A young man lies on the bed in his cell. His face is contemplative. The surrounding imagery emerges from his thoughts and imagination. The cinderblock walls do not bind him.
This image and others are integrated into a mural at the Yolo County Juvenile Detention Facility in Woodland, California. A plain, cinderblock wall transformed by color, Still We Rise is the first thing incarcerated youth see when they wake up each morning.
It was painted by UC Davis students in a Chicana/o studies class who have painted murals throughout the community during the past few years.
Expressing the Chicano movement
Though not artists, they are expressing the visual language of the Chicano movement, says class instructor Maceo Montoya, an assistant professor in the Chicana and Chicano studies department. It is the second of three murals painted at the site by students in a quarter-long course.
“In all of our murals, the goal is to create beauty where it did not once exist,” he says.
The mural is meant to depict struggle and an effort to rebuild for a better tomorrow. Montoya and his father, renowned muralist and UC Davis Professor Emeritus Malaquias Montoya, designed it after students interviewed the youth about their experiences.
Understanding the struggle
The art allows viewers to gain understanding of the challenges and hardships the youth who live there face now and will continue to struggle with. For the youth who see the images each day, it builds confidence of how life can get better.
Maceo Montoya explains: “The backdrop depicts the beauty of Yolo County; figuratively it represents openness, vastness, a break in the storm and the possibility of a new beginning. Some of the drawings on the wall express a longing for meaningful contact or obstacles that they wish to overcome.”
Each drawing has its own meaning, ranging from the hardships represented on the left side to symbols of freedom and life outside the walls to the right. “The onlooker is challenged to embrace both the literal and symbolic significance of all the artwork,” he says.