Since the 1970s Camilo Vergara has been traveling across the United States photographing and thus documenting hand-painted murals of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as they appeared on the walls of establishments such as car repair shops, barbershops, and fast food restaurants in city streets and alley ways. The folk art portraits have expressed how the inner-city residents saw the slain civil rights leader—at times a statesman, a hero, a visionary, or a martyr. Vergara also discovered that these images were often based on iconic photographs of Dr. King but that, depending upon the neighborhood where they were created, the portraits could take on the likeness of Latinos, Native Americans, or Asians.
Vergara remarked about his work that “most murals and street portraits of Dr. King are ephemeral. Paint fades, businesses change hands and neighborhood demographics shift. Gradually, images reflecting the culture and values of poor communities are lost….Often, my photographs are the only lasting record of these public works of art.” This exhibition offers the opportunity to study the manner in which Martin Luther King, Jr. has reached into the hearts of artists from New York to Los Angeles, Chicago to Detroit, and how the artists’s images have depicted the soul of the great civil rights leader in a manner that reaches out to communities nation-wide.
Camilo Vergara will donate all of the works in The Dream Continues: Photographs of Martin Luther King Murals by Vergara to the New-York Historical Society after the close of the exhibition.