When Layqa Nuna Yawar came to the United States from Ecuador, he felt like an outsider. Now, he hopes his 350-foot mural in Newark Liberty International Airport will make travelers from other countries feel welcome.
When designing “Between the Future Past,” his permanent piece in the airport’s impressive new Terminal A, Yawar wanted to “look at different narratives and create new iconography.”
Airport employees were his models. During photo sessions, they had conversations about labor, migration, indigeneity, legal status, queerness, womanhood and the meaning of home.
Those exchanges fed his design. The mural also depicts Lenni-Lenape dancers, flora and fauna, overlooked historical figures, and immigrant families and refugees.
“It comes down to, who gets represented? So, we’re aggrandizing people,” he says. “Public art educates, but it’s so much more powerful when it doesn’t spoonfeed information.”
Creating art has helped Yawar understand himself.
“As an immigrant, I’m always dealing with this idea of identity,” he says. “Immigrant trauma is true, and art is helping me heal and deal with that.”
Yawar grew up in West New York and attended Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts where, as he puts it, he “learned how to be an artist in order to forget how to be an artist.”
After graduating, he stopped painting for a while and traveled the world.
“What I was trying to find is a reason to [make art],” he says. “How could I make portraits of people that could have an impact?”
Eventually, he found his current practice, which he calls “socially engaged mural making.”
Yawar estimates that he has about 100 murals worldwide and about 20 in Newark.
Yawar now lives in Newark, and teaches at Rutgers in Newark and New Brunswick. On May 13, he will be honored at the Newark Museum of Art’s Art Ball.
Although his airport mural is complete, Yawar feels a piece of public art is not truly finished until the public assigns meaning to it.
“[Artists] make things and then put them out into the world,” he says, “and the world looks back.”
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