It’s a pretty powerful symbol even when it isn’t there.
The poignant mural on the side of the Manteca Bedquarters building in downtown that was dedicated Monday of comrades mourning the loss of a fallen soldier in the Global War on Terror has already drawn some to tears.
And something that’s not in Jessie Marina’s mural is also evoking emotion. That something is a book.
Marinas’ “Eaglehearts” creation of eight soldiers huddled together shoulder-to-shoulder in apparent prayer was politely declined for inclusion in a City Hall display of his works a few years back. The reason, Marinas was told, was of the Bible one of the soldiers was clutching. Say what you want about the city’s decision, but they walk the tight rope mighty well when it comes to religious issues. A prime example is the prayer before council members. They are always of a general wisdom nature and don’t drill down to the tenets of a specific religion even though they are often delivered by pastors or holy leaders of various faiths.
When Marinas submitted a proposal to the Manteca Mural Society, he provided three options, according to society founder Tom Wilson. One was as you see it, another was with a book but it had no writing on it stating what it was, and the other was like the one chosen but with flags of the union around it.
Society members voted to make the selection.
The city had no hand in the chosen mural design.
The mural society made their decision based on a consensus reached of individual tastes about aesthetics. The book could well have been the Bible, the Koran, the Book of Mormon or representative of a wealth of other faiths. Or, it could have been a secular book.
For whatever reason a group consensus decided the simpler mural was more powerful.
And powerful it is.
It reflects on the awful price of war that many pay. The soldiers are brought together as one by the tragic loss of a comrade. They may be huddling to provide support for each other, meditating, praying — you name it. But they are together for one common reason — reflecting on the life given in the struggle to preserve freedom by combating terror.
The soldiers represented in the mural could be of eight different faiths, they could include atheists, or agnostics. It doesn’t matter. They are one. They were brought to the battlefield for a noble cause. They are huddled following a great loss.
There is nothing anti-religious by not having a nondescript book in the mural. The true power of faith isn’t embodied in a bunch of words whether it is a traditional book or electronic form. It is the same for the concepts of freedom and liberty. They exist not because of a piece of paper but by the commitment to the concepts by men and women through their heart, their soul, and their blood.
The constitution is meaningless unless men and women are willing to fight for it whether it is on the battlefield against those who want to take it away or in day-to-day living against efforts to diminish freedom and liberty for themselves and others.
“Eaglehearts” for a variety of reasons is arguably the most powerful mural yet to grace the walls of buildings in downtown Manteca.
And it certainly evokes emotions and inspires community discussion and debate. At the end of the day, sparking debate and connecting with people is what an artist strives to do.
There was no intent on the mural society’s part to downplay religion by opting not to go with the version that had a soldier clutching a nondescript book. Yes, the use of the book implies it was the Bible to many people but it could have represented other religions such as the Book of Koran as well.
The statement is still there. And so is the inference to prayer or reflection through the body language of the eight soldiers coming together. One can’t read the minds of those who voted, but it seems pretty clear the flags surrounding the mural would have diluted the message. And certainly a book wasn’t needed to make it clear that faith — in one form or another — is part of the circle.
At any rate, the Mural Society has delivered yet another strong piece of public art. And Marinas has certainly gotten people to think.
This column is the opinion of executive editor, Dennis Wyatt, and does not necessarily represent the opinion of The Bulletin or Morris Newspaper Corp. of CA. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 249-3519.