A message in hand prints

Artist Edwin Gil admits he wasn't sure he could pull it off when he won an Arts & Science Council grant last fall to create the city's first politically minded Latino art mural – a project he suggested would help unite the city's growing immigrant population.

But he succeeded on a grand enough scale to win international attention. The 9-foot-high, 25-foot-long mural will be unveiled Friday in south Charlotte after receiving coverage by Latino media outlets in the United States and South America.

Among the chief points of interest has been Gil's unusual approach, which consisted of creating a large United States flag by combining the hand prints and signatures of 2,500 people, most of them Latino children in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools.

His message: This is a country made up of immigrants and we're all a part of it.

“One of the things that surprised me most is that immigrants who are not Latino wanted to put their hands on the mural,” says Gil, who happily agreed. “That made me realize that the issue of immigration is not just a problem for Latinos. It is a problem for immigrants from other countries, too, and that changed my view of the project. It became bigger.”

Called “Home Sweet Home,” the mural aims to inspire Latino immigrants to embrace this country not as just a place to work, but as a place to build a dream. Gil did that in 2000 when he moved from Colombia, South America, to become one of Charlotte's most popular Latino artists.

The mural project is accompanied by a 16-minute documentary by Charlotte filmmaker Catalina Echeverry, who depicts the city's immigrant experience through the stories of four Latino children.

The film will be shown at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at the main library in uptown, while Gil's mural will be unveiled 7 p.m. Friday outside its new home at the Compare Foods market at 818 E Arrowood Road.

A $6,000 ASC grant paid for the mural and film under a new program to promote Latino artists. The ASC also awarded a grant of $5,500 to Latino artist Carlos Herrera Burgos, who focused on pre-Colombia symbolism. That mural will be unveiled 7 p.m. Friday at Pura Vida Worldly Art, 1521 Central Ave.

Cathy McCann of the ASC is impressed that Gil was able to convince CMS to let him bring the mural to five schools so he could collect student's hand prints.

“I had no idea Edwin would have this kind of impact,” McCann says. “He has gone above and beyond his proposal, as far as engaging the community and creating partnerships … I was surprised when he got covered by a newspaper article in Colombia (South America). You have to wonder how they even found out about it.”