The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa City artist adorns Iowa City with color in new South of 6 Business District mural

Designer Miriam Alarcón Avila represents her blended Mexican identity with color.
Shuntaro Kawasaki
A mural designed by Miriam Alarcón Avila and Colectivo Luchart titled “Acocemalotic Tilmatli” is displayed at the South District Market in Pepperwood Plaza on Wednesday, Nov. 29, 2023. The Nahuatl title translates to “Rainbow Blanket.”

Located in the Pepperwood Plaza, a new mural titled “Acocemalotic Tilmatli” infuses South of 6 Business District with vibrant colors and emphasizes representation in the area.

The mural was designed by Miriam Alarcón Avila and an artist collective called Colectivo Luchart, made up of artists Seso Marentes, Maitreyi López Alarcón, and Avila’s daughter.

“Acocemalotic Tilmatli” roughly translates to “Rainbow blanket” in English from Nahuatl, a native South Mexican language. The colors of the abstract mural reflect different aspects of cultural identity to acknowledge people who feel underrepresented in Iowa City.

Avila immigrated to Iowa City from Mexico in 2002. She earned her biology degree from the National Autonomous University of Mexico because of her deep love and understanding of nature, but her true passion was for the arts.

In 1985, Avila survived an earthquake in Mexico City that left her family home in peril. After seeing the destruction of so many families, Avila decided she wanted to be a photographer and document the most important sights she witnessed.

“After the earthquake, I was walking through the destroyed city,” Avila said, “One of the things that caught my attention was that one of the newer buildings was standing and it had mural glass windows, and the buildings surrounding it were completely destroyed and there was a reflection of the destroyed buildings on the new one.”

With very little money, Avila purchased her first camera from a pawn shop, along with some film. Then, she started taking pictures. Even though she didn’t know how to develop her first roll of film, capturing what she saw gave her purpose.

Avila kept her passion for photography in the back of her heart until the moment was right. She had a family to provide for and bills to upkeep, so photography wasn’t sustainable for her at that time.

After immigrating to the U.S., Avila received a scholarship to take a photojournalism class at the University of Iowa. She aspired to earn a graduate degree in photography but as a single mother, the time and money needed to do so was an obstacle.

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The professor of Avila’s photojournalism class was Puerto Rican, and as a Mexican woman, Avila felt seen. She said she completed the class, the professor allowed her to audit his classes and independently study in the photo labs when she could.

“I started to kind of record my memory of the development of my images. I lost many rolls,” Avila said. “So many other things get lost, but [in] some of the photographs I remember the moment when I pressed the button on my camera to create the image.”

Avila purchased her first digital camera in 2005, but she could only pursue photography as a hobby outside of work and home. However, studying photography gave her the confidence to learn other art forms, such as sculpting and painting.

Avila wasn’t completely artless in work, however. She has worked at The New Pioneer Co-op in Iowa City for 22 years. She spent most of her time there working as a cake decorator before becoming a store manager.

Through frosting baked goods, she engaged with color theory and different techniques of painting.

Avila began working with other artists around Iowa City to document life as she saw it, wanting to promote connectivity and community and uplift disparaged voices.

Downtown Iowa City is decorated with beautiful murals on almost every street, but there is a lack of color in the rest of the city, Avila said. She finds most of the U.S. to be dull in color in comparison to the rest of the world.

“Color is a primordial thing in ourselves. It’s not just in our culture but being able to live in a place where one house is pink and the next one is yellow and the next one is purple,” Avila said. “It just helps bring happiness to your soul and your heart.”

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About the Contributors
Zhenya Loughney
Zhenya Loughney, Arts Reporter
Zhenya is a fourth year theatre design and journalism double major at UI. They are passionate about artistry and creativity. They are from Lebanon, KY.
Shuntaro Kawasaki
Shuntaro Kawasaki, Photojournalist
Shuntaro Kawasaki is a fourth-year student at the University of Iowa majoring in Neuroscience with a minor in Chemistry and Cinema. Outside of The Daily Iowan, Shuntaro has interned at the Carver College of Medicine, writing a research paper.