New mural to celebrate Wellington’s Latin American community

A new mural project led by Victoria University of Wellington lecturer Dr Marcela Palomino-Schalscha brings to life the stories of the Latin American community who have made Wellington their home.

The mural
The mural in progress in Newtown

“We wanted to celebrate the Latin American community who have made Wellington and New Zealand their home, as well as share our stories with fellow Wellingtonians,” Dr Palomino-Schalscha, who is from Chile, says. “We also wanted to gift artwork to a public space that everyone in Wellington could enjoy.”

The mural, painted in the suburb of Newtown by prominent Latin American artist Alfonso Ruiz Pajarito, was inspired by stories and experiences collected from different Latin American residents in the Wellington region.

“We held several workshops around Wellington with the Latin American community to gather stories and ideas, as well as a final workshop with the artist where community members agreed on the final design,” Dr Palomino-Schalscha says. “Around 70 people from the community came to the meetings, representing all ages and 12 different Latin American countries.

“As well as representing the stories of the Latin American community, we also wanted to pay tribute to the victims of the tragic events in Christchurch, as our core goals in creating this mural are those that are put at risk by attacks like these: celebrating diversity, fostering strong communities, and countering racism.”

Dr Palomino-Schalscha also worked with other University staff, the Latin Collective, The Office of Ethnic Communities, and the Wellington City Council to arrange the mural. The council offered the final site, at 210 Riddiford Street, for the mural.

“The council thought this wall would be suitable for a mural, and that Newtown was a good spot given the ethnic diversity of the area,” Dr Palomino-Schalscha says. “The Latin Collective and I agreed, and we also liked this spot because it’s an area that the Latin American community has a strong connection to and is an area where people could hang around and appreciate the mural.”

Dr Palomino-Schalscha was inspired to launch this project while on sabbatical in Bordeaux, France in 2017.

“I was introduced to a similar mural that the Chilean community have had in Bordeaux since the 1970s, led by a former lecturer from the city,” Dr Palomino-Schalscha says. “That inspired me to do something similar with a Latin American focus here that engaged with current debates around migration and refugees.”

Artist Alfonso Ruiz Pajarito is a prominent muralist from a well-known muralist collective founded in the 1960s called Brigada Ramona Parra.

“The Brigada, and Alfonso in particular, have both a very particular Latin American flavour and aesthetic to their work and a history of working with communities to depict their stories,” Dr Palomino-Schalscha says. "We knew Alfonso would represent our stories in a participatory and inclusive manner, and that his art style would help connect our mural with the tradition and aesthetics of muralism in Latin America, sharing our experiences here in New Zealand while connecting the work back to Latin America.”

The final mural was painted in Newtown over the end of March and the beginning of April.

“Over 100 people came along to help with the mural, which we really didn’t expect, and we also connected with guests from the Wellington City Mission and local passers-by,” Dr Palomino-Schalscha says. “They joined in with the painting, music, food, and setting up the scaffolding, and we even had a Brazilian batucada (a traditional samba music band) play for us. It was really vibrant and lively, and also very humbling to see so many people take part. “

The mural will be officially launched in mid-April, with music, food, and celebrations at the mural site. As well as the launch, Alfonso’s visit to New Zealand will also include several public talks and exhibitions, as well as activities with the local community. More information about these events can be found on The Latin Collective Facebook page.