next, and I think it is a good place for a student trained in anthropology. The sector I applied for, which interested me, is community economic development and education. I am interested in challenging myself with something that I do not know. The two places I have applied, Senegal and Paraguay, will focus on agriculture and sustaining community growth as the communities see fit. I am all about that, community development. This feels like a really good transition.”

After the Peace Corps, Moreno hopes to go into a Ph.D. program in Cultural Anthropology.

Take the time to get to know who you are. You are going to live with yourself for a long time if you are lucky, and try to find people who try to motivate you. Learn, Take what you need, leave what you don't.”

Marco Moreno

Photo credits: Chicano Park Mural on Logan Ave. 2017 by Marco Moreno. Marco's working desk by Mohit Sharma. Last photo by Jamila Moore Pewu

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