Dreams Captured in Paint

It is 4:30 a.m. Roosters are crowing. The courtyard where the mural is being painted is awakening. Ripe mangoes, fallen from the night before, are being picked off the ground. A bicycle is wheeled out to the street. The horn of a freighter echoes in the distance as it crosses the Gulf of Mexico. Electricity has just been restored after being off from 8 p.m. to 4 a.m.

Havana is surviving like a city at war and under siege. Power shortages are endemic. Artist Mario Torero is on a tight schedule. The mural must be completed by tomorrow morning.

The elements are all there: the dynamic mix of color, shape, and form—larger than life but somehow more real; the slogans reflecting both historical and revolutionary reality; the honored images of courage and hope standing side by side with new images and new tales of moral outrage and adventure. Like murals everywhere, the mural is out in the open for all to see.

"The cultural revolution follows the political revolution," Torero contends. "Murals reflect periods of intense societal change, providing the means for expressing needs as well as dreams." For Torero, murals are monumental political art. He might even go so far as to say they are the highest, the most logical, the purest and strongest form of painting. Not for private gain or for the benefit of a certain privileged few, murals are, by definition, part of a philosophy that integrates art with community activism. They are of, by, and for the people.

TORERO’S MURALS have offered large-scale challenges to the public’s conscience from San Diego to Prague. In Prague during the Velvet Revolution, he created a mural dedicated as the John Lennon Peace Wall. In San Diego, his adopted city, his murals helped establish the cultural identity and unity of the name "Chicano."

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Sojourners Magazine September-October 1994
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