Walk down any street in Pilsen and you’ll find yourself running into at least one piece of artwork – be that graffiti, a mural, or a simple sketch alongside a brick wall. None is truer than the corner of Cullerton and Carpenter, where alongside one building’s exterior, a dramatically colorful and eye-catching mural decorates the wall.
The mural is the collaborative effort of local artist Pablo Serrano, Latinos Progresando, Pros Art Studio artist Delilah D. Salgado and neighborhood residents. It showcases positive African American and Latino depictions, mixing together traditional muralism techniques with outright enigmatic graffiti. The mural hits the core of the diverse and ever-growing artistic neighborhood. It blends together pre-colonial Aztec images with modern portraits of children and family, creating a story of community progress and accomplishments.
However, amidst the smiling faces etched alongside the wall, the image of Jeff Abbey Maldonado Jr., tells a story of neighborhood violence and tragedy. The 19-year-old aspiring rapper was gunned down and killed on July 25, 2009, just a day after celebrating his birthday.
His death was a case of mistaken identity, as a gangbanger opened fire while Maldonado was on his way to grab a bite to eat on that Saturday afternoon. The powerful and nostalgic image, which shows Maldonado in a T-shirt with his alias “J-Def” in the arms of what seems to be the Virgen de Guadalupe, carries a message of anti-violence, peace and hope that ultimately strives to unite the community.
With its bright, bold and striking colors, the mural stands as a foreground to the future of the neighborhood. Using local artists as vehicles to transform what otherwise would be blank brick walls, works in alleviating images of violence with that of scenic pieces of artwork. It’s an ideal way of transforming negative images into positive ones and inspiring the community as a whole to believe in something better.