Against a two-storey, rainbow colored-background, the profile of a Native American in a feathered headdress stares northward. To the right is the text of a Ute prayer: Earth teach me to remember kindness as dry fields weep with rain.
The mural, located on AMI Roofing’s south wall, was painted by Rafael Blanco, an artist originally from Spain who currently lives and works in Illinois. Blanco began as a classical studio artist but got hooked on murals in 2014. “It is liberating to be painting outside, connecting and painting for the people.”
Blanco was brought to Salt Lake City (his first time visiting Utah) by South Salt Lake’s 2022 The Mural Fest: each year the city arranges for a dozen or so artists to paint the walls of commercial buildings in their downtown area. The four dozen in South Salt Lake have joined dozens more that have gone up in the Salt Lake City area over the past decade.
This explosion of murals has not been without controversy. Especially since 2020, on social media and elsewhere, the use of cultural appropriation and who should be commissioned to paint which subjects has been a matter of debate, not all of it friendly. Blanco enjoys working on murals that are site-specific and for this mural wanted to “pay tribute and celebrate the culture that lived in Utah before. My intention wasn’t to appropriate iconography, but exactly the opposite. The prayer is key to really understand this. We need more kindness in the world … more now than ever!”
Before the arrival of Mormon settlers, the area where Blanco’s mural now stands was in a borderland zone between the traditional territory of the Utes to the south and the Shoshone to the north. Now it is an industrial zone, which hugs the TRAX rail lines and I-15, creating another sort of borderland, between the valley’s east sides and west sides. Most of the streets in this area are deadends. Visit South Salt Lake to see the mural and you may discover that Haven Avenue, where the mural is located (AMI Roofing, 141 W. Haven Ave.), is one of the few side streets that crosses the tracks, where it will take you to several more murals created in 2022.
During the month of June we’ll be featuring articles on several murals and muralists in Utah. You can discover several for yourself by visiting our Art Lake City map.
With our In Plain Site byline we feature publicly viewable art, both official and street art, throughout the state of Utah.