Her face is striking and serious, rendered in deep browns and blues and greens that connect this figure to the lush landscape behind her. “Pachamama,” a public mural inspired by the Incan goddess of planting and harvesting, was unveiled on Saturday and dominates the side of a building at the corner of Sherman Street and Grant Avenue in Millvale.
It adds another powerful piece of public art to Pittsburgh’s already remarkable collection.
This new mural has its roots in the annual Millvale Music Festival, which took place last weekend. Artists Victor Ayala Kart, C. Clayton and Shane Pilster spent three days on the project, using aerosol paint to complete this tribute to Mother Earth just in time for Mother’s Day.
MMF, a sub-committee of the Millvale Borough Development Corporation, began incorporating visual art into the community’s day-long music festival last year. They wanted to make an even bigger creative impression in 2019, but how? Planning for this piece began in February, and it was all about collaboration.
Kart, who hails from León Guanajuato, Mexico, designed the mural. Linsey Thomas, owner of Millvale’s Double L Bar, offered the canvas — the side of a building she owns at the Sherman and Grant intersection. MMF sponsored the project with help from Rivers of Steel and an organization called Hemispheric Conversations Urban Art Project (HCUAP).
HCUAP is Pittsburgh-based, but focuses on cultural exchanges between post-industrial cities in the U.S. and Mexico. Pilster co-founded the organization with Caitlin Bruce, assistant professor of communication at the University of Pittsburgh, and Oreen Cohen, a local artist and educator whose sculpture work will appear in Squirrel Hill’s renovated Wightman Park.
Other HCUAP murals adorn walls at the Carrie Furnaces, in Homestead and on the South Side. The group uses urban art to explore citizens’ power in shaping their environments, asking what images a city’s residents would like to see and pursuing “questions of just development and community history and identity.”
Bruce, who researches legal graffiti, met Kart while doing fieldwork. The city of León Guanajuato boasts a long-running legal graffiti program and Kart is part of a collective of artists there who have pioneered large-scale aerosol murals. Pilster is involved in legal graffiti here in Pittsburgh, curating a permission graffiti wall through the Rivers of Steel Urban Arts Program.
“We are very grateful,” Pilster says, “for the trust they put into HCUAP, myself and the artists,” Pilster says.