Otto Campbell: La Brigada por la Paz
Painter Otto Campbell, and a group of cholos he recruited from the streets (la Sociedad de la Esquina), of downtown Juárez, Chichuahua, painted this mural La brigada por la Paz. I figure they did the job in 1996. The photograph is by Virgil Hancock and it appears on the cover and in his remarkable collection of photographs, Chihuahua: Pictures from the Edge (University of New Mexico Press, 1996, with a companion essay by Charles Bowden). The reason I'm putting it up on the blog (it's a copyrighted image and I've lost contact with Virgil) is that I was googling Otto Campbell the other day and I found absolutely nothing about the man. No text, no images. He was an important artist and cultural activist in Juárez (he died in 1997) and there should be some trace of him and his work available on the web. My friend the Mexican novelist Willivaldo Delgadillo says of Campbell, "He had a man-size wisdom and was one of those rare human beings who appeared to be reconciled with himself." The mural was painted on the corner of a major intersection in Juárez--Avenida Diez y Seis of Septiembre and Avenida Francisco Villa--which is right across the street from the downtown el Restaurante Villa del Mar, one of my favorite restaurants across the river. I saw the mural only once when poet Joe Somoza and I were over there walking and talking about poetry and eating fish soup. It was not finished yet--it was only in its preliminary black and white stage, and it was truly remarkable, ghostlike. I never got to see the finished mural. Soon after it was completed it was obliterated. Again, Willivaldo: "The local Coca-Cola honcho ordered it removed because he didn't like the fact that the bishop had a $-sign on his hat. The mural was replaced by a small notice on the repainted wall that read: Please Do Not Adverise. Coca Cola."
Willivaldo has told me that a young artist is now doing research on Campbell and that more work may be made available. I hope so. He's one of those mysterious fronterizos that make an important mark on our lives here on the border and then disappears somehow into the white noise. I would have liked to have known him.
The reason I have the image in the first place is that Virgil was kind enough to let Cinco Puntos Press use the photograph for the cover of my book of poems, The Price of Doing Business in Mexico. Virgil, if you're out there, I'll be happy to remove the photograph from the blog if you so wish. But I have a hunch that you, like me, will understand that Otto Campbell should certainly be googlable.
Which reminds me: There's a a small story that tell the reason I was googling Otto Campbell. My son John Byrd wrote an article about the band Radio La Chusma and a Sunday night concert they did at the Chamizal Park down by the river. John titled his piece "Dreaming of a Sunday Evening at the Chamizal" which is an allusion to Diego Rivera's great mural in Mexico City "Dreaming of a Sunday Afternoon in La Alameda." John didn't feel using an image of the Rivera mural was appropriate to his piece, so I suggested Campbell's La Brigada por la Paz. Especially since "chusma" can be translated into something like "street people." And, instead of searching through my own files for Virgil's photograph, I googled Otto Campell and found absolutely nothing.