1315 West El Segundo, Los Angeles, 2003, by Tim Morgan (Camilo José Vergara)
Alley south of Pico Boulevard by Union Avenue, Los Angeles, 1997 (Camilo José Vergara)
2486-2488 Webster Avenue, Bronx, 2004, art work by Dezo (Camilo José Vergara)
El Toro Meat Market, 3171 Cesar Chavez, Los Angeles, 2001, by artist Manuel G. Cruz (Camilo José Vergara)
Fifth Avenue at Rhode Island, Gary, Indiana, 1993 (Camilo José Vergara)
5137 Compton Avenue, Michoacan Meat Market, Los Angeles, 1999 (Camilo José Vergara)
Jefferson Church, Walton Avenue at Jefferson, Los Angeles, 2012 (Camilo José Vergara)
Gratiot, Detroit, 1995 (Camilo José Vergara)
Memorial to Chuco, Mexican Christ, San Pedro Place, SCLA, 1994 (Camilo José Vergara)
11171 South Vermont Avenue, Los Angeles, 1996, by artist Kent Twitchell (Camilo José Vergara)
11171, South Vermont Ave, Los Angeles, 1999, mural by artist Kent Twitchell (Camilo José Vergara)
Christ, 3121 Florence Avenue, Los Angeles, 2002. Bishop Margaret Ann Johnson said: "Jesus is not white or black, Jesus is a spirit, you are using these eyes here, use your spiritual eyes." (Camilo José Vergara)
Schaffer Street at Broadway, Brooklyn, 2008 (Camilo José Vergara)
Humanity Baptist Church, Bergen Street at 14th Avenue, Newark, 1986 (Camilo José Vergara)
Pontius Pilate washing his hands, Fresno Street by Cesar Chavez, Los Angeles, 2001, by artist Manuel G. Cruz (Camilo José Vergara)
Chavelita Market, 150 East 23rd Street, Los Angeles, 1998 (Camilo José Vergara)
Mama's Chicken, Slausson Avenue east of 4th Avenue, Los Angeles, 2000 (Camilo José Vergara)
God Tabernacle of Faith, 6522 Hoover Street, Los Angeles, 1996. Multicultural Christ by Nestor (Camilo José Vergara)
97th Street at Holmes, Los Angeles,1994 (Camilo José Vergara)
Greater Ship of Zion COGIC, 8440 Joy Road, Detroit, 2000, Elder E. T. Williamson (Camilo José Vergara)
Crossover Inner City Gospel Ministry, Cass Avenue at Temple Street, Detroit, 1994 (Camilo José Vergara)
Upshaw Temple, 595 South 18th Street, Newark, 2003 (Camilo José Vergara)
Alley west of Western Avenue between 51st and 52nd Streets, Los Angeles, 2002 (Camilo José Vergara)
House of Correction Church of God, 5144 West Madison Street, Chicago, 2003 (Camilo José Vergara)
El Toro Meat Market, mural detail, 3171 Cesar Chavez, Los Angeles, 2004, by artist Manuel G. Cruz (Camilo José Vergara)
Menahan Street at Evergreen Street, Brooklyn, 2003 (Camilo José Vergara)
El Toro Meat Market, 3171 Cesar Chavez, Los Angeles, 2004, by artist Manuel G. Cruz (Camilo José Vergara)
Mural of Christ behind the altar of the former Shiloh Temple Apostolic Faith. Christ is depicted in a bleak northern landscape, Linwood at Richton, Detroit, 2005 (Camilo José Vergara)
West California Machine Shop, 6917 South San Pedro Street, Los Angeles, 2004 (Camilo José Vergara)

The Passion of Christ, As Seen in Murals Around America

Photographer Camilo Jose Vergara looks at depictions of Jesus in murals across America

smithsonian.com

Chronicler of America’s urban streets for more than 40 years, Camilo Jose Vergara has been instrumental in understanding the nation’s poorest neighborhoods through its murals, graffiti and signs. Previous projects have looked at murals Martin Luther King, Jr. and President Obama, as well as a decades-long investigation into Harlem’s changing streetscapes. Below, Vergara writes about what he noticed as he catalogued depictions of Jesus Christ around the United States

Many inner-city walls bear images of Christ enduring his via crucis. We see him at the Last Supper accompanied by his disciples. There are more violent images, too, of Christ pushed and lashed by soldiers, and nailed to the cross. And there are Easter-related images of the Resurrection, in which, rising from the dead, he shows us his wounds.

Tears roll down Christ’s face in San Pedro Place, as he holds the dead body of Chuco, a notorious South Los Angeles pandillero [gang member]. “He Paid for it All” reads the top of a cross painted on the façade of a Detroit storefront church. I found only one image, in the Bronx, in which Christ confronts viewers directly, implicating them in his suffering.

Images of Christ vary widely in poor neighborhoods. He may be depicted with blue eyes or brown, with a physique like a body builder or with an almost feminine delicacy. Black, brown, white or multi-racial, Christ is painted on the walls of parking lots and alleys, and on the facade of churches and stores. Depictions of scenes of the Passion reflect the open religiosity of recent immigrants as well as cultural changes.

The backgrounds of these images often resemble the dry hills of northern Mexico. Sometimes the ocean and the clouds give the setting a Middle Eastern character. In Los Angeles, real palm trees often loom behind. In a Detroit church, Christ embracing his cross and sitting on a rock is shown alone, in a desolate northern Michigan landscape.

Some artists sign their murals with nicknames such as Chill, Nuke, Bugzy, Tommy. Others sign with their full names, among which are Tim Morgan, Kent Twitchell and folk artist Manuel G. Cruz.

The purposes of these images vary. In an interview, a Catholic priest in the Pico Union section of Los Angeles told of his hope that a dangerous, dark alley by Union Avenue would become safer under the presence of the suffering Christ. Perhaps, he imagined, that the image might remind gangsters of their childhood days when they were exposed to Christianity, and stop them from pulling the trigger.

About Camilo José Vergara

Camilo José Vergara is a New York City-based photographer known for documenting the poorest and most segregated communities in urban America, a 2002 MacArthur fellow and recently the first photographer to ever receive the National Humanities Medal. He is the author of many books including, "Harlem: The Unmaking of a Ghetto," culled from 43 years of photographing in New York City (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, December 2013).

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