On a recent overcast morning in downtown Brownsville, a small group of artists were at work creating a portal to another dimension.

Sofia Castellanos, the Mexico City-based muralist leading the project, which involves about a dozen local artists, said her aim when designing the portal, which is actually a mural, was to create the sense of a world apart yet connected. The massive artwork covering the entire side of the Craftland building opposite the Brownsville/George Ramirez Performing Arts Academy at East 11th and East Washington streets tilts toward surrealism, which she said runs through her work.

The work, commissioned by the city, is titled “To the Other Side of the Cosmos.” Castellanos said she wanted to integrate space into the theme, but in a different way. Rather than spaceflight, she aimed to express the idea of hidden worlds revealed when planets align in a certain way. Castellanos described it as a “dream place where we have butterflies, magical things, a world full of possibility.”

“I like murals to transport you somewhere else,” she said.

Castellanos is a big fan of monarch butterflies, which winter in Mexico and migrate through South Texas each year. Monarchs feature prominently in the 11th Street mural, with its emphasis on local fauna and flora, including nopales, to evoke connected-ness to this place. Castellanos also likes to paint feminine figures, and “Cosmos” is centered around a surreal image of a female warrior.

“It’s like we are right here and she is welcoming us to this fantasy place,” she said.

Castellanos said that when she was contacted last year by the city about the project she asked if any local artists would be interested in helping out. Artists from the Brownsville Beatification Committee, Brownsville Museum of Fine Art, city of Brownsville, the Mexican consulate, Revival of Cultural Arts (ROCA) and the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley are all working on it.

“Especially with murals this size, whenever I go to a new place I like to get artists from there to help me, because I think murals are really a kind of art that allows you to build a big team and to actually collaborate with more people, because it’s not the same as a painting,” Castellanos said. “With murals it’s always been about teamwork.”

Although her works can be seen in Mexico, Portugal and Thailand, “Cosmos” is only Castellanos’ second mural in the United States. A few years ago she was commissioned to create a piece in Miami’s renowned Wynwood Arts District, she said.

Castellanos said she loves mural making because of the opportunities for travel and “chances to connect with people through creativity.”

“I think that’s really a universal language for everyone, and public art is one of the types of art that allows you to connect with even more people,” she said. “It takes the art out of the gallery.”

Mexico City artist, muralist and illustrator Sofia Castellanos, from left, works alongside local artist Jesse Burciaga and Alejandra Zertuche on the latest mural project lead by Castellanos titled “To the Other Side of the Cosmos” along East 11th Street in downtown Brownsville as Castellanos collaborates with many local Brownsville artist to create the large mural. (Miguel Roberts/The Brownsville Herald)

Mexico was famous for its muralists a century ago, and today the movement is undergoing a revival, Castellanos said.

“Great muralists are arriving from everywhere, and in Mexico it’s very special for me to do murals because it connects me with my history,” she said.

Castellanos arrived in Brownsville on Oct. 10 and the team started work on the mural the following evening. It should be finished early next week if the weather cooperates, she said. Castellanos said she considers creating murals a type of performance art itself, and encouraged people to come check it out and say hello.

“I think it’s very important for people to see the art happening,” she said. “It’s very beautiful to see a painting or mural finished, but I think it’s even more special when you get to see how it happens. Every stage of it has its own special magic. I think it’s something worth coming to see.”

Castellanos said she’s happy “Cosmos” happens to be opposite the performing arts academy, which she described as a “creative temple.”

“This is a place where art is celebrated and people come here to express themselves in different ways, and I like the fact that my mural is going to be in front of that, kind of like a mirror of creativity in the street,” she said.

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Photo Gallery: Mural in the making