Artistic murals are a tradition of Nicaragua and of Gettysburg’s sister city of Leon that has traditional, historic significance. After the Sandinista revolution of 1979 overthrew the Somoza dictatorship, thousands of murals were painted on walls across the country, with themes of what had happened before and during the more than 40 years that one family controlled the country. The swirl of colors and theme of hope displayed what was thought to be a bright future on its way. That future has not entirely arrived, or at least not in the way of what were the dreams of 1979. Still, the murals of those days were not lies, and those of today might only be able to hint at truth, but murals in the Nicaragua of 2020 are still a way of life, a form of art deeply embedded in how Nicaraguans see themselves and the world around them.

In 2010, with support from the sister city program Project Gettysburg Leon, a large-scale mural was created by the local arts school of the Sutiaba barrio in Leon, whose name is Xuchialt. Over 100 meters long and painted on the outside wall of a local school, the mural captures many themes of life in the city. Myths and legends such as the headless priest or the golden crab are displayed, history such as the struggle of the indigenous people against colonial rule, along with modern themes of disability and environmental degradation. Several of the teachers at the arts school are deaf, so sign language was incorporated into panels of the mural as it unfurled down the wall. The indigenous language that pre-dates Spanish has dictionary entries incorporated into the artwork. The name of the arts school, Xuchialt, is itself the original indigenous name for the Sutiaba neighborhood. The Spanish colonialists could not pronounce the word, and so Xuchialt became Sutiaba. The school took the true name of their place in tribute, just as the art is in tribute and representation of life in Nicaragua.

Greg Bowles is the current director for Project Gettysburg Leon, the sister city program between Gettysburg and the country of Nicaragua that was founded in 1986.

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