Petition Initiators: People United to Defend "Song of Unity" Mural at La Pena.
Úselo y Tírelo / Use it and Discard it: For the Preservation of “Song of Unity/ Canción de la unidad”
(Title borrowed from E. Galeano’s work)
This is an open letter to inform the local, national and international community regarding the imminent possibility of taking down “Song of Unity/ Canción de la unidad,” the historical mural painted in front of la Peña Cultural Center, Berkeley, California, USA.
This is a letter that seeks your support for saving the aesthetic content and cultural significance of the mural. At the same time, this is an urgent letter, as many of us in our community believe that La Peña’s present Board of Directors will be taking down this important image without the consent of many and essential voices of the local, national and international community, that see “Song of Unity” as a beacon and a historical cultural symbol.
In the past year, the Board and staff made this controversial decision, with no transparency, which has fundamentally excluded real participation of an important and a large sector of the community, who has supported the center for many years. Their decision to take down “Canción de la unidad” has produced a passionate and painful discussion, resulting in a fragmentation and exclusion of the voices from our community—and we must be heard.
The community has spoken in two different meetings at La Peña—called during July 2012—nonetheless they keep pressing for deadlines that were created without a proper procedure and without real input from a community that must include all voices. Contrary to repeated claims by the La Peña Board and the Executive Director the restoration of the mural is possible. A June 2008 assessment that included, among others, the original artists and ARG Conservation Services clearly indicated three options for the mural. Two of those options involve restoration and preservation of the mural. Yet, despite three community forum where a multitude of voices were heard in favor of preservation/restoration, the Board continues to repeat the tired refrain that restoration is not possible.
This is an excerpt of the agreements that the La Peña meeting—with the presence of staff and Board members produced:
“1. The process for the new mural is suspended and the mural will not be taken down until the community, the board, the staff, and the collective are able to give their input and reach a collective decision that has the support of the entire community.
2. There will be a committee created to discuss all options for the
preservation/restoration of the mural.”
We fear that this agreement is not going to be respected, as we received e-mails ignoring the agreement.
The community is not against the adding of new meaning to the mural. What we are asking is for inclusion and not erasure of symbolic power and cultural meaning. The history of the mural, with input from the community, has grown but never at the expense of the people who were depicted as symbolic figures representing the aspirations, dreams and struggles of millions. “Song of Unity/ Canción de la unidad” has served a larger purpose than just being the front of a Cultural Center, the painting belongs to many who identify with the idea that newcomers to the U.S. have a place in this new society. It is by remembering the Ohlone, Paul Robeson, Víctor Jara, Pablo Neruda, Oscar Romero, Violeta Parra, Malvina Reynolds, Woody Guthrie and others that the cultural history will prevail. Most importantly, the mural is a depositary of a collective memory that needs to stand as a testimony to future generations.
Moreover, the mural has been on the cover of books and central spreads in many art-books. In addition, the mural has been studied by the academia and has been the subject of an art conference by the Smithsonian Institution National Museum, who considers the “Song of Unity” a symbol of art and a contribution of new comers to the U.S.A. In short, the symbolic nature of the “Canción de la unidad”, is larger than the sum of us all.
In an age of global cultural amnesia and total commodification of the art form, we are saying Do Not Úselo y Tírelo, but preserve the historical memory and the dreams of many. Therefore, we are asking for the public to support the preservation—with additions of new cultural figures. We are also asking to leave the mural where it stands now, and not somewhere else.
We firmly believe that we need to listen to the Jewish survivors of the Nazi concentration camps who have devoted their lives to make sure that their memory won’t be forgotten. We think that what is at the center of the controversy, and what is at stake, is not the idea that the Community wants to preserve the memory because we do not understand the future. On the contrary, a healthy society looks at its past, respects its assertions, criticizes the cruelty and constructs a new society, but not by elimination of the past.
Elizabeth Milos Rieloff
This petition closed almost 3 years ago
A Brief History of the Mural, to Understand What Is at Risk.
Canción de la unidad was painted in 1978 by a group of local artists who wanted to make an artistic statement regarding Latin American...
A Brief History of the Mural, to Understand What Is at Risk.
Canción de la unidad was painted in 1978 by a group of local artists who wanted to make an artistic statement regarding Latin American and US society and evoke a cultural resistance to militarism, cultural repression, and alternative discourses pertaining art forms. Central to the painting was the unity between the old cultures of the Americas and the most representative figures of the arts in the U.S. as well as Latin America. The central figure chosen to embody this reality was the aura and powerful image of song/writer and playwright Víctor Jara, brutally tortured and assassinated by the military dictatorship of Pinochet in Chile.
By 1986, the mural had deteriorated and was repainted. On the new mural, some of the same original artists were called to do the job, the mural became larger and new faces were added to both sides of this large canvas. The muralists added figures, and did not erase former ones, as the community believed that it was through layers of meaning that we could build a more inclusive representation of a "Canción de la unidad/Song of Unity".
For a complete description of "Cancion de la Unidad/Song of Unity" Mural please visit facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/groups/peopleunited4songofunity/
Understanding the Duality and Unity of the Mural Symbolism: Who is Depicted, and Why They Should Not Be Erased.
by Quique Cruz
We are demanding that NONE of these important cultural icons be removed, ignored, or painted over from "Song of Unity/ Canción de la unidad"
"Song of Unity/ Canción de la unidad" is a complex inclusive multilayered object of art that needs to be where it stands today, as a reminder to future generations of the meaning of a discursive art and politics that have struggled for unity. What is at stake, by taking it down and replacing it by a new mural represents cultural suicide and erasure of a specific memory that has served many. It is not right to Úselo y Tírelo, the mural belongs to the local, national and international memory, and because of its significance has become sacred ground.
Firmly, we are asking that the mural must be restored where it stands now, and not somewhere else. Also, we are asking to open a true process for the restoration and the inclusion of the Community in the final say in how this is going to be done, as well as all options to be considered in its restoration. Lastly, we also believe that in the process of restoring the mural, new faces can be added, but not at the expense of the powerful and historical meaning of the present "Song of Unity/ Canción de la unidad."