The coronavirus pandemic hasn’t stopped Denver artist Thomas Evans, also known as Detour, from continuing to create. Over the summer, he painted murals of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain and many others as the Black Lives Matter movement and the protests against police violence were hitting their peak. Now, his latest work at 24th and Curtis street in Five Points is a tribute to the work of activist Nga Vuong-Sandoval, a refugee who fled Vietnam with her family as a child — and who now advocates for the rights of other refugees and immigrants.
Vuong-Sandoval was ecstatic when Evans reached out with the idea for a mural.
“I have been a fan of his work and his art for so long. I mean, he is part of our permanent landscape in Denver,” she said. “I was thrilled-slash-surprise-slash-grateful, but just so honored that we’re being recognized as the refugee and immigrant community in this way.”
On Sunday, the artist and his mural’s subject spoke to a small, socially distanced crowd about the work’s significance.
“It’s unfathomable for a lot of people to even recognize the level of trauma and loss that our community has overcome,” Vuong-Sandoval said, pointing at the mural. “They inspire me more than they realize, and for me to be there, it’s a shared celebration and it represents all of us, every single one of us who has ever gone through this experience.”
Despite its emotional significance, the mural itself feels joyful. The colors are bright and vivid, easily visible from a block away. Evans said while his choice of paint colors may have been left up to chance, how he imagined Vuong-Sandoval in the mural was more direct. “We took a couple of shots at my studio, and I wanted to do something that was more aspirational,” he said. “Something looking up in a way, sort of like looking up to the brighter future.”
After brief remarks from Evans and Vuong-Sandoval, attendees were invited to leave their own welcoming messages to other refugees and immigrants. It was a warm spot at the end of a cold year, with the artist, the mural and its real-life counterpart looking toward a brighter future.
“Doing the work is the fun part that I get to do, but it’s also really educational in terms of how it impacts people and how the community is affected,” he said. “There’s some kids today and seeing how they will take something from this and say, ‘You know what, I want to be an artist,’ or ‘I want to do the same type of work this individual is doing.'”