artist: Gilberto Guzmán
institution: Joseph Halpin State Records Center
At the mural’s center, a brown-skinned woman reaches her arms outward, one hand holding a microscope, the other a volumetric flask. She is the corn goddess—nose broad, lips full, and hair parted in the middle. Her gaze is fixed steadfastly downward, as several vignettes unfurl beyond her shoulders. To the left, a steam locomotive (the ATSF) pushes forward as laborers wielding jackhammers and axes lay out the tracks. A Spanish bull laughs above the remnants of Spanish armor and a cow skull. Just left of center, a vendor sells Indian frybread as men and women twirl around the Plaza. To the right, the Rio Grande Gorge splits open the landscape as an eagle and snake face off above a grove of nopales, a classic reference to the Mexican flag.
In 1980, Gilberto Guzmán designed this mural with Zara Kriegstein and painted it with the assistance of Rosemary Stearns, Cassandra Mains, John Sandford, David Bradley, Frederico Vigil, and Linda Lomahaftewa. Titled Multi-cultural, figures of many complexions populate the façade of the Joseph Halpin State Records Center, originally constructed in 1921 as the Charles Ilfeld & Company Warehouse. Located at 404 Montezuma Avenue (on the corner of Guadalupe Street), the Halpin Center was the repository of the Spanish, Mexican, and Territorial archives of New Mexico, and later held land grant records once kept at the Bureau of Land Management office.
Multi-cultural was part of that mixed moment, in which large-scale painting in public arenas was a means for telling stories about the complexity of identities in New Mexico.
As in other majority-Chicano cities like LA, 1980 in Santa Fe capped a pivotal decade in mural painting that included Guzmán’s efforts. He was a member of the group Los Artes Guadalupaños de Aztlan, which had formed in the early ’70s, with Sam, Carlos, and Albert Leyba, and Gerónimo Garduño. Their first projects included working on a mural with nineteen former heroin addicts at a methadone maintenance clinic. Their work could also be seen on sheds, adobe walls, and on Canyon Road. Guzmán continued, like others, to paint well into the late ’70s, creating a mural at the Bataan Memorial Building that references the Bataan Death March, in which New Mexicans were heavily represented. He also painted a version of the Pueblo Revolt at the New Mexico State Library in 1978. Muralism was exploding in both Santa Fe and Albuquerque as Chicano and Native artists like Helen Hardin painted mural programs at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center and in other public buildings.
Multi-cultural was part of that mixed moment, in which large-scale painting in public arenas was a means for telling stories about the complexity of identities in New Mexico. There was a bubbling of cultural pride for Chicano artists amidst the influx of transplants then entering the city in one of several waves. As the story goes, Guzmán began with such hopefulness that he sold his van for paint when he began to embark on Multi-cultural, but by the end had so many disagreements with the other artists that he didn’t even attend the dedication ceremony. The design, nonetheless, speaks not only to the renaissance in muralism then taking place among artists of color, but also to the persistent voice of los tres grandes, Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and José Clemente Orozco, well after they put their own paintbrushes down. Guzmán’s feminine protagonist in Multi-cultural, for instance, mirrors Rivera’s Man, Controller of the Universe from 1934, the mural destroyed after the artist painted the visage of Vladimir Lenin among the masses. The perspective viewers have of the woman’s outstretched arms riffs on Siqueiros’ approach to creating extreme perspectival distance in many of his own works.
With the recent decision to expand the now-closed Halpin Center into Vladem Contemporary, a satellite of the New Mexico Museum, it seems significant to remember Multi-cultural’s roots. While the Halpin Center held records that went as far back as the 1600s, the mural attempted to do something similar in paint, to convey the outcome of many centuries of advancement and miscegenation. Like other murals, it essentializes the dialogue to some extent, even as it serves as a record of an entire generation of artists—some trained, others not—who like Guzmán, were painting their place into the public domain.