A Celebration of Street Art and the Catholic Faith

IACS hosts event exploring the influences of Catholicism and the presence of the Virgin Mary in urban art across Southern California
ByBy IACS Staff

Editor’s note: A version of the story first appeared in Orange County Catholic, the news publication of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange.

They abound in alleyways and street corners across Southern California — murals awash in bright red, turquoise green and cobalt blue beckoning with images of faith, hope and redemption.

Public art that expresses faith in Our Lady of Guadalupe, along with other Catholic icons and saints, is steeped in historical tradition and cultural significance, and serves an important role in connecting faith communities across Los Angeles and Orange counties.

The influence of Catholicism and the presence of the Virgin Mary in street art were on display in Costa Mesa on Sunday, Oct. 23.

Hosted by the Institute for Advanced Catholic Studies at USC, “Guadalupe: Holy Art in the Streets” featured renowned muralist Fabian Debora in conversation with USC art history Professor Lisa Pon, Ph.D. About 100 attendees gathered at the Hilton Orange County/Costa Mesa for the event, which was part of “Guadalupe – At the Break of Dawn,” a multi-year collaboration between IACS and Loyola Marymount University exploring the academic, religious and cultural impact of Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“Catholic images, especially of the Virgin Mary, play prominent roles in urban art in Orange County and across Southern California,” said IACS President Rev. Dorian Llywelyn, S.J. “We’re excited to highlight the important connection of faith, spirituality and art with an innovative event featuring two fascinating and high-profile speakers.”

Catholic images, especially of the Virgin Mary, play prominent roles in urban art in Orange County and across Southern California.”

Pon is a professor of Art History at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences. Her first book, “Raphael, Dürer and Marcantoni Raimondi: Copying and the Italian Renaissance Print” was published in 2004 by Yale University Press.

Debora is a prominent Chicano muralist, with Catholic spirituality playing an important role in his work. Born in El Paso, Texas and raised in East Los Angeles, he was influenced by the Catholic faith of his grandmother and mother, and especially their devotion to Our Lady of Guadalupe.

“Catholic faith and spirituality have influenced my work since my upbringing,” Debora said in a recent interview at his East L.A. art studio. “In the Virgin Mary, I see the image of a mother who continuously prays with faith and hope that her children will find their way back home.”


Photo courtesy of Danna Alvarado


Debora discovered his love for art when he was six years old. But as he grew older, he struggled with significant challenges: poverty, gang life and battling drug addiction. For a time, he was incarcerated, which provided an opportunity to hone his artistic technique.

Back on the outside, he twice attempted suicide.

His near-death experiences re-ignited his own spirituality and gave him a renewed sense of purpose that led him to a career as an educator, counselor and celebrated artist.

In May 2018, Debora unveiled his mural of Our Lady of Guadalupe at St. Anne Catholic School in Santa Ana. The mural depicts the patroness of the Americas and the Diocese of Orange and is painted on the side of a building at the side of the K-8 school’s parking lot entrance off Sycamore Street.

Debora and his three children painted the mural together, working about 26 hours through two days.

“We put our love and energy into the mural,” Debora said in an interview with Orange County Catholic shortly before the mural was dedicated by Most Rev. Kevin Vann, Bishop of Orange. “I try to engage my kids to create art with me whenever I can. This was an opportunity to do that.”


Photo courtesy of Diocese of Orange


Today, Debora serves as executive director of the Homeboy Art Academy, which provides support and arts education to formerly gang-involved and previously incarcerated youth and adults. His award-winning art prominently features Catholic and spiritual themes, and is found on streets across Southern California, is showcased in solo and group exhibitions throughout the U.S. and Latin America, and is featured in private collections around the globe.

“For me, it’s a privilege to continue the legacy of those who have paved the way – the great Mexicans and pioneering artists who have taught us how to utilize the walls to reclaim our spaces and narratives so that we may impact generations to come,” Debora said. “I think you see that in my works of art.”


Photo courtesy of Adair Murillas