Chilean’s Murals of Immigrants and Women Bring Art to Bronx Streets

Chilean artist Virginia Ayress’ murals of immigrants and women adorn the streets of Washington Heights and the Bronx. Through her work, Ayress wants to raise awareness for social issues and show that art can be a community effort, not just confined to museum walls. The translation of El Diario La Prensa‘s profile of Virginia Ayress, originally in Spanish, is below.

Virginia Ayress painting her mural, "Y yo ya Estaba" (I Was Already Here), which is dedicated to immigrants and located in the South Bronx. (Photo via El Diario La Prensa)

With paintbrush in hand, muralist Virginia Ayress not only awakens the spirit of the walls in the South Bronx; she also paints the hearts of women and immigrants that appear in her work.

The Chilean artist began her career 14 years ago in Washington Heights, but her most beloved murals are located in poor neighborhoods in the Bronx, including “¡Y yo ya Estaba!” (I was Already Here!), dedicated to immigrants and “Yo Soy mi Ruta” (I am my own road), a tribute to women.

Virginia Ayress' mural "Yo Soy Mi Ruta" (I Am My Own Road), inspired by a poem from the Puerto Rican poet Julia de Burgos, sheds light on domestic violence against women. (Photo by Zaira Cortes / El Diario/La Prensa)

Ayress went into exile in 1974 during the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Later on, she studied art in Cuba, and afterward attended the International Graphic School of Venice to continue her training. She left Europe 16 years ago for the Big Apple.

“A few weeks after I arrived in New York, I founded the Taller Experimental de Arte (Experimental Workshop for the Arts), which is mostly made up of women artists,” said Ayress, who is also an art teacher.

To find out more information about Ayress’ work, visit wwwart-ayresscl.artelista.com.

Art for the people

Ayress firmly believes that everyone should be able to access art; she prefers to create murals because she considers them to be an effective way to convey ideas and raise consciousness about social realities.

“People don’t have to go to a gallery or a museum to see art. They can appreciate it in the streets of their own neighborhoods. They can touch, see, and feel it without paying a fortune.”

Ayress said that her murals are designed as community-based projects. Children and senior citizens participate as volunteers in a process that seeks to foster respect, tolerance, and solidarity in Bronx neighborhoods.

Ayress has painted about 10 murals over the last 14 years, but a lack of funding and permits to use wall space is a continual challenge.

“The owner of the wall must be an art-lover; otherwise the mural disappears,” she explained. “One of my murals in Washington Heights was painted over. The goal is for the painting to last.”

Ayress explained that “Yo Soy mi Ruta,” located at 1064 Franklin Avenue and inaugurated in 2010, was inspired by a poem by Julia de Burgos and deals with tough issues that affect women including domestic violence, AIDS, cancer, and femicide.

Ayress painted “¡Y yo ya Estaba!” in 2009. The mural expresses the contribution of immigrants from different diasporas and reminds viewers that indigenous communities are the true owners of the land (hence the title of the work).

Over the past few years, Ayress and other Latina women artists have created free community workshops for children, and collaborated with other groups to promote the cultures of Latin American countries.