SANTA FE, N.M. (KRQE) – A mural on a county building is causing concern, and it hasn’t even been finished yet.
Critics say it is glorifying a violent past, but Santa Fe County says it is all a misunderstanding.
The mural in progress is going up on the Santa Fe County Human Resource office on Alameda near St. Francis Drive.
“This is our 12th mural thus far,” said Jennifer Romero, manager of the county’s Teen Court program.
The program gives teens in trouble a chance to do something positive in the community, like work with a community artist on a mural.
“We like to deter graffiti or beautify an area and typically those go hand in hand,” Romero said.
However, local artist Nina Elder sparked a debate on Facebook when she posted the image, concerned that it glorifies the story of colonialization and the oppression of Native people.
The county says it’s being misinterpreted.
“They might have great intentions with this, but it is not clear in the slightest from the imagery,” Elder said. “I saw a man on a horse, pointing a sword at a kneeling figure.”
“It’s supposed to depict an image of peace and burying the sword,” Romero said.
“I didn’t see that, and I didn’t know that when I looked at the picture. When I looked at the picture, it looked like a Spaniard above a Native person, in a place of authority,” said Manuel Gonzales, Albuquerque Poet Laureate.
While the county said it is actually depicting New Mexico Governor Tomas Cachupin, fostering peace with Native Americans in the 18th century, they say the image is not set in stone.
“We’re working on modifications throughout the process and we always welcome community feedback and that really helps us shape our murals,” Romero said.
The county said a date hasn’t been set yet but it is planning a meeting to get community feedback on the mural.
The county said Glen Strock is the local artist behind the mural. Strock got back to KRQE News 13 on Wednesday.
He said that the mural can be a catalyst for an important conversation.
“The story does touch upon sensitive issues and I am excited that this story has struck a nerve,” said Strock.
Strock said people have become more apathetic- an apathy that is hard to enact change from. He is hoping this mural will get people talking and invites people to respond.
He explained that, in time and with some patience, the piece could create a meaningful dialogue about sensitive issues; he also emphasized that New Mexico culture is haunted by misuses and abuses.
“It’s an opportunity to get real, working with state history,” Strock continued. “Revisit those times and maybe we can learn from our history.”
Tomas Veles Cachupin- the Spaniard pictured in the mural- was a champion for the oppressed, according to Strock.
The artist’s point of view was a contrast to people’s offense to the mural. Strock pointed out that the face of the Spaniard is not violent. Rather, the face is supposed to be kind and peaceful.
The artist also pointed out aspects of the work that are intended to be symbolic: the powerful horse is being restrained and the sword is lowered. “History tells us of the uncommon courage exhibited by the two central characters in this mural that opened a door to an unprecedented period of peaceful coexistence in New Mexico,” said Strock.
“My hope is that we can learn from history and set aside some of the unhealthy stereotypes that haunt us and cause us to presume the worst of one another. Their story is actually a story of constructive transformation.”