Cuban muralist Lidia Aguilera Snchez was only in Southwest for two weeks, but she left her mark on the Kingfield neighborhood with a mural sparking neighborhood solidarity and debate.
Nikki and Victor Valens, owners of Victor’s 1959 Caf, 3756 Grand Ave., hosted their artist friend on her second visit to the United States, offering her a chance to exhibit her work at their Southwest eatery.
But Aguilera Snchez’s interests were quickly directed across the street to the blank black wall outside Peter Pan Dry Cleaners, 322 W. 38th St. — a potential mural site. So Nikki Valens approached the Kingfield Neighborhood Association (KFNA) to see if they had grant money available for business murals — one of their longstanding community initiatives. (KFNA recently helped fund a mural at the same intersection outside the Groomsman, a dog-grooming business.)
KFNA Neighborhood Revitalization Program Coordinator Sarah Linnes-Robinson said, coincidentally, one business designated for a $1,500 mural grant backed out recently, so Aguilera Snchez’s mural became a great replacement. Kingfield’s NRP Steering Committee approved the switch in funds and received additional approval from its supervisors, the KFNA board, to proceed with the mural, said David Motzenbecker, KFNA board president.
Through an interpreter, Aguilera Snchez said the mural — her first in the U.S. — has personal symbolism, with the title " A song of the creation of my surroundings."
The idea came to her easily, she said, using the main female figure of "Yemaya," the goddess of the sea in the Afro-Cuban culture to scoop up the fruits of the sea. She said the doves symbolize peace and the palm trees tied together represent the strength. "It symbolizes through unity there is force," she said.
But it was her creative expression — featuring breasts — that Nikki Valens said concerned some community members. A couple of nearby businesspeople stated the breasts would be bad for business or bothersome to families in the area.
Ted Hunter Jr., co-owner of Peter Pan Dry Cleaners, said in the mural’s early painting stages, he hoped the breasts would be covered a bit.
"If (customers) walk up and get out of the car and have two breasts pointed at them, they might be concerned," he said — adding that the breasts were no problem for him.
After seeing the completed mural, Hunter said he likes it a lot and thinks it will improve the neighborhood. He said it’s better for business, giving customers more than a blank wall to look at and hopefully deterring graffiti, since vandals often skip over buildings with murals.
Aguilera Snchez, who’s done murals in Cuba, Beijing, Madrid and Budapest, said it’s not the mural but the community that impressed her the most during the project. She said the community cooperation was impressive, including residents who stopped by to help her paint.
Despite the slight brush with controversy, Nikki Valens said she’s glad there is something positive in the community about Cuban culture not centered on politics. "Almost all we hear about Cuba is political stuff and mostly negative," she said. "With this, there’s nothing political — just art."