Mural- Pedro Pietri, Homage to Picasso

East Harlem/El Barrio is home to a great number of murals that build on a long tradition in Latin American art, wherein residents may express themselves and tell their stories. Protecting these significant cultural symbols has become a great challenge, but an important endeavor, in a rapidly changing neighborhood.

northeast corner of Lexington Avenue and East 104th Street
James De La Vega, 2004

southeast corner of Lexington Avenue and East 111th Street
James de la Vega, 1996

An East Harlem native, James de la Vega has painted a number of murals in the neighborhood and is known throughout the city for his simple chalk cartoons with aphorisms, such as “Become Your Dream.” The Pedro Pietri mural depicts Puerto Rican poet and playwright Pedro Pietri (1944-2004), who moved to New York City as a child. Pietri, whose poetry focused on the struggles of Puerto Ricans in the U.S., helped to found the Nuyorican Poets Café and led cultural collectives such as the Latin Insomniacs, the Puerto Rican Embassy and the Church of the Mother of Tomatoes. Calling himself “The Reverend,” Pietri often dressed in black and carried a collapsible cross. Homage to Picasso is an adaptation of Picasso’s Guernica, reinterpreted with imagery relevant to El Barrio: rather than bombs, the figures are oppressed by violence, crime and poverty, set against the red backdrop of the neighborhood’s brick-clad environment. The mural was commissioned by Hope Community, Inc., a community-based not-for-profit affordable housing organization that also works to enrich the lives of East Harlem residents through the arts, economic development and social service alliances.