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‘Fly to Heal’ Mural Takes Off to Amplify the Voices of Children in Migration

First exterior mural at CU Anschutz brings a vibrant start to a year for the Center for Bioethics and Humanities

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What You Need To Know

An exterior mural by local Denver artist Juls Mendoza – a first for CU Anschutz – highlights a summer and fall of programming for the Center for Bioethics and Humanities called “Testimony” that explores the stories of children in migration.

Against a backdrop of pink and purple hues, a masked figure sails on the wind to a new destination and an uncertain future. Monarch butterflies accompany the traveler, undertaking the same arduous journey. 

The new mural represents the first exterior mural for the University of Colorado Anschutz Medical Campus and adorns the west side of Fulginiti Pavilion. Called “Fly to Heal,” the mural by local artist Julio (Juls) Mendoza joins a larger set of programming the Center for Bioethics and Humanities and the Kempe Center will co-host this summer and fall titled “Testimony,” which looks to amplify the voices and stories of children in migration through a variety of art installations and gatherings.

New opportunity to host exhibit 

After joining the CU Anschutz faculty in 2020, Warren Binford, JD, EdM, wanted to find a way to continue her work in advocacy through art, providing part of the inspiration behind the art and events. 

“I approached Matt Wynia (MD, MPH, FACP, director of the Center for Bioethics and Humanities) and asked him if it would be possible to put together a series of events after the pandemic to show the power of bearing witness to injustice, " Binford said. “He was incredibly supportive of this idea to show what can happen when the public takes a stand and says, ‘No, we're not going to allow children to be mistreated in our name and on our behalf.’” 

“Testimony” seeks to tell the story of migrant children at the U.S. southern border through their own words. The program blends art and advocacy to get the children’s perspectives into the public consciousness. 

Exhibit at Center for Bioethics and Humanities opens June 12

More information on "Fly to Heal" and upcoming programming at the center can be found here

To tell that story thematically and draw community members into the elements inside Fulginiti, the feasibility of an exterior mural was discussed. A committee at the center worked closely with facilities and campus leadership to see the mural project come to fruition. Over 96 artists worldwide answered the call for proposals, and the eventual selection was Mendoza, who not only lives in Denver but also experienced childhood migration firsthand.   

Art and artist 

Mendoza was born in El Paso, Texas, and raised in Ciudad Juárez, Mexico. He was surrounded by art from a young age, having a brother who loved to draw. 

When Mendoza was 11, his father moved the family to Denver out of safety concerns in Juárez at the time. The move was difficult for Mendoza, who left behind friends, family and childhood memories in Mexico. Adjustments at school were some of the hardest. 

Animation of "Fly to Heal" by Juls Mendoza

“I don't remember being that shy in Mexico, but when I came here to the States I got super quiet,” said Mendoza. “I was really quiet, really shy at school. I eventually went to Lincoln High School and predominantly all my friends were Hispanic, so I didn't want to speak English. I've been here 22 years, but I still have a strong accent because I didn't practice my English until I got into college. But now I embrace it and feel proud of it because accents are beautiful!” 

Finding a new love for the arts, Mendoza said he turned to painting as a way to grapple with the feelings of shyness and cultural isolation. Themes including sense of place, identity and family began to coalesce with other artistic influences, including Japanese anime such as Dragon Ball Z and the street art across Denver. “I would see a lot of big graffiti pieces around town,” Mendoza said. “That was kind of what caught my attention at first. Seeing them made me want to create and express myself in a new way.” 

Juls Mendoza

"Fly to Heal" artist Juls Mendoza 

When Mendoza heard of the mural proposal at CU Anschutz, he sensed an opportunity to speak personally, but also more universally, through his art. Mendoza hopes “Fly to Heal,” which was installed May 1, resonates with viewers and offers healing. 

“The topic that (the mural) is about is the plight of an immigrant child – everything they suffer and leave behind,” he said. “It is really intimate, really personal, and I’m hoping that someone makes that connection, because I'm sure I'm not the only one. A lot of people went through this and can feel that connection with the image, and hopefully (they can) heal some of that if they still have something they are carrying.”

Building a larger conversation 

“Fly to Heal” represents one part of the “Testimony” programming the center hosts this year. This summer and fall, “Testimony” will include: 

  • Six large illustrations and quotes adapted by Latino illustrators from the children’s book “Hear My Voice/Escucha Mi Voz,” which Binford compiled, detailing the first-person accounts of children detained at the southern U.S. border;
  • 45 watercolor paintings by Andra, who painted 365 pieces based on testimonies collected by Binford and her colleagues from children in government detention;;
  • Selected works from “BORDERx,” a comics anthology depicting human rights abuses and immigration policy; and 
  • Concept art from an exhibit that originally opened in Washington, D.C., called “DYKWTCA” (Do You Know Where The Children Are).

“Testimony” will culminate in a multifaceted program on September 21 when the center will host the world premiere of “Soul Echoes,” an immersive vocal and dance performance; “The Flores Exhibits,” a series of recorded readings of the children’s declarations produced by the Broadway community; as well as a multidisciplinary symposium. The symposium will feature doctors, attorneys, mental health professionals and artists, including some of those who worked on the Fulginiti art exhibits, in a conversation about community engagement and efforts to achieve justice through their different specialties.

These pieces of “Testimony” will run through the end of the year. Center for Bioethics and Humanities Director Wynia hopes the mural and exhibit will inspire contemplation on campus. 

“Juls’ mural and the center’s ‘Testimony’ programming debuting this summer are a window into the role we play on this campus – healers who care for those who come to Colorado from across the country and globe,” he said. “The center hopes these installations will foster conversations and spur reflection and action as we serve our patients in the community.” 

Those conversations are also what Mendoza hopes visitors to the mural receive. 

“That's the most important part – just to generate conversation,” he said. “It's just good to learn about different cultures. Not just to be informed, but to be educated about other cultures and art.”

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