Mural Art Used To Create ‘Health Justice’ Awareness
The Asian / Pacific Islander Partners & Advocates Countering Tobacco (API PACT) program of the California Health Collaborative, along with the art and public engagement group known as Urbanistas Collective have teamed up for a creative workshop series demonstrating the process of advocating for health equity among Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islander communities.
Through sharing experiences and statistics, local participants were able to design a community mural focused on highlighting the effects “Big Tobacco” has had on vulnerable Asian communities in the Central Valley.
According to the CDC website, tobacco advertisements in stores and billboards are more common in urban Asian American communities as opposed to other urban communities. Moreover, heart disease, cancer, and strokes — which all can be the result of tobacco use — are the three leading causes of death among the three aforementioned groups.
“As public health advocates, the usual way of providing information is through PowerPoint presentations, pamphlets, or word-of-mouth type education,” said Bao Xiong, the program manager of API PACT said. “That doesn’t always strike a chord with people, and sometimes we have to learn how to be innovative with our methods if we want to educate our communities.”
The partnership between API PACT and Urbanistas consisted of four-day workshops held on March 4, 5, 11, and 12, through the Zoom conferencing web portal, and were broadcast live on Facebook.
“We’ve been talking about this project since June of last year,” Xiong explained. “We wanted to highlight the impact that the tobacco industry has on vulnerable communities in the Central Valley. Our goal was to translate what the community was experiencing when it comes to health inequity and how we can convey this education and awareness in art form.”
Through the workshops, participants were able to communicate their experiences. They created themes, ideas, and symbols that were later translated into a mural design to be painted by local Merced artist, Patty Pratt.
Communicating through zoom, Pratt was able to use their voices and ideas to visualize their message in its entirety.
“It was an interesting process for sure,” said Erik Martinez, founder of Urbanistas Collective. “The virtual sessions introduced everyone to the process of putting a mural together. Then, everyone began contributing their ideas as much as they could without actually getting their hands in the paint. It was tricky for sure — but we took all of their ideas and shared it with Patty, and then boom, there the mural was.”
The “educational” mural was painted on a trifold of panels that can be folded up easily for quick and convenient transportation. The artwork showcasing the landscape of a Central Valley neighborhood. Tobacco smoke escapes the lips of a mouth tied to puppet strings. The mouth and puppet strings both symbolize the “Big Tobacco companies that infringe on the most inequitable parts of our communities.” The smoke blows on the housing and silhouettes of residents standing closest to the smoke. These people are silenced. They cannot speak out about health justice. They are sick, and they live in areas with no healthy options or opportunity.
The smoke travels left, sickening more residents. In these communities, we see a pop-up of liquor stores, fast food restaurants, and no recreational places for children to play. Some residents here have a voice, while others still do not.
As the smoke diminishes before it reaches the right side of the mural, we see a healthy neighborhood. Tall grass, trees, and playgrounds make up the space in this community. Children play on bikes, fruit stands are at everyone’s disposal. The air is healthy enough for everyone to come and play outside. Residents in this area have voices where they can speak out about health justice, but there is also one voice left muted as a symbol for those who may not be able to find themselves represented.
The voices on the silhouettes in front of the mural are all in different languages. “We Want Health Justice!” is written in Laotian, Hmong, English, Spanish and Punjabi.
“It took me off and on about three different sessions to finish it,” Pratt explained.
The workshop ended with a final mural “reveal” through another Zoom meeting that was broadcast on Facebook Live. Participants were finally able to see the mural they had created in its final form. They also had a chance to share their thoughts on the program.
“Personally, this project has put into perspective a lot of the injustices that are surrounding us,” said Esmeralda Tamayo Echeveria. “Not only here in our communities, but also outside. There are other communities that suffer these injustices and they may not have the voice to express these injustices or to do something about it. When someone has the voice, the ability, and the means to reach out and educate the community about this, it creates more knowledge. When more knowledge is provided among the community, a stronger foundation for a healthier community is created. If we have the means to educate, we need to use it.”
Another participant, identified as Elizabeth, said: “This mural project allows you to see how collaborative and how interactive this was as opposed to the cookie cutter things like signs, presentations, and handing out pamphlets. Seeing something as art allows you to stick to it. It allows people who maybe don’t know about the subject a chance to ask questions and wonder why something was represented a certain way.”
Although the mural was only unveiled online, there is plenty hope that it will soon be available for others to view in person.
“When we can convey in person, we hope that we are able to take the mural to community events,” Xiong explained. “We want to make it an engaging education where we can engage the community in the art and talk about how health inequity impacts our communities.”
For more information on CHC and the API PACT program, you can reach out to Bao Xiong at [email protected] For information on Urbanistas Collective and the fight for social justice through art, you can reach Patty Pratt at [email protected]