As the Preservons la Creation (Let's Preserve the Creation) mural, being touted as the largest mural in the history of Houston, nears completion in Midtown we take a look at what was once the largest mural in the city. Leo Tanguma's 1973 The Rebirth of Our Nationality mural on the side of the Continental Can Company factory/warehouse on Canal Street, covers just over 4,000 square feet while la Creation, which will cover one side of a five-story building, is expected to cover some 8,000 square feet.
Once made up of vivid colors, the Rebirth mural is almost completely worn away these days. Discussions about restoring the mural, either by Tanguma or under his direction, regularly pop up among community activists and artists but Tanguma, who is now based in Colorado, is reportedly uninterested in the project.
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Abrahan Garza, a Houston Press employee and frequent contributing photographer, took a series photos of Rebirth, superimposing historic photos that show the mural as it once was over the mural as it is today.
Tanguma spent several years in Houston, studying with famed African American artist John Biggers who taught at Texas Southern University, a historically black college. Biggers urged Tanguma to explore the work of muralists in Mexico. Tanguma eventually met and worked with David Alfaro Siqueiros, a Mexican muralist who, along with Diego Rivera and José Clemente Orozco, worked in the social realism style.
Considered a great example of both public and Chicano art, Rebirth chronicles the history of the Mexican people. Tanguma includes text, including the sentence "To become aware of our history is to become aware of our singularity."At the center of mural are two men sitting inside what seems to be a large flower which itself is sitting on a pile of skulls. The image has been repeated in contemporary murals.
At the time the mural was painted, Canal Street was one of the three most heavily used avenues in the East End and Rebirth was seen by thousands of residents and commuters daily.