The artists outside of the Howard Brown Health Center in Chicago’s Boystown neighborhood are causing a scene.
Joggers are stopping, drivers are slowing down — all to stare at what’s being painted.
Swirls of pink, blue, purple and literal gold create an electrifying backdrop for the person dominating the mural’s center: Chicago queer and nonbinary artist Kiam Marcelo Junio, who prefers a gender neutral pronoun.
Their head is tilted slightly back in the 750-square-foot painting, with piercing brown eyes gazing assertively at the viewer. Their lips are painted gold, eyes shadowed hot pink.
“We wanted to find someone who was an artist and a healer and very active in the community,” artist Andy Bellomo said of Marcelo Junio. “If you looked at this person, you could feel a part of your own queer self.”
Bellomo and fellow artists Sandra Antongiorgi and Sam Kirk are behind the creation. They’ve been working on the mural, titled “The Love I Vibrate,” for the past several weeks.
“I don’t know if there’s another mural painted by queer people, for queer people, about queer people in Chicago,” Bellomo said. “I think this is the first ever.”
Multiple entities helped kick-start the mural, including the City of Chicago and Howard Brown.
Bellomo said the point of the piece is to open dialogue about Chicago’s queer communities, particularly communities of color.
For Marcelo Junio, it’s been an overwhelming and vulnerable experience to be the subject of the huge mural.
“So much of what I’ve had to grapple with growing up was about visibility, and feeling like I was never seen or heard,” they said. “So this is a huge flipping of that; so it’s surprising.”
Marcelo Junio says although they’re the face of the mural, they don’t think they represent the entire queer community.
“That’s one thing that I’m having to grapple with, being a symbol for this large idea,” they said. “Queerness to me is about the power of the individual within the collective.”
The three artists hope the mural is the first in a series of similar pieces across the city, particularly on the South and West Sides.
This isn’t the first major mural for any of the artists, but it is the first time they’ve collaborated on a project all at once.
Antongiorgi and Kirk produced the “Weaving Cultures” mural in Pilsen in 2016, featuring portraits of women from various ethnic backgrounds and gender identities. More recently, they completed a mural in Logan Square near the Blue Line “L” stop that re-imagines the neighborhood pre-gentrification. Earlier this year, Bellomo wrapped up collaboration on a new mural in Ping Tom Memorial Park in the Chinatown neighborhood.
But public art doesn’t come without a price. Bellomo’s mural in Chinatown has already been vandalized multiple times. In May, city workers accidentally painted over a mural Antongiorgi worked on decades ago in Humboldt Park.
Antongiorgi says their latest mural is a perfect fit with Howard Brown, which serves Chicago’s LGBTQ communities and is one of the largest such service providers in the country.
“I think Howard Brown is going to stand behind this. This is on their property,” Antongiorgi said. “I can’t imagine it disappearing.”
An official unveiling and celebration of the mural is planned for Saturday afternoon.