- Nancy Flores American-Statesman Staff
She’s Wonder Woman like you’ve never seen her before, with the words “peace,” “justice” and “respect” tattooed in Spanish on her forearm, chest and arm.
The reimagined superhero, brought to life by stencil artist Eleanor Herasimchuk (better known as Niz), fiercely watches over downtown Austin from the Fifth Street and Congress Avenue wall on which she’s been painted.
Herasimchuk’s take on Wonder Woman is part of a new round of innovative, bilingual murals featured on Mexic-Arte Museum’s Fifth Street wall project called El Mero Muro. Museum officials expect to unveil at least seven new murals throughout the year aimed at boosting the Latino presence downtown and attracting new patrons after a 2015 report by market research firm Contemporanea found that many Latinos felt that museums across the country felt unfriendly, uninviting and expensive.
“While museums are broadly acknowledged as educational institutions, the personal relevance and importance of these institutions has not been established for many Latinos surveyed,” according to the report.
With a prominent Fifth Street wall that, according to Mexic-Arte, catches the eye of more than 35,000 drivers each day, the cultural arts museum knew it had a unique opportunity to address some of the report’s findings in a highly visible way.
“People say that downtowns are the living room of a community,” said Sylvia Orozco, the museum’s executive director. “We all need to feel welcome when we’re in the living room. People need to know that this is a place for them, and if they come in they’ll see and connect even more.”
Over the years, the Mexic-Arte Museum has featured artwork of various muralists on its prominent Fifth Street wall, including the wildly popular “Till Death Do Us Part” mural by Austin-based artist Federico Archuleta. The piece featured male and female skulls facing each other lovingly inside a heart. But in 2016, with funding from the city of Austin’s Cultural Expansion Program, the museum launched a formal mural project that allowed local, national and international artists to create murals with bilingual and bicultural messages and imagery to help change the perceptions of museums among Latinos.
The El Mero Muro project has quickly caught fire online, accumulating tens of thousands of views on Facebook and Instagram. As passers-by take selfies, post photos to social media, share and tag the mural images online, word keeps spreading. Mexic-Arte offers free admission to art lovers who tag mural photos online with the handle @mexic_arte.
“While some people have really embraced the messages (such as ‘Standing Juntos’ or ‘Standing Together’),” said Adrian Orozco, Mexic-Arte’s membership and marketing associate, “others (have grown curious about the) artists themselves.”
Each of the selected artists creates a mural concept that fits with the museum’s goal of positive, bilingual messages. Murals typically stay up between two to four months, and the museum staggers the designs so that older murals can co-exist with newer ones.
For stencil artist Herasimchuk, creating the mural of a Latina Wonder Woman fighting for environmental issues was inspired after debate arose over the Dakota Access oil pipeline.
“For a superproblem, we need a superhero,” she said of the mural’s concept. In the mural, Wonder Woman points to ways to reduce dependency on oil in comic book style, with text painted by graffiti writer Cody Seigmund.
“Everybody should have access to art and have an opportunity to be part of art culture.”