Memorial Union at University of Wisconsin, Madison Displays Murals from Chicano Artist Leo Tanguma

As a native of Wisconsin, I’ve been to its capital, Madison, many times. It’s a lovely place to visit, especially in the summertime, and it has a lot to offer the visitor interested in education, politics, nature, food, and culture. My daughter, who is a sophomore in high school, has the state’s flagship university, UW-Madison, as one of her dream schools. And who can blame her? Anyone who visits the Memorial Union Terrace immediately falls in love with the place. It’s the perfect place to have a drink with friends, people watch, and enjoy all the sights at the shore of Lake Mendota.

With the family at the Memorial Union Terrace in July 2022. Photo from Daniel H. Brown.

The family and I visited Madison in July of last year because I ran in the half marathon there. Although I had walked through the union many times in the past, I have to admit that I hadn’t remembered seeing a pair of murals there that stopped me in my tracks on this visit and made me want to learn more about them. Located on opposite walls, “The Inheritance of Struggle” and “The Nourishment of Our Human Dignity,” painted by Chicano muralist Leo Tanguma, show the multicultural and multiracial populations who struggled and suffered to create what is great about the United States, even though by and large they do not share in the country’s wealth. I took a few photos of the murals, located below, along with the explanations provided.

“The Nourishment of Our Human Dignity.” Leo Tanguma, 1996. Photo by Daniel H. Brown.
Explanation of “The Nourishment of Our Human Dignity.” Leo Tanguma, 1996. Photo by Daniel H. Brown.
“The Inheritance of Struggle.” Leo Tanguma, 1996. Photo by Daniel H. Brown.
Explanation of “The Inheritance of Struggle.” Leo Tanguma, 1996. Photo by Daniel H. Brown.

While both murals are beautiful, colorful, and powerful, I think the element that most moves me is the mirrored pieces at the center of “The Inheritance of Struggle,” in which the spectators can see themselves as part of our country’s inheritance; it makes me want to learn more about the stories of those who are represented in “The Nourishment of Our Human Dignity.” I’m also moved by the multiple faces around the mirrored pieces, which represent the mixture of Spanish and indigenous ancestors that create the modern Latino. More information on these murals and Leo Tanguma can be found on Terrace Views, the official blog of the Wisconsin Union.

I’m embarrassed to admit that I wasn’t previously familiar with the work of Leo Tanguma. His webpage, however, is very informative on his life, from his upbringing in Texas as the child of migrant field workers, to his education at Texas Southern University, to his long career that has spanned more than 50 years. Mexico, of course, has a long tradition of great muralists, including Diego Rivera, José Orozco Clemente, and David Alfaro Siquieros, whom Tanguma had the good fortune to meet in Mexico City in the early 1970s. The influence of all these great muralists is evident in Tanguma’s work. What truly amazes me about him is the depth of his understanding of history and culture, as well as his ability to interweave them into his works. At a time when Hispanic immigrants are demonized by several influential national politicians and large sections of society, Tanguma’s somewhat controversial art and voice are needed now more than ever. To my dismay, he doesn’t even have his own Wikipedia page! Hopefully that problem can be rectified soon.

Today, Tanguma lives in Colorado and is still active with his art; it seems that he also is in great demand as a speaker at universities, high schools, art museums, and other organizations. I highly recommend a visit to his Facebook page, which has some nice photos of his excellent work. And if you get the chance to go to Madison, do check out “The Inheritance of Struggle” and “The Nourishment of Our Human Dignity” at the Memorial Union.

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