The Abya Yala Mural

UNM Physician and Native Health Initiative Sponsor Indigenous Mural Project

The Native Health Initiative and its director, UNM physician Anthony Fleg, MD, are partnering with local Indigenous artists to bring a piece of public art to the city.

Artists Votan Henriquez (Maya/Nahua) and Leah Lewis (Laguna/Hopi/Zuni/Diné) are leading the mural project, titled Abya Yala: Indigenous Freeways. The mural will be painted May 1-2 at 3904 Central Avenue NE. Space for the mural was donated from Homegrown, a Native-owned contemporary art store.

Abya Yala comes from the Guna language spoken in Panama and Colombia and describes the land mass of the Americas, invoking the deep connections of the Indigenous peoples of Central, South and North America.

The Abya Yala mural


“For me as an artist, the concept abya yala itself is healing,” Henriquez says. “It is the bringing together of Indigenous peoples and wisdom from the north and the south, remembering our connectedness to one another.”

The Native Health Initiative and the artists engaged with local youth to help envision the art for the mural.

“It has been beautiful to get their creativity as we prepare to paint,” Lewis says. “We do these murals for positive representation for our Indigenous youth, so they can see themselves and feel proud of who they are and where they come from.”

Fleg, an associate professor in the UNM Department of Family & Community Medicine, says that art plays an important role in community health – especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.


Anthony Fleg, MD
Art has a way of speaking and healing that medical science simply cannot.
Anthony Fleg, MD

“Think about a piece of visual or written art that has helped you make meaning of the pandemic or of social injustices,” Fleg says. “Art has a way of speaking and healing that medical science simply cannot.”

The Native Health Initiative is an Albuquerque-based nonprofit partnership that educates future health care providers on the health inequities in Indigenous communities, promotes community-driven health projects, fosters students in meaningful cultural exchange with host communities and provides mentoring and leadership capacity-building for Indigenous youth.

Categories: Diversity