Archive for the ‘Artwork’ Category

Homeless Jesus

On today’s lunchtime outing I happened upon a sculpture unlike any other public artwork in the city. It is meant to merge with the environment, so it’s not on a pedestal or made with granite. The seven-foot-long sculpture depicts a person shrouded in a blanket and lying on a park bench. The figure is difficult to see because of being covered by the blanket, but upon closer inspection is identifiable by the crucifixion wounds on his feet sticking out from under the blanket. The sculpture, located outside Catholic Charities Headquarters at 924 G Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Chinatown neighborhood, depicts Christianity’s central figure, and is entitled Homeless Jesus.

The work was created by Canadian sculptor Timothy P. Schmalz, who sculpts in the small town of St. Jacobs, outside Toronto. He said the idea to sculpt Jesus as a homeless person came to him while he was walking the streets of Toronto, and witnessed a man or a woman, he wasn’t sure which, covered and on the street.  He was both moved and shocked, and considered that he had just witnessed Jesus.  After creating the piece, which he sees as a visual translation of how Jesus would want us to see him, he initially couldn’t find anyone who wanted it.  So he said at the time, “Jesus has no home, how ironic.”

He estimates that he has made more than thirty of the sculptures, which he sells for about $32,000 apiece. The first was installed at Regis College, University of Toronto, in early 2013.  Since then, the statues have popped up on private property in cities across the country, including Denver, Phoenix and Chicago. The statues are usually financed by an anonymous private donor, as was the case for the sculpture here in D.C., which was subsequently blessed by Cardinal Donald Wuerl, Archbishop of Washington, to commemorate Ash Wednesday in 2015.

I like a statement the artist made at the time the D.C. sculpture was installed. He said, “Hopefully, people think it’s a real homeless person. I hope that when people encounter the sculpture, it will remind people of the gift that Christianity has given civilization: the idea that all humanity is sacred.” But even more, I particularly like the response of the artist to one of the criticisms he received about the work, which has received mixed reviews.  Someone said to him, “Oh, great, now when I see a homeless person, I’ll think of this sculpture.”  To which the artist responded, “That’s the best compliment I could get.”

         

         
[Click on the thumbnails above to view the full size photos]

(The statue makes me think of the verse in The Bible which can be found at Matthew 25:40. “And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.”)

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Reloaded

Murals revitalize neighborhoods with nothing but a little spray paint and imagination.  And an initiative named MuralsDC is spearheading this form of revitalization here in the national capital city.  Sponsored by the D.C. Department of Public Works and conducted in partnership with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities and the non-profit Words Beats & Life, MuralsDC works with business owners in places that have been affected by illegal graffiti, and replaces the graffiti with free-of-charge artwork.  And that’s is exactly what happened to create the mural that I saw on this lunchtime bike ride.  It is entitled “Reloaded”, and is located on the side of the building located at 312 Florida Avenue (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s Truxton Circle neighborhood.

“Reloaded” was created by one of D.C.’s most active mural artists, Aniekan Udofia, whose other local murals include:  a portrait of Marvin Gaye surrounded by streams of color; one featuring a mermaid-like girl swimming in a sea of color at the William Rumsey Aquatic Center on Capitol Hill, and; a brightly striped mural featuring President Barack Obama and Bill Cosby that up until recently was featured on the side of Ben’s Chili Bowl.

One of D.C.’s most eye-catching murals, “Reloaded” shows a curvy woman pointing a sharp pencil from her hips, almost like a weapon. And the pencil-as-weapon imagery seems to jump out of the wall, much like it jumped to the attention of the public when it was first planned.  The Department of Public Works was cautious about the implication of a weapon, but nonetheless supported the choice of mural at the urging of Nzinga Damali Cathie, who works at Kuumba Kollectibles , the art gallery, gift store, and sweets shop located in the building that is home to the mural.  Damali Cathie asserted, “We want people to focus on the true meaning of the weapon, the pencil, which is knowledge and literacy.  [It’s] not a weapon that destroys at all, but more of a tool for building.”  It has since become a neighborhood landmark, and received only positive feedback from visitors to Kuumba Kollectibles.

The Japanese Pagoda at the Tidal Basin

On this bike ride I rode back to the Tidal Basin (MAP) in West Potomac Park to enjoy the remaining cherry blossoms that haven’t yet been ruined, but soon will be by the rain storms that are being predicted to arrive soon.  And as I was walking around the Tidal Basin and passing by The Franklin Delano Roosevelt Memorial on the southwest bank of the water, I saw a rough-hewn stone structure about the size of a man located just a few feet off the sidewalk that surrounds the water’s edge.  When I went over to get a closer look and find out more about it I learned that it is a pagoda.

A pagoda is a tiered tower with multiple eaves, built in traditions originating as stupa in historic South Asia and further developed in East Asia or with respect to those traditions, common to Nepal, India, China, Japan, Korea, Vietnam, and other parts of Asia.

The pagoda at the Tidal Basin is a Japanese one, which is directly derived of the Chinese pagoda, itself an interpretation of the Indian stupa.  Japanese pogodas can be built in many forms.  Some are built out of wood, and are frequently buildings.  But the vast majority of pagodas carved out of stone, like the one at the Tidal Basin.  Stone pagodas are nearly always small, and as a rule offer no usable space. If they have more than one storey, pagodas are called tas.

Like The Japanese Stone Lantern directly across the Tidal Basin, the pagoda was similarly a gift from Japan to the city of Washington.  According to a small plaque on the pagoda, it was presented by the Mayor of Yokohama and dedicated on April 18, 1958, to “symbolize the spirit of friendship between the United States of America manifested in the Treaty of Peace, Amity and Commerce signed at Yokohama on March 31, 1854 .”

[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

Shh!

Riding around the national capital city it’s hard to miss the painted walls that dot D.C. and color each ward.  During this lunchtime bike ride I encountered a large, three-story mural entitled “Shh!” which is located on the northwest exterior wall of the building located 8 Florida Avenue (MAP), at the southwest corner of the intersection of North Capitol Street and Florida Avenue in northwest D.C.’s Truxton Circle neighborhood.

Shh! was created in 2013 by artists James Bullough and Addison Karl.  Through a creative partnership entitled JBAK, which is currently based in Berlin, Germany, each artist brings his unique vision and style to their combined body of work.  Bullough’s main focus is photo-realism, with attention to ambient and deep space, layers, and geometric forms.  He combines contemporary street art techniques and materials with those of realist oil painters, creating pieces of vivid color, as is evidenced by Shh!

In “Shhh,” three playful and lifelike giants mischievously crouch behind a wall.  The models for the painting were students from the neighborhood who collaborated on the artwork’s design.  Through their participation the mural project also taught the young artists the ability to spray paint pieces that are beyond graffiti tagging by providing supplies and pairing youth with artists they admire.  The collaborative effort between the students and artists was coordinated through Words, Beats and Life, a non-profit organization whose aim is to serve as a vehicle to transform individual lives and communities through Hip-Hop.

The mural is part of the MuralsDC Collection, which is a project funded by the D.C. Department of Public Works, in cooperation with the D.C. Commission on the Arts and the Humanities.  The aim of the project is to revitalize neighborhoods, provide permanent graffiti abatement to those properties that have experienced or are at risk of this type of vandalism, and to boost local businesses. 

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Afro-Columbian Mural

The Afro-Columbian Mural, also known as Currulao y Desplazamiento, is a public mural that celebrates the Afro-Colombian culture of D.C., while at the same time increasing public awareness about the widespread displacement and other human rights violations related to the ongoing armed conflict in the South American country of Colombia.

Located in an alley at 1344 U Street (MAP) in northwest D.C.’s U Street corridor, the mural was funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and created by internationally recognized muralist Joel Bergner and his organization, Action Ashé! Global Art & Social Action Initiative, who also painted a number of other mural throughout the city, including Release Your Burdens and Be Free, Cultivating the Rebirth, “My Culture, Mi Gente” and A Survivor’s Journey.

According to the artist, he designed this mural with guidance, input, and inspiration of many of my close friends in D.C.’s Afro-Colombian community, many of whom have been granted political asylum in this country due to the severe human rights violations.  For additional inspiration, he also traveled to the Pacific Coast region of Colombia where the conflict is often most severe to visit his friends’ families, do research, and learn more about the political situation.

The colors of the mural are vibrant, intriguing and welcoming, while the mural’s complex content is depicted by several different scenes.  The size of the woman in the mural and the people underneath her portray the importance of Afro-Colombian traditions and culture.  These encouraging images are in a paradox with the depiction of the Colombian paramilitary, with people running from the forces, while a group of Afro-Colombians being exiled to huts is in the foreground.  And while working with a green field, Bergner also paints an airplane hovering above releasing ammo on the people below.

The mural was completed in 2009, and unveiled at a public event featuring speeches from the Afro-Colombian activist Marino Córdoba, as well as live music, traditional Afro-Colombian food, and a traditional dance presentation by the local Afro-Colombian dance group Tangaré.  The event was co-sponsored by TransAfrica Forum and the U.S. Network in Solidarity for Afro-Colombian Grassroots Communities.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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The Trylon of Freedom

During this lunchtime bike ride I came across an unusual free-standing column in the plaza in front of the E. Barrett Prettyman United States Courthouse, located on Constitution Avenue east of John Marshall Park, between 3rd and 4th Streets (MAP), not far from the Sir William Blackstone Statue and directly across the street from The George Gordon Meade Memorial in Downtown D.C.

The 24-foot three-sided granite obelisk is entitled The Trylon of Freedom, and  was dedicated along with the courthouse in 1954.  The work was designed by Carl Paul Jennewein, a German-born American sculptor.  Best known for sculpting architectural elements in buildings, his work appears throughout the United States.  Locally, Jennewein’s works include two panels in The White House, sculptures in the Robert F. Kennedy Department of Justice building, monumental figures in the Rayburn House Office Building, The Darlington Memorial Fountain, and monumental eagles at the entrance to Arlington National Cemetery and on the Arlington Memorial Bridge.

The Trylon of Freedom features base relief representations of the freedoms exemplified by the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence, with the three sides symbolically representing the
the division of power among the three branches of the Federal government: legislative, judicial and executive.

The southwest side represents the executive branch and depicts freedom of the press, speech and religion.  It is adorned with relief carvings of a men at work on a printing press to illustrate the right to freedom of press; a man giving a speech to illustrate the right to freedom of speech; and a woman kneeling in prayer and a man standing in front of a cross to illustrate freedom of religion.

The southeast side, which represents the legislative branch, is adorned with relief carvings of a courtroom with a defendant standing before a judge and jury to illustrate the right to trial by jury; a man mediating between a prisoner and his executioner to illustrate protection against cruel and unusual punishment; and a wharf with confiscated goods to illustrate illegal search and seizure.

And finally, the north side represents the judicial branch and is adorned with a relief carving of the Great Seal of the United States, and is inscribed with quotes from the Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution and Article V of the Bill of Rights.  The inscriptions read, “We hold these truths to be self-evident. That all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty & the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.  [Declaration of Independence]; “We the people of the United States in order to form a more perfect union, establish justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare, and secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves & our posterity, do ordain & establish this constitution for the United States of America.” [Preamble to the Constitution], and; “No person shall be deprived of life, liberty, or property without the due process of law.”  [Article V of the Bill or Rights]

Interestingly, the Federal courthouse where the Trylon of Freedom is located was renamed in 1997 in honor of E. Barrett Prettyman, the former Chief Judge of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.  And it was Prettyman who 43 years earlier had advocated for the installation of the artwork in front of the new courthouse.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity

On this bike ride I was able to see a public sculpture that most people are no longer able to see.  The sculpture is entitled “Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity” and was created by Frederick Charles Shrady, an American painter and sculptor who is best known for his religious sculptures.  Most people can no longer see it because it is located in the courtyard of the J. Edgar Hoover FBI Headquarters building, which was once accessible to the public but was closed off years ago due to security concerns.

In January 1975, the Society of Former Special Agents of the FBI passed a resolution to create a memorial to J. Edgar Hoover. The memorial, which cost $125,000, was funded through private contributions.  The artist was selected through a design contest, and the sculpture was dedicated on October 13, 1979.

The statue, made of bronze, is 15 feet 7 inches wide and 5 feet 7 inches deep.  The sculpture rests on a rectangular base 2 feet 6 inches by 10 feet 3 inches by 7 feet 4 inches made of slabs of black marble and mortar. The front of the base is carved and painted with the words “Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity”.

The piece depicts three figures which represent Fidelity, Bravery, and Integrity.  These are intended to not only represent the acronym of the FBI, but the core values of the Bureau.  The figures are placed against a backdrop of a large United States flag, which appears to be waving in the breeze.  Fidelity, a female, is on the right, seated on the ground and looking up at a male figure of Bravery. To the left of Bravery is Integrity, a male figure who kneels on one knee, with his left hand on his heart. He looks towards Bravery, who stands flanked by the two other figures. The figures are simple with little detail, but none the less evocative based on their pose and appearance.

In 1993, the piece was surveyed as part of the Smithsonian Institution’s Save Outdoor Sculpture! program and was described as needing conservation treatment.

It’s unfortunate that the public no longer has access to view the sculpture and other displays in the courtyard of the FBI Headquarters building.  Much like the old FBI tour, which was one of the most unique and popular tours in the city prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it has succumbed to the need for greater security to protect FBI personnel.  But I’m glad I was allowed the opportunity to see the sculpture, and to share what I learned about it with you here on this blog.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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You don’t normally see large outdoor murals in purely residential neighborhoods.  But on this lunchtime bike ride in northwest D.C.’s Bloomingdale neighborhood, I happened upon a mural I had not seen before.  Located on the side of a home at 73 W Street (MAP), near the corner of 1st & W Streets, the mural depicts a young African-American woman wearing a yellow tank top and red boxing gloves, and sporting what symbolically appears to be a black eye.  Behind her is a colorful  shooting starburst originating from a specific point behind her.  Because it seemed to me to be somewhat out of place for the residential neighborhood where it is located, I researched it later after the ride.  And the story I learned was as oddly intriguing as the mural itself.

The 34×15′ enamel and spray paint on brick mural is entitled “Boxer Girl”, and was created by a local artist named Lisa Marie Thalhammer.  According to the artist, the image comes from a series of  drawings created while she was participating in a mentorship program at D.C.’s nonprofit Transformer organization, and is about “the empowerment of women, the relationship between self esteem and athletics and the beauty within each individual’s personal struggle and journey.”

The artwork was funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and was originally intended for a different location.  However, that other venue fell through.  It was at that point that Veronica Jackson, a local art collector and the principal of the Jackson Brady Design Group, which focuses on museum and art exhibition design, offered up its current location – her own Bloomingdale home.

After its completion in the spring of 2009, however, some of the nearby residents objected to the mural.  Some described it as out of place for the neighborhood, while others called it a blight or simply bad art.  Some even complained that the mural was graffiti featuring hidden gang code, and described it as too “ghetto” for the area.  By fall of that year the opposition to the mural grew to the point that a meeting of the Bloomingdale Civic Association was scheduled to address residents’ demands that the work be removed or covered up, demands that the mayor’s office was reported to be considering at that time.  Nothing came from the meeting, however, with members of the Civic Association contending that they had no procedure for reversing projects that were already funded.

But the dispute did not simply go away quietly.  As part of a last-ditch effort to rid the neighborhood of Boxer Girl, one nearby resident actually asked police to determine if the mural caused an increase in crime in the neighborhood.  When the statistics indicated that there had been a 55 percent decrease in crime during the time since the mural’s completion, that effort was abandoned.

Years after the murals creation, one of the neighbors who spearheaded the unsuccessful effort to have it painted over was reported to still not be on speaking terms with the homeowner on whose house the mural remains.  But others have accepted it even if, like me, they think it looks a bit out of place.  Yoko Ono once said, “Controversy is part of the nature of art and creativity.”  And that certainly seems to be the case for Boxer Girl.  But I have to say, the mural also seems to realize the artist’s hope that the image would “brighten the neighborhood”.

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Mama Ayesha and the Presidents

During this lunchtime bike ride as I was riding across the Duke Ellington Memorial Bridge in northwest D.C.’s Adam’s Morgan neighborhood, I saw a mural on the side of a building on the eastern end of the bridge.  So I rode over to get a better look at the mural.  I discovered it was on the side of Mama Ayesha’s Restaurant, located at 1967 Calvert Street (MAP), and depicts the restaurant’s namesake standing in front of the White House.  She is flanked on either side by eleven different presidents standing in chronological order, starting with Dwight D. Eisenhower and ending with Barack Obama. The content of the public artwork is so unusual that I just had to find out more about it.

The mural was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts, the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, and private donors.  It was created in 2009 by Karla Rodas, also known as Karlísima, who is a native of El Salvador but moved with her family as a child to nearby Alexandria.  After graduating from Annandale High School and Washington University, she returned to D.C. and has since become one of the capital city’s most well-known and respected muralists.

The initial concept for the mural was planned by Mama Ayesha’s family members, who have run the restaurant since its opening in 1960. However, the original plan did not have Mama Ayesha as the centerpiece of the work. Instead, the family wanted Helen Thomas, a renowned White House reporter and regular customer at the restaurant, to be at the center of the mural. She was envisioned to be seated at a desk with pen and paper in her hand. However, Thomas politely declined the family’s request, opining that Mama Ayesha should be portrayed instead.

The final design depicts Mama Ayesha in traditional Palestinian garb standing in front of the White House. With six presidents on her right and five on her left, she stands in the middle between Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan, with their arms interlocked. Interspersed throughout the mural are other symbols and additional scenes and landmarks from the national capital city. They include a bald eagle, the city’s famous cherry blossoms, as well as the Lincoln Memorial and its Reflecting Pool, the Jefferson Memorial, the Washington Monument and the United States Capitol Building.  And representations of the U.S. flag appear on the sides of the painting.

With President Obama’s successor to be determined in tomorrow’s election, I hope the mural will be updated.  There is sufficient space in front of the Reflecting Pool for either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump.  I very much look forward to the election being over.  And I also look forward to being able to come back to see the updated mural at some point in the near future.

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[Click on the photos to view the full-size versions]

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Release Your Burdens and Be Free

During this lunchtime bike ride, as I was riding through the Bloomingdale neighborhood, I happened upon another of the murals that are so prevalent throughout the city.  Because I have seen his work before, I recognized the artistic style right away as that of Joel Bergner, also known as Joel Artista.  He is a muralist, street artist, and educator.  He is also an organizer of community-based public art initiatives, and is currently the co-director of the international community-based public arts network, the Artolution, which described itself as “an international community-based public arts network founded in creative empowerment through participatory and collaborative art making.”

Release Your Burdens and Be Free is located at the southwest corner of 1st and U Streets (MAP), on the side of a building currently housing a corner neighborhood market.  It features the Hindu deity Ganesha, the “Remover of Obstacles,” and deals with people’s life obstacles that they create themselves by failing to release their personal baggage.  The rest of the symbolism and meaning is up to the viewer to interpret.  To me, the meaning of the artwork is similar to the reasons for my lunchtime bike rides, which allow me to temporarily release my burdens and stress, and feel free.

Bergner has created murals and public art pieces throughout the world, including several other murals here in D.C. which I’ve discovered during previous bike rides.  These include Cultivating the Rebirth, My Culture, Mi Gente, and A Survivor’s Journey.  I don’t know how many other works he has here in D.C., so I can only hope that I will encounter more of his art on future rides.

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[Click on the photos above to view the full size versions]