The American Civil Liberties Union in New México partnered with local artist Eric Christo Martínez and Warehouse 508 to bring renowned Chicano muralist Emanuel Martínez of the Emanuel Project to Albuquerque for the 508 Mural Fest, which took place Sept.12-23.
As formerly-incarcerated artists, Eric and Emanuel collaborated on a mural that seeks to reduce the stigma surrounding incarcerated youth, which can diminish opportunities for employment, housing, and education after release. Their mural sends a message of hope to formerly incarcerated youth that they can turn their lives around and begin anew.
“When asked to put together some formerly incarcerated artists to execute a wall for the 508 Mural Festival, I thought of none other than iconic Chicano muralist Emanuel Martínez who started his art journey out of the juvenile detention center and went on to study with Mexican muralist Ziqueiros and established a prolific body of work that spans out from his hometown of Denver, on throughout the nation, including juvenile detention centers with the Emanuel Project. It was a great honor to work side by side with such an inspirational artist for such an important reason,” said Eric.
“Most of the themes of my murals have to do with showing some positive imagery related to our people… because of the lack of true history that they put in the school system, we have to come up with our own projects that give us self-pride in who we are, right?” reasoned Emanuel.
“I painted my first mural when I was 13 while serving a sentence in a juvenile facility in Colorado, and that’s where I really discovered my talent and where I pretty much declared myself an artist and said this is what I’m going to do. I was helped by an individual by the name of Bill Longley from Santa Fe who was a professional artist and started an apprenticeship training program for high-risk youth. I was 15 when he helped me get out of jail and back into school; he helped me for two years to get me back on the right road and I never went back to jail. It was thanks to him that I was able to follow this path,” explained Emanuel.
“Painting about incarceration is very important to me because that’s where I learned and developed my craft,” shared Eric. “I served a 10-year sentence in the federal system at the young age of 22. I started off by drawing envelopes, panos, and dabbling in typical prison crafts like stringwork and weaving chip bags together. It grew into a passion, therapy, and expression in a place and time in my life where I felt I had no voice. Art changed that! Art was whatever I wanted it to be. Art took me to a different reality and outside of the walls of confinement. Art brought discovery and identity. I transitioned from staple prison arts into the fine arts. I started creating a body of work and eventually came to the realization that much if not all of my work still had the voice and spirit of such struggles. I finally gave into it and created a series around the journey titled ‘The Conviction Series’. These works express more than the convictions that took me to prison but the convictions that you can turn those negatives into positives and such a series was a testament to just that.”
The project was officially named the Emanuel Project in January 2012, and now serves incarcerated youth in 48 facilities in 12 states with research-based curriculum, art therapy and incentive programs. Approximately 36 “Murals of Hope” have been completed in 11 states with Emanuel Martínez, the project’s namesake, working directly with students of the facilities as part of the incentive program.
“It’s a project where I am in charge of the mural component and I go in (to work with incarcerated youth) and once we have a wall identified, I sketch up a composition that has to do usually with getting an education, making better choices. I mix the colors and pretty much have the kids paint about 80 percent of it and I do about 20 percent – just touch ups and refinements. But they do most of the work and this way they take ownership. We have data to prove that it has changed these kids a lot, their behavior, and in some cases their academics. It’s a very positive program,” added Emanuel.
The ACLU-MM supports reform that takes a comprehensive approach to mitigating and eliminating the collateral consequences of involvement with the criminal justice system. Learn more about Emanuel Martínez’s work and the Emanuel Project here: http://www.emanuelproject.org/.