Editor's Note: A shorter and more condensed version of this story was published in the Jan. 27 issue of the Daily Lobo.
Information technology (IT) is a large component of the development of our future, but the perseverance and understanding of its history is equally important for societal improvement. University of New Mexico History Professor Taylor Spence is helping to share the connection between IT and History through his mural “Can You Hear I.T.?”
The mural project first started taking root in the summer of 2019 when Associate Provost Pamela Cheek recommended Spence as a prime candidate to paint a mural for the IT department.
“I knew that Dr. Spence had been a professional muralist prior to arriving at UNM and that his work as a historian and teacher gave him insight into the UNM community,” Cheek said.
Cheek said that Spence was immediately interested when he heard about the mural project and reached out to the IT department right away. However, the IT department did not actually like his first proposal and said the context was a little darker than they were looking for.
“I think they were just really uncomfortable with the darkness of it,’ Spence said. “But, what I realize is that when you’re a historian, you spend a lot of time with darkness.”
He added, “as an artist, I’m really comfortable with that, but I have to understand that other people aren’t.”
During the rise of early American history, technology made a lot of changes through capitalism with how it affected people. At first, Spence said he struggled to find a ground level with creating a mural plan that both he and the IT department could agree on. He said they saw technology as liberating and a solution to most world problems, but Spence was more pessimistic about it because of the ways it has hurt people in the past.
It all came down to how well Spence knew the people working within IT. He decided to sit down and get to know the people in the building. He said he wanted to express the messages that the IT department wanted to preserve while still highlighting the historical perspective that he thought was critical to include. With his revised proposal, the mural plan was accepted at the end of the fall 2019 semester.
“We are so inspired by what we're doing here, and to have this mural represent that is just an amazing opportunity. To have the artist put that into his own projection of what we’re doing is just key,” Chief Information Officer Duane Arruti said.
The mural is designed to be about the indigenous origins of IT here in New Mexico. It is going to be 40 feet long and 10 feet tall, placed inside the IT building near the north entrance.
The main focus of the mural is to show how social networks have been key to the historical background of New Mexico, just like networks have been vital to our advancements in technology. From a distance, the mural will show “The Lady in Blue” in the center, representing Our Guadalupe, a nun from Spain who was said to have been brought to New Mexico by six angels in order to preach indigenous populations. Each of the angels are represented by different historical figures who manifested their networks.
The first figure is the translator for Cortez, Malinche, La Malatzin who spoke multiple languages during the dawn of the conquests. Spence makes her the angel of code-switching.
The second is an anonymous student from the UNM archives expressing determination and commitment as she writes an essay. She is the angel of education.
The third is the angel of cultural distinctiveness, represented by the Navajo Code Talker, Henry Bake Jr. His significance is important to the diverse ways we communicate with each other.
The angel of hope is depicted by UNM basketball player, Keith Mgee because he can be seen as a figure of courage that reflects the IT department.
Diné activist Larry Casuse represents the angel of just voice because he stood up for what he believed in and sacrificed everything to be heard.
Dolores Huerta is the last figure, representing the angel of the healing world. She played a key figure in speaking up for farmworkers in New Mexico and throughout the southwest. She is placed at the left side of the mural, speaking through a megaphone from which the maguey rope from the Pueblo Revolt stretches out to the other side of the mural.
The Pueblo revolt is known as the only successful uprising of indigenous populations against European colonists. Organized by leader Po’Pay, who sent out knotted ropes to every pueblo. One knot was to be untied each day, and when there were no more knots, the revolt began simultaneously across the land.
Spence uses these historical symbols as a baseline to the foundation of IT. Without resources and networking, none of the figures in this mural would have the legacy they now represent. This is the same for IT, as networking plays a key factor in the advancements of technology.
Spence expresses that detail with the use of network diagrams embedded into the texture of each angel. It shows that from a distance each of these people has made a significant impact on our future, but once you take a closer look, you’ll see that none of it could have been done without the intricate detail of connecting networks.
The development of the mural will be associated with a freshman learning community class called Woke Walls: New Mexican Experience in Murals and Art. Spence will be teaching the class in collaboration with Irene Vasquez, combining arts and Chicano/a studies together. The mural is set to be completed by Oct. 2020. More information on the mural can be found at taylorwyoming.com.
Daniel Ward is the culture editor for the Daily Lobo and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @wordsofward34