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An artist's rendering of "Grieving Sun Mural"
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cityLAB's inaugural Activist-in-Residence Marlené Nancy Lopez to unveil "Grieving Sun Mural" in Perloff Courtyard

May 12, 2023

Marlené Nancy Lopez, one of UCLA’s four 2023 Activists-in-Residence and the inaugural Activist-in-Residence at cityLAB, will soon unveil “Grieving Sun Mural” in AUD’s Perloff Courtyard, presenting an interactive public-art project that Lopez has been imagining since she was 14 years old. Lopez and cityLAB will reveal the installation on Monday, May 15 and host activation events for the project on Wednesday, May 17 and Thursday, May 18. Full program details appear below

Born and raised in LA’s MacArthur Park, Lopez has devoted years of service as a community organizer in the neighborhood and as a teacher in the Los Angeles Unified School District. She joined cityLAB and the Activist-in-Residence program at the start of this academic year.

“Grieving Sun Mural” encourages visitors both to acknowledge personal grief and loss, and to seek peace, joy, and love through community. Its design is inspired by histories and personal stories gathered from the MacArthur Park community, and nods to Indigenous architecture and cultural wisdom. In gathering community stories, Lopez observed themes that she could translate into design: butterflies, bees, and other "insect messengers," which become spiritual guides during times of grief; the Yaxche, or the “Tree of Life”; and, as a centerpiece, a broken heart, marking the epicenter of grief and struggle and evoking healing.

Lopez traces her earliest inspiration for “Grieving Sun Mural” to the loss of her father, when Lopez was 14 years old. Her family brought his body to their native Guatemala, where Lopez felt “there was nowhere to grieve.” After her family returned to Los Angeles, teenage Lopez would sneak out of home at night, seeking spaces and silence in which she could say goodbye to her father.

“I would be in MacArthur Park after dark, putting up pictures of him and letters to him,” Lopez says. “I felt a need to see his image, to witness his life being commemorated.”

The artist at age 14, leading her father's funeral procession

Alongside images of insect messengers and the Yaxche, “Grieving Sun Mural” centers a depiction of teenaged Lopez, carrying a flower wreath as she leads her father’s funeral procession. The mural shows a waterfall of tears emanating from the wreath and flowing over a staircase, representing collective pain and the human connection that can flow from this shared grieving.

This May 2023 installation at Perloff Hall offers a community-engagement opportunity before the project relocates in August 2023 to MacArthur Park. Lopez hopes that people feel inspired to activate the mural with personal notes, photos, or other gestures of commemoration–any items that allow viewers to reconnect with lost ancestors, friends, or memories.

The artist and her siblings as teenagers, honoring their late father

“Grieving Sun Mural” will be on view in Perloff Hall Courtyard from Monday, May 15 through Friday, May 19. Opening remarks, blessing, and story-art circle will be held on Wednesday, May 17 at 4:30 pm. On Thursday, May 18 at 12:00 pm, the mural will host a memorial to victims of recent tragedies in Monterey Park and Half Moon Bay, and at 5:30 pm, a memorial to deceased cyclists. A memorial for “We the Unhoused” is to-be-scheduled.

Lopez studied Political Science at California State University - Los Angeles and served in the US Peace Corps in the Republic of Moldova. During this time, she observed how art could be used to serve communities specifically through muralism, storytelling and multimedia.

Lopez continued studying the intersection between humanitarian aid and art during her Master’s degree program from the Paris' School of International Affairs, Sciences Po. When she returned to LA, she pursued her passions of community building and art.

Since 2016, Lopez has coordinated and participated in over eighty city-wide art activations and murals as a lead teaching artist with organizations such as Heart of Los Angeles (HOLA), LA Commons, CHIRLA, GRYD, POV, the City of Los Angeles, DCA, Barnsdall Arts, Art Share LA, and her collective, CrewNative. She aspires to be an accomplished public artist and community engagement specialist to serve the city she loves and celebrate the cultures that create it.

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