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Muralist uses art to demand visibility for women of color
Lau Salazar breastfeeds her daughter Soledad in front of her mural “Diego Remix” painted on the side of Mexican restaurant La Casita, in East Oakland, on May 3, 2019. Photo: Brianna Kalajian

Born and raised in Oakland, California to a Jewish mother and an Indigenous Mapuche Chilean father, Laura Salazar was introduced to a unique view of the world at a very young age.

For the past 17 years or so, Salazar—known by the alias Mujer Muralista—has been doing her part in social and economic activism by way of painting and storytelling. She has created a number of murals throughout the Bay Area, each one highlighting the narratives of the largest disenfranchised demographic on the planet: women of color.

And her upbringing has had a profound influence on her work as a multicultural artist, educator and mother. Her father’s own history of being exiled as a political prisoner under Pinochet’s dictatorship in Chile played a significant role in her budding passion
for justice.

“That’s where a lot of the spark of inspiration as an artist came from for me—focusing on those who are often misrepresented or not represented at all, those who are invisible in mainstream media or who’s stories aren’t often told,” Salazar said.

Lau holds Soledad in their backyard while standing underneath a fig tree on May 3, 2019 in Oakland.

While the exiled Chilean community in the East Bay was small during Salazar’s upbringing, she was able to connect with the Bay Area’s prominent Mexican community. It was through this community that Salazar learned about making murals and found inspiration in the perpetuation of the Mexican Muralism Movement. Born in post-revolution Mexico, this movement aimed to promote cultural pride, cohesiveness of community and created art that was free to the public to enjoy and learn from.

The movement was headed by “the big three” (Diego Rivera, Jose Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros), whom Salazar studied closely when she was first getting
into muralism.

“I was just always attracted to that art form,” she said. “In its essence, being a political art form as a means to educate our communities and highlight the invisible in beautifully large ways always intrigued me.”

Honoring her predecessors is very important to Salazar, both artistically and culturally. Through her murals, she acknowledges and memorializes the collective efforts of her ancestors and aims to create art through which the community can feel that same sense of celebration in their own identities.

Lau Salazar, known by the alias Mujer Muralista, sits in her kitchen among her various paintings with her daughter Soledad in her lap on May 3, 2019 in Oakland. Photos: Brianna Kalajian

“Every culture has their genius and ancestral knowledge in terms of art. So I always aim to honor where things are coming from,” she said. “As a mixed person and as an Indigenous person, I want to educate myself and respect the narratives of others so as to best represent whoever’s story it is that I’m
representing.”

In addition to providing an understanding of their past, Salazar believes art offers a space in which the community can plan and connect with their future.

“I’ve worked as an educator a lot with youth and I see a lot of the same things come up no matter the age group,” she said. “They’re typically interested in knowing our histories—knowing where we come from, but they’re also interested in being able to connect with the next generations. How do we move forward as a people? I find that the arts as an umbrella hold that space for us to have those conversations, explore and make those discoveries about who we are as a people.”

In recent years, Salazar discovered another outlet, in addition to her art, that provides her with a sense of purpose and fulfillment: motherhood. Since the arrival of her baby girl, Soledad, Salazar has reassessed her perspective on her own worth as a person and the worth of her work as an artist. This new addition to her family, coupled with an unfortunate experience with news media, inspired Salazar’s latest project, the Do You See Me Movement, a touring mural workshop that highlights women of color.

Lau cuddles with Soledad while they spend time together in their living room on May 3, 2019 in Oakland.

“The Do You See Me Movement started out as a proaction to an instance where my work was not credited in a public news source,” Salazar said. “The work that was used in this article was highlighting Indigenous women and girls, who happen to be my primary focus in my art. So, to not have that mural credited was hurtful, especially when the news source chose to credit another male artist and his mural in the same piece. This essentially inspired the Do You See Me Movement. Oh, you don’t see us? Well, I’m going to make you see us. Let’s highlight and reclaim those narratives of everyone who’s ever felt invisible. So, that’s how it began—taking photographs and transforming those photos into large scale murals and interactive coloring booklets.”

Through the Do You See Me Movement, Salazar along with collaborating artists have raised and donated money to both Standing Rock and Black Lives Matter. The project is entirely donation based and provides free touring mural workshops to different schools and communities. The project continues to expand on a global scale as folks from South America, India and parts of Europe have already participated in posting photos on social media, holding posters that ask “Do you see me?” in their respective language.

With regard to the Do You See Me Movement, Salazar says the next step is actually visiting these places to provide workshops and paint murals. “I’d like to see a mural on every continent,” she said. “That’s my goal.”

Lau’s daughter Soledad, right, touches one of her mother’s paintings of a young African American girl that is displayed in their kitchen on May 3, 2019 in Oakland. Photos: Brianna Kalajian

But becoming a mother has made Salazar more aware of just how underestimated mothers are in this society.

“Being a mom is a huge invisible demographic that I didn’t realize until I became one and thought: ‘Oh, wow, people really don’t care about us and don’t really know what we do unless they are one,’” she said. “But I feel like motherhood is where the revolution starts. I’m trying to raise revolutionary children who can be active members in society, who do their part in helping fix the machine. For that, I think moms are amazing. But just because we’re strong, that doesn’t mean we don’t
need support.”

With her baby daughter on her hip for the majority of this interview, Salazar emanates a power and grace that her art aims to emphasize in all women of color.

“I hope to inspire her to be true to herself and to really be at peace with her identity,” Salazar said of her daughter. “A lot of that is through leading by example for me. What does it look like for my daughter to see her mother, a mixed woman, to be sure of herself in this world? My daughter is going to be teaching me as well because she is Black, Jewish and Mapuche. Ultimately, my aim is not to control her but to be a sort of trellis for her to climb up.”

Story by: Elissa Jiménez