The latest “Traffic Graffic” public art display adds vibrancy and representation to the streets of Federal Way.
Nearly 30 of the city’s vinyl-wrapped utility box murals can be found on most intersection street corners, thanks to the workings of the Federal Way Arts Commission.
The newest “Traffic Graffic” artwork installment (at S. 312th Street and 14th Ave. S.) is a project the commission has been working on since fall 2019, the commission announced on its Facebook page April 14.
“The idea behind this box is to inspire curiosity to all and to make the Latino community feel represented,” said artist Gerardo Pena.
Pena spent his middle school, high school and some of his adult years living in Federal Way, graduating from Thomas Jefferson High School in 2010.
“In all my years, I never really saw any artwork that represented my community,” he said.
The painting represents a young woman with indigenous features and Aztec warrior facepaint. The golden grill on her teeth and her hairstyle are supposed to show that this is someone in modern times, Pena said.
“When people wear grillz, it’s usually to show confidence, power and swagger. Her expression is to demonstrate her toughness and confidence.”
Mixing historic and modern characteristics were important to show that you carry your culture, history and your ancestors in your blood, Pena said.
Pena said the triangle patterns on the utility box art are commonly used in Aztec clothing and the flower is to represent the Mexican Marigold — a flower commonly used in Mexican cultural events including Dia De Los Muertos (Day of the Dead) celebrated in late October.
Having lived in America since he was five years old, Pena said he has learned the importance of self-identity and pride.
“We all come from somewhere else (unless you are a Native) and that’s what makes America so wonderful,” Pena said.
If you are in the area and out for an “essential trip,” the Federal Way Arts Commission encourages you to find the newest Traffic Graffic at S. 312th Street and 14th Ave. S.
You can also support Gerardo Pena’s work on Instagram (@perikotheartist) and by visiting his other artwork located throughout Tacoma.