Mural honors resilience, spirit and future of Salt River Pima-Maricopa people

The black-and-white portrait of a teenage girl from Phoenix’s Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community is a break from historic photos that “romanticize Native people and kind of keep us in a time capsule,” the artists say. (Photo by Sofia Fuentes/Cronkite News)

Four girls from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community were photographed as possible subjects of the mural, which was finished in early April. (Photo by Sofia Fuentes/Cronkite News)

The owners of the building at 111 W. Monroe St., who commissioned the mural, wanted it to be “warm, whimsical and represent the younger generation.” (Photo by Sofia Fuentes/Cronkite News)

Artist Thomas “Breeze” Marcus is known for his interlocking geometric designs, which are inspired by his Tohono O’odham culture. (Photo by Sofia Fuentes/Cronkite News)

Breeze Marcus and collaborator Miles “El Mac” MacGregor say a great deal of intentionality went into the 45-foot mural, from color to lines to texture. (Photo by Sofia Fuentes/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Downtown is home to thousands of people, including one new resident who’s 45 feet tall and very hard to miss.

The radiant teen resides on the south side of the Monroe Building and is the result of three and a half weeks of creating by artists Miles “El Mac” MacGregor and Thomas “Breeze” Marcus.

But don’t be fooled, the muralists say, the teen is much more than a pretty face. The black-and-white mural is a portrait of a real girl from the Salt River Pima-Maricopa Indian Community. El Mac and Breeze want everyone who’s downtown – visitors and residents alike – to know that this Indigenous community is still very much alive and active in Arizona. The mural was unveiled in early April.

“People are familiar with old historic photos of Native people, say, images of Geronimo or Sitting Bull,” Breeze said. “Things like that where it’s focused on one historical figure, and that’s great, but at the same time those historical photos still kind of romanticize Native people and kind of keep us in a time capsule.”

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In 2019, ViaWest Group, which owns the building at 111 W. Monroe St., issued an open call to artists through Artlink Inc., a nonprofit organization that helps connect artists. The mural was to be “warm, whimsical and represent the younger generation.”

ViaWest Group’s Danny Swancey said the company heard from many eligible candidates for the mural, but El Mac and Breeze became the obvious choice.

“Our expectations were very high, and it met our expectations and exceeded it, which I think would’ve been very hard to do,” he said.

“I think we both kind of see it as this monument for the city, and something that’s representative of the history here,” El Mac said in a statement. “Phoenix always seems like it’s been searching for its identity, so we’re doing our little part to help with that.”

Sofia Fuentes so-FEE-uh fuen-tes
News Visual Journalist, Phoenix

Sofia Fuentes expects to graduate in spring 2021 with a bachelor’s degree in journalism.