Wilsonville High School educator creates mural for Portland Art Museum
With each paint stroke, Angennette Escobar shows her students what is possible.
For the next couple weeks, Wilsonville community members can see a familiar face at the Portland Art Museum. Escobar, an art teacher at Wilsonville High School, was selected to be part of a team made up of four Latino artists commissioned by the museum to create a mural during business hours for the special exhibition of Frida Kahlo, Diego Rivera and Mexican Modernism.
"It has been so much fun to collaborate with such intensely creative people," Escobar said.
The project is led by Portland artist Hector Hernandez, who selected Escobar, Christian Barrios and Victor Hugo Garza to create a 30-foot mural and a digital art presentation that displays the different parts of Frida Kahlo's life. The mural acts as the introduction to the exhibit, which continues throughout the rest of the museum.
"In the mural I basically was envisioning something that reinforces the idea of what is the Mexican modernism about and the Mexican contribution to the world that is known as the mural movement," Hernandez said.
The mural centers around the theme of metamorphosis and captures the different versions of Kahlo through various ages and key aspects of her identity.
The focal point of the mural is Kahlo as a mestiza, which represents her white and Indigenous background. Other panels show her gender fluidity and address her prolonged health conditions.
"The three different versions represent aspects of freedom," Hernandez said.
The mural project has been in motion for almost two years. It was originally set to be unveiled in 2020 but was postponed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier this year, Hernandez brought the idea back to life and the team began the initial design process. In March, paint brushes hit wall for the first time. Escobar said the most challenging aspects of the project so far are the narrow timeline and balancing teaching and painting.
The team must complete the mural by April 1.
As the mural is painted live during museum hours, Escobar said the team constantly stops to chat with museum-goers, which has been a rewarding experience.
"I once received an Instagram message from a woman who brought her children to the museum for the Frida Kahlo exhibit and they spent a great deal of time watching us. And she wrote, 'It is so exciting to see my children light up, watching the muralists paint and seeing themselves reflected in the artists ... and it means the world to me to have my children see other Latinos doing amazing things.' It just made me feel so good," Escobar said.
She added the experience has "moved and enlightened" her in many ways. She also plans to transfer this effort to her classroom next year as she will teach a new dual-language class that focuses on Latino art and culture. Escobar said the class will hopefully broaden the art curriculum at the school to involve more teachings of historical movements Latinos have taken part in.
During a weekday in early March, the Portland Art Museum was filled with the distant noise of a small audience that formed behind the artist team. But the noise didn't seem to bother Escobar as she diligently worked on the finishing details of the blouse Frida wears in the main painting.
"It is crazy seeing a teacher from your school creating these amazing things — it's mind-blowing," Amaya Marin, a senior at Wilsonville High, said as she watched Escobar work.
Marin is also a member of the school's MEChA, a group designed for Latino students. MEChA took the field trip to learn more about the exhibit and parts of their own culture.
"As an educator, I feel like it is really important for children to see themselves reflected in the world and in art — all of those ways that really matter. And I think the most rewarding thing has just been talking to children and women and young Latino artists who can kind of venture into their imagination of what's possible for them," Escobar said.
The mural will be available for viewing in the museum until June. A panel discussion featuring the four Latino artists will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, April 9, at the museum.
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