In 2002, The Wall, Las Memorias Project’s idea for a public monument about AIDS in Lincoln Park (the east side of Los Angeles), moved one step closer to reality. The organization’s art committee sent out a call for submissions for artwork.
Los Angeles-based Alex Alferov, one of the artists chosen, had been responding to the pandemic and the loss of friends to AIDS through his artwork since the eighties and saw a chance to offer the community a familiar image. He painted Our Lady of Guadalupe, incorporating a Day of the Dead altar, which reflected the color and images of the murals
of Mexico City and East Los Angeles.
But the mural and its creators suffered an anti-gay backlash. Community critics, in particular members of Defend the Family International, with lawyers from the Pro-Family Law Center in tow, responded, castigating The Wall for spending city tax dollars for, as they described it, a religious-based monument. They claimed The Wall was a monument not only about those living with HIV/AIDS, but that it was also promoting an image they interpreted as the Virgin Mary glorifying the “homosexual lifestyle” and encouraging a “heterophobic” and “antireligious” environment in the community.
Rather than become embroiled in lengthy and costly litigation, and possibly be forced to sacrifice the entire project, The Wall Las Memorias withdrew the mural even though they understood it as a cultural rather than religious statement.
While Alferov’s part of the wall had been empty and shrouded, the other five murals and the names panels remained viewable to the public. In 2006, Las Memorias sent out letters inviting artists to come up with a substitute design for the empty wall. Under strong encouragement from the organization, Alferov submitted “I Once Knew A Child With AIDS.” Alferov described the piece as a “prayer image”—a prayer for the time when AIDS would be in the past, a “horrific footnote of history.” Responding to news reports about children orphaned and living with HIV/AIDS around the world, living in extreme poverty where food and not medications would be uppermost in their minds, Alferov started work.
In Alferov’s words at the time of unveiling: “Standing in front of the unveiling (Friday, September 7, 2007) gave me a chance to reflect on my life and my work, to think of the three years that I have been involved with Richard Zaldivar’s dream, to feel the deep gratitude of being a part of this organization and the monument. At times I felt sad and defeated by the hurdles and hardships we all endured, but it has come to a magnificent conclusion. Salute!
A prayer for the cure.”