Chronicling Los Angeles’ iconic Virgin of Guadalupe street art

by | Feb 10, 2023 | Religion

LOS ANGELES (RNS) — There’s nothing that Oscar Rodriguez Zapata enjoys more than going out for a drive to explore Los Angeles’ vast neighborhoods in search of the Virgin of Guadalupe.He packs his Nikon Z6 II and a Fujifilm X100V and photographs murals, landscapes, storefronts and people across the city’s Historic South Central and Eastside to South Bay. Street vendors, lowriders and the L.A. skyline are among his favorite subjects.
But his biggest LA muse is the Virgin of Guadalupe, said Zapata. Murals, mosaics and other artwork depicting the brown-skinned virgin and patron saint of Mexico grace the walls of laundromats, liquor stores, mini markets, churches, bakeries, taquerias and tire shops.
“Whenever you see a virgencita you feel safe. You know that your people, your gente, your raza are around,” said Zapata, 35, who, though raised Catholic, identifies as nonreligious. “It makes you feel welcome.”
Oscar Rodriguez Zapata poses with a Virgin of Guadalupe painting in Boyle Heights in Los Angeles that he was photographing, Saturday, Jan. 21, 2023. RNS photo by Alejandra Molina
January marked 10 years since he began documenting images of Guadalupe, at first on his phone for his own pleasure, but eventually taking his hobby more seriously, particularly as he noticed more and more Guadalupe images were vanishing. In late 2017, he created an Instagram profile devoted to his photos of Guadalupe murals in order to preserve them. He now has more than 6,000 followers.

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Zapata focuses on examples of the Virgin on dilapidated buildings in need of a fresh coat of paint or the more intricate and colorful ones that take up entire wall space, as they risk succumbing to gentrification and displacement of Latino communities in L.A.
The Virgin Mary, he said, “is much more than a religious symbol.”
“It’s part of the community and part of who we are,” Zapata said.
A Virgin of Guadalupe mural in Walnut Park in Los Angeles County on a dilapidated building in Nov. 2021. Photo by Oscar Rodriguez Zapata
Our Lady of Guadalupe is celebrated in many Catholic parishes across Southern California on her feast day, Dec. 12, marking the appearance of Mary to St. Juan Diego, an Indigenous man, near Mexico City in 1531. But Guadalupe finds her way into shrines and murals in Latino neighborhoods year-round, and chroniclers like Zapata document her to pay homage to the culture, fait …

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