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Art display of River Deities reflect immigrant cultures that settled along South Side waterways

As part of the restoration of Pulaski Park on Milwaukee’s south side, handful of river deities were given temporary residence along the Kinnickinnic River Trail between 13th and 16th Streets.

The detailed works of art were installed as panels and spaced out along the trail. The displays are part of a public art project sponsored by the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, KK River Neighbors in Action, and the Haggerty Museum of Art.

The panels include bilingual stories about each deity, and were produced through WaterMarks: Art and Science Walks. The collaborative programming series focuses on the Kinnickinnic River and surrounding neighborhoods.

Gabriela Riveroshas created the artwork for “Here Lives Our River Gods / Nuestros Dioses Viven En El Rio.” Each panel depicts a water-related deity that represent a culture with a history in the neighborhood. The gods of nature included Gonggong and Zai Laug, Nanshe, Mishipeshu and Animikii, Atabey and Osun, and Chalchiuhtlicue and Chaahk.

The mostly Latino neighborhood has been supportive of the installation, and its local creator. The panels will remain in place for up to five years. As a Latina illustrator, Riveros felt proud to represent the public art project in her community.

“I enjoyed working with mythology and cultural identity,” Riveros said in a statement. “I wanted to represent the neighborhood through illustrations of river deities. As different immigrants moved into the neighborhood throughout Milwaukee’s history, they brought their river gods with them. With the installation, they live together and protect the river.”

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