A mural near the Santa Fe Public Library Southside Branch.

Honoring Indigenous Voices and the Environment

Twelve Public Art Murals

by Katerina Barton

Twelve murals painted by members of two artist collectives will soon adorn Santa Fe’s public spaces. The artworks highlight the city’s Indigenous roots and honor the land. To learn more about this public art project, the Santa Fean talked with Dr. Christina M. Castro, a founder of the Three Sisters Collective.

Throughout summer 2020, activists and artists created artworks to bring attention to Santa Fe’s colonial history and racism against Indigenous peoples. Thanks to a prestigious grant from the Mural Arts Institute (part of Mural Arts Philadelphia), two grassroots organizations and artist collectives — the Three Sisters Collective and Alas de Agua Art Collective — will continue the work begun last summer.  The groups’ murals will focus on Indigenous and other marginalized voices, and pay homage to the environment.

Dr. Castro (Jemez/Taos Pueblo/Chicana), who lives in Santa Fe, says this initiative is an extension of the art activism, or “artivism,” that the collective is already creating, and that the initiative is close to her heart. “The murals are going to serve as a really beautiful visual and historic archival ‘their-story,’ because we’re going to re-envision Santa Fe as a place that honors history, people’s sacrifices, people’s life ways,” Castro says, as her voice cracks with emotion. “It’s really going to be powerful.”

The two organizations will split nearly $100,000 in grant money, and over the next two years they will install twelve murals throughout the city. Each group will work on six murals, with opportunities for collaboration on projects that incorporate the imagery symbolizing each organization’s mission. For the Three Sisters Collective, a Native artist collective organized and led by Pueblo women, their themes will revolve around honoring O’gha Po’Oghe in all its different facets, Castro says, using the Tewa name for the territory where Santa Fe now sits.

Founders of Three Sisters Collective in Santa Fe
From left to right: The three original founders of the Three Sisters Collective, Dr. Christina M. Castro, Autumn Gomez, and Autumn Billie, in front of a mural in 2019.
A young girl painting a mural in Santa Fe, New Mexico
Dr. Christina M. Castro‘s daughter painting on the mural.

The Three Sisters Collective wants to include at least one mural that depicts traditional farming crops and local flora and fauna. “If you look at the way things are going now, it would behoove us to learn to live in harmony with the earth,” Castro says. “I think this is the survival of the next era — learning to reconnect with the earth and the land and honor the places we inhabit.” Another important story Castro wants the murals to present, especially after tensions over monuments during summer 2020, is Hispano-Pueblo cultural solidarity, the result of Indigenous and Hispanic peoples’ shared history as farmers.

Some other early plans for their projects include a mural on Upper Canyon Road, one outside La Montañita Co-op on West Alameda Street and one painted on a wall that runs along the Santa Fe River Trail. Castro says the mural at the last location will convey the sacredness of water, perhaps incorporating the phrase “Water is life” in multiple languages. At the same site there will be a Native artist’s sculpture of a water fountain and an Indigenous woman.

Along with murals that highlight Indigenous culture and environmental issues, Castro wants to create an Indigenous curriculum and educational tours that continue long after the murals are completed.

To make these projects a reality, Three Sisters Collective will draw on its larger membership and follower base. Through the city’s YouthWorks organization, the collective will collaborate with young people. The collective is already building a youth mentorship program that will be impactful, especially for young Indigenous women.

Along with murals that highlight Indigenous culture and environmental issues, Castro wants to create an Indigenous curriculum and educational tours that continue long after the murals are completed. Castro, who holds a doctorate in social transformation and justice studies, and has experience with curriculum building, wants tourists, locals and the city’s students to be able tour these murals and learn a deeper history of Santa Fe.

“It’s going to make people remember the true history of Santa Fe, because we want those images to reflect the oral histories and stories of the people that made Santa Fe,” Castro says. “They’re going to be healing. I think they’re going to be empowering for those invisible or disenfranchised people in Santa Fe.”

Katerina Barton

Katerina Barton grew up in Santa Fe and recently received a dual-MA degree from NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Institute in journalism and in European and Mediterranean studies. She is now a freelance writer and journalist in New York City, but the magic of the Southwest still calls to her.


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