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San Antonio Zoo unveils mural created by UTSA students

October 5, 2018

Hippos wearing robes. A turban-topped crocodile. Zebras dressed in vests.

These are three of the anthropomorphized animals living in harmony on a colorful mural painted by art students from the University of Texas at San Antonio for the Africa Live! building at the San Antonio Zoo.

More than 60 people gathered Thursday morning at the iconic building for the unveiling of the mural, entitled “The Marketplace.”

Painted at the bottom corner of the colorful mural are the names of UTSA instructor Andrei Renteria, who oversaw the creation, and his five students: Katie Bollman, Elizabeth Camilletti, Jake Herrera, Rebekah Hurst and Sonya Marie Sky.

“I think creating public art is a really great way to connect people to community and immerse people,” said Hurst, 20. “This is a great opportunity to teach people and connect people to the zoo and each other as they experience it.”

CEO and executive director Tim Morrow, a UTSA alumnus, Morrow acknowledged the student’s work on the 10-week summer project that involved research, design and production, along with input from the African Students Association at UTSA.

The goal, he said, is to take guests to new, faraway places, like the fictionalized trading village in Africa’s savanna region depicted in the mural.

“We wanted to create a literal, physical market with our vendors,” Morrow said, “and the mural adds other dimensions to the experience so the guests will feel fully immersed like they’re in a market in Africa.”

The artistic venture is the zoo’s second collaboration with the university. In the spring, UTSA Honors College students installed three devices that they conceived, researched and designed to entertain the zoo’s three elephants, Lucky, Nicole and Karen.

Greg Elliott, chair of UTSA’s art department, said the mural was a real-world experience for the students, including aspects of professional performance in the public art realm.

“Mural painting has been a major interest in the department,” he said. “We have a rich tradition of it here in San Antonio and a rich, Hispanic tradition and we’re proudly part of it.”

Donors, including UTSA alumni Martin and Rebecca Salinas, sponsored the $15,000 mural project. The couple will also pay for the second of four phases of student-designed artwork, which will cover the building.

“To have a premiere location not only brings life to the culture of San Antonio and our citizens, and also at UTSA and what our students can do to give back to not only the university but the city of San Antonio itself.”

Inimfon Vincent, 18; Kingsley Nweke, 20 and Perebibowei Azazi, 20, from the African Students Association, said that were more than happy to take part in the project.

Vincent said that they didn’t want to focus on just one area of the continent because Africa is often stereotyped.

“We were trying to get away from the stigma of jungles, forests and deserts and tie the animals to their origins,” she said. “We were happy to use our voices as a platform to educate people.”

Nweke said they were intrigued to help the team present a modern representation of Africa.

“We’re just excited to be a part of history,” Azazi said. “One day we’ll come back with our kids and say ‘hey, we were part of this.’ ”

Morrow said the mural is part of the zoo’s ongoing improvements for the 1.2 million visitors the zoo receives annually. Future projects include a Jaguar overhead catwalk, a new animal care hospital and renovating the Rhino habitat.

The zoo director also mentioned the upcoming construction of a $10 million parking garage approved by the Historic and Design Review Commission on Wednesday. The 3-story, 600-space garage, which will be on Tuleta Drive near U.S. 281, will also help expand parking for Brackenridge Park and Alamo Stadium.

Vincent T. Davis is a reporter in the Greater San Antonio and Bexar County area. Read him on our free site, mySA.com, and on our subscriber site, ExpressNews.com. | vtdavis@express-news.net | Twitter: @vincentdavis

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