Video by Louis Ramirez
By Connor Malone
Mother Earth stood watch as a mural created by Humboldt State students and a graffiti artist was inaugurated on Dec. 1.
The work was revealed to students, staff and community members on the UC Quad. The finished mural, touting multicultural imagery, is visible from nearly any point in the quad and is the result of two years of collaboration between students and administration.
Ted Hernandez, chairman of the Wiyot Tribe, and Genie McCovey, an elder of the Yurok Tribe, spoke at the event, giving context on the history leading up to the project and its significance for students and the wider community. Hernandez blessed the mural by burning angelica root.
The project stemmed from controversy surrounding a painting titled “Super Taco” created by former HSU art student Ryan Spaulding, depicting Latino restaurant employees at work. In 2013, the painting was the recipient of the Presidential Purchase Award and was displayed in the dining room of the J cafeteria. Students speaking at the mural unveiling ceremony said the painting quickly generated controversy, ending in its relocation to the second floor in the HSU library.
Three student groups met with the HSU Art Department to create more constructive depictions of students of color on campus. Students belonging to Find Resources and Empowerment Through Education, Black Student Union (BSU) and Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán (MECHA) collaborated with administrators in figuring out the nature and location of the new work.
Video by Anthony Johnson
Randy Sabaque, who goes by Saba, was the lead artist involved with the mural. He is based in New Mexico and made the trip to HSU in order to lend a hand. Saba said the final design of the mural stemmed from endless conversation between students.
“There were tremendous feelings from deep inside,” Saba said. “With a community-run project, you have to listen to the community.”
Saba said each of his projects are special in their own way, though with this mural he wanted to make some statements clear.
“Being from an indigenous perspective, we are still here,” Saba said, “This is our way of saying that.”
For Saba, a few parts of the mural stand out in particular.
“I like the stump with the baby tree growing out of it,” Saba said, “If you cut us down, we’ll grow back.”
Freshman DeAna Brownfield, a member of MECHA and BSU, was one of the several artists who contributed to the mural. She said the woman she painted growing from a tree stump symbolized oppression and growth. Despite the difficulty of painting in the cold, she’s happy with the way it turned out.
“I really think it’s beautiful,” Brownfield said.
HSU President Lisa Rossbacher attended the event and was happy to see the finished product.
“I am thrilled to see it come together,” Rossbacher said. “It’s been a long process.”
Gregory Xavier Rodriguez, Native American studies major and member of MECHA said the students involved felt frustrated by having to seek approval from the administration for each draft.
“It messed up the process,” Rodriguez said, “It wasn’t as fluid as it should have been.”
Rodriguez said administrators interrupted the creative process which highlighted a lack of respect and representation of Native American students.
“Students don’t feel welcome, included or appreciated on campus,” Rodriguez said. “We don’t think the administration really cares about us.”
Still, Rodriguez is happy with the final product.
“It’s been a process,” Rodriguez said. “The mural we have to show for it is very beautiful.”
When Saba leaves HSU to return to New Mexico he hopes the mural will leave a lasting impression and will help to resolve some of these issues.
“I hope they make a friend out of it,” Saba said.
Saba said the project should serve to inspire more student work.
“They’re the ones that made it happen,” Saba said. “They can do it again.”