Tucked in the corner of Hemphill and West Ripy Streets in Southside Fort Worth is a vibrant new mural commemorating the life of Vanessa Guillen, a U.S. Army soldier who investigators believe was killed by a fellow soldier months ago.
Juan Velázquez, a 31-year-old artist and U.S. Army reservist, felt compelled to raise awareness and show the Guillen family his support after Guillen’s remains were found last week near Fort Hood.
Velázquez offered the family solace the best way he knew how — through his art.
“My art is my voice, so I went out there and painted a mural. I hope her family sees it,” Velázquez said. “There’s nothing that anyone can do to bring back a loved one who has passed away, but we can at least let them know we support them.”
He painted the mural with the help of more than 20 artists on Sunday, from start to finish. It took more than $600 worth of paint and 10 hours to create the “Fort Worth for Vanessa” mural.
By Sunday evening, the mural stood completed as hundreds gazed at this artistic rendering of Guillen in her military uniform surrounded by brightly colored roses and an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe to her left side. Many left candles, roses and signs.
The mural is approximately 50 feet wide and 25 feet tall, according to Velázquez, and it was painted on the side of the tattoo shop Noah’s Art & Supplies.
Velázquez knew he wanted to honor Guillen, so he took to social media with his bold idea which eventually caught the attention of the owners of Noah’s Art & Supplies, who offered their building for the mural.
Manuel Govea Jr., the property owner who leases the space to the tattoo shop, says he’s perfectly fine with the mural and that he sympathizes with the Guillen family because his family has a traditional connection with the military.
“I just kind of felt bad. My brothers and I have all been in the Army. My grandson was in the Army. We all served in the Army, except for my daughter, she’s Air Force,” Govea said. “It’s terrible she got all this recognition because of this.”
One of the local artists who led the charge was Sarah Ayala, a 28-year-old full-time artist. She offered her expertise to make the project come to life because she’s always had family in the military too.
“I helped him mock up the design over the weekend with the florals in the background and the lettering in the front. Yesterday (Sunday), we just knocked it out in one day,” Ayala said. “There’s a long history of military in my family and that’s one reason why I wanted to participate.”
She says that creating works of art that send a message is an effective way to participate in activism.
“Hopefully this inspires people to take their own talents and use them for causes that they care about. Painting a mural is a form of activism and it spreads awareness,” she added.
Viridiana Garcia, 34, came to the see the mural with her infant daughter at noon on Monday and she says that Guillen’s situation hit home because she herself has been physically abused.
“It’s empowering that she joined the Army as a Hispanic female. But little did she know she would end up bumping into such evil people,” Garcia said in Spanish.
Garcia believes that Army officials aren’t being transparent enough and that there’s much more to the story that people don’t know yet.
“It’s unjust,” she said.
© 2020 the Fort Worth Star-Telegram
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.