Low riders and Murals

Today our class had two very interesting class speakers, who rather than presenting information on the development of South Phoenix, which includes names and dates of historic events, offered some insight on South Phoenix’s culture, which consist of lower riders and murals. When it was announced that the class would be having a guest speaker talking about low riders, I have to say, that shamefully, I had preconceived notions of a rough looking guy with a goatee and black sun glasses striding into the class’s assigned location. However, instead of the typical gangster persona I usually associate with someone who is interested in low riders, a very clean cut Costa Rican man, with formal shoes, and a colorful shirt was there to address the low rider topic. He showed us many pictures of low riders and low rider shows, and told us that owners of these cars have put a lot of hard work and creativity into them. He also gave us a brief explanation of where low riders originated, and why low riders are considered a part of the South Phoenix and Chicano culture.

The muralist, Martin Moreno spoke after William Calvo, the guy who talked about low riders, but unfortunately we did not have very much time to listen to his presentation. He has designed countless murals throughout the city of Phoenix, and I wish we could have seen more slides of his colorful, magnificent art work. Specifically the art piece that attracted my attention was the South Phoenix mural that showed a child “sniffing” toxic fumes from a spray can, serving as a public service announcement that purposefully inhaling poisonous fumes is a crucial issue that needs to be dealt with. Sadly, as part of the plan to “clean up” South Phoenix, it has been painted over. He showed us several other murals that he had done, some that had even caused major controversy after he had created them. For example, one artwork that he had created included images of two naked people embracing each other, standing up. This artwork was illustrated in an art exhibit, without his knowledge, and it was flipped horizontally, implying sexual activity, which outraged a lot of people, including politicians, who saw it there. He was completely mystified that something as little as a mere piece of art could cause trouble. He only had a few minutes to talk about his art; however those few moments adequately emphasized the impact his art has had on the South Phoenix community.

Brenda Bright’s article, “Heart like a car” brought out two interesting points on New Mexico’s low riders offers insight into South Phoenix culture . Both low riders and “wall art” have been viewed negatively by people in society. Low riders are often times looked down upon because even though they are considered a family activity, the regulations of car clubs and shows still have a very sexist structure. Women are permitted to be in automobile clubs, but often times only if they do not own a low rider car, and the majority of designs on low riders display scantily clad women, which obviously is not for female enjoyment. The few men that are displayed on low rider creations are mostly images of warriors. “Wall art” is viewed negatively probably because it closely resembles “tagging,” gang activity in which gang members illegally destroy properties by spray painting on them.

Despite the stigma surrounding the acceptance of low riders and murals, it is undeniable that these expressive art forms are fixed within the cultural context of the people of South Phoenix. People, including our speakers Martin and William, put so much passion into their interest. Martin was explained to us that it does not matter that some of the murals he has created do not exist anymore, in his heart, he is completely content knowing that it has touched people’s life, whether by being affected from the art’s beauty or controversy, and this is what the culture of murals and low riders are all about.


  Modified 4/21/2006