Last year, neighborhood residents protested when new owners painted over a pair of murals at the East Austin intersection of Twelfth and Chicon. Austin—on both the east side and the west side of I-35—has long been known for its murals, whether painted by Daniel Johnston, Mike “Truth” Johnston, or artists with nary a “Johnston” in their name. These two pieces on different corners of the intersection, painted by international street artist TooFly and Austin local Chris Rogers, vanished in May 2017 when the new owners of the respective buildings opted to take them down.
After Rogers’s mural—which depicted James Brown, Michael Jackson, Tupac Shakur, Stevie Ray Vaughan, and Bob Marley, among others—was painted white, the owner of the boutique Las Cruxes, which had just moved into the building, responded to the public outcry by commissioning the artist to paint a new one in January. On the other hand, Eureka Holdings, which owned the building including the other mural, quickly replaced the piece by TooFly, which was painted for the local nonprofit Mama Sana Vibrant Woman and featured a pregnant black woman along with contact info for the organization (which offers pregnancy services). The company put a colorful depiction of various musical instruments on the wall in its place.
TooFly’s mural, which was intended to reflect the community of color that had historically lived in East Austin (with a 1928 city plan that was specifically intended to segregate the city), was replaced by one with a more nondescript message at the same time the neighborhood’s own longtime residents found themselves pushed out by rising property taxes and waves of development and gentrification. The change frayed already raw nerves, as Mama Sana Vibrant Woman’s Kellee Coleman told Texas Monthly at the time. “What breaks my heart is that people were removed and relegated to live over there. That area didn’t come out of a black hole. It was created, and now that they see value, they just come and take it,” Coleman explained. “They literally painted over this pregnant black woman that was on the side of a wall. What was it hurting?”
That woman is back now, though—albeit in a different part of the city. On Saturday, one year to the day that the original mural was painted over, Ecuadorian artist TooFly returned to Austin to re-create the original mural. While the initial plan was for it to be repainted on a building on East Seventh Street, concerns that the building’s owner wouldn’t protect it for the long haul brought the piece to North Austin, instead—specifically, to Alli Mexican Cuisine on Payton Gin Road.
The North Lamar neighborhood where Alli stands is more diverse than many other Austin areas. (White people make up 49 percent of Austin’s population, but only 12 percent of that particular neighborhood.) It’s primarily a Latino community, while East Austin has historically been an African American one, but Mama Sana’s leadership is both black and Latina.
It’s striking that as communities of color are being pushed out of East Austin to other parts of the city such as North Lamar, the artistic representations of Austinites of color are also being relocated to other parts of the city. Still, the Mama Sana mural by TooFly lives on in Austin, and it’s in a part of the city where it should be safe—at least until the forces of gentrification set their sights on North Austin neighborhoods, too.