Posts Tagged ‘mural’

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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.

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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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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]

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Marvin Gaye Mural

Change is sometimes good and sometimes bad, but it is always inevitable. And sometimes change has unintended consequences. One type of change that can have consequences that occurs here in D.C. is the construction of new buildings and the renovation of existing ones. An example of this was the mural of Marvin Gaye that was painted by prominent local artist Aniekan Udofia on the side of the building at 711 S Street in northwest D.C.’s Shaw/Uptown Neighborhood. Construction of an adjacent eight-story building next door to the mural resulted in the destruction and covering up of this piece of public art.

The mural of one of D.C.’s most beloved native sons was not up for very long, but it made quite an impact on the neighborhood.  Aniekan (the artist who usually goes by just his first name) knew when he undertook the original mural that it would eventually be covered up. So he used that as motivation to make it not just noticeable, but unforgettable.  And he succeeded. In fact, the mural became so well liked in such a short time that after its destruction, he was commissioned to create/recreate a new Marvin Gaye mural nearby in the neighborhood, next to the Hollywood Barbershop at 710 S Street (MAP). It was this replacement mural that was my destination for this lunchtime bike ride.

The replacement mural is similar in its bright, colorful composition, and possesses the same spirit as the original. But according Aniekan, it contains more “soul.” In fact, the artist suggested entitling it “The Soulful Return of Marvin Gaye.” I think many residents of the neighborhood are glad to see the reincarnated mural, as are fans of the artist like me.

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

"This is How We Live"

“This is How We Live”

Public art is fairly commonplace in many parts of D.C., and as I have been able to see during my bike rides, it has become even more prevalent over the past few years. One of the contributors to this increase is muralist Garin Baker, who has a number of pieces of public art throughout the city. On this ride my destination was one of his murals, one entitled “This is How We Live.” It is located adjacent to a playground, on the side of a building at 239 Elm Street (MAP), near the corner at 3rd street in northwest D.C. And it is not only located in the LeDroit Park neighborhood, it captures the neighborhood as the subject of the mural.

Mr. Baker currently runs a small public art company called Carriage House Arts Studios, which is responsible for countless public and private large scale mural projects across the country, including in New York and Atlanta, as well as D.C. In fact, Mr. Baker recently completed two murals located at the Turkey Thicket Recreation Center in northeast D.C.’s Brookland neighborhood, which I hope to ride to and see one day soon.

The D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, in collaboration with residents from the LeDroit Park community, commissioned Mr. Baker to design, create and install ”This is How We Live,” a photo-realistic mural, which was done in the tradition of the depression-era muralists hired by the Works Progress Administration as part of the President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal Plan, which employed millions of mostly unskilled, unemployed people to carry out public works projects, including the construction of public buildings and roads.

As one of the city’s first suburbs, LeDroit Park was developed and marketed as a “romantic” neighborhood, with numerous flowerbeds and extensive landscaping to include narrow tree-lined streets. The developers even named the streets after the trees that shaded them, differing from the street names used in the rest of the city. Originally a whites-only neighborhood, it was through the efforts by many, especially actions by students from neighboring Howard University, which led to the integration of the area. By the 1940s LeDroit Park became a major focal point for the African-American elite, with many prominent figures residing there. Today, LeDroit Park residents represent a wide variety of ethnic groups, and it’s that diversity that entices new residents to the community.

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"My Culture, Mi Gente"

“My Culture, Mi Gente”

While on this bike ride in northwest D.C.’s Columbia Heights neighborhood, I discovered a mural entitled “My Culture, Mi Gente.”  But as I later discovered when I was trying to find out more about what I had seen, it is more than just a mural.  And the man who created it is more than just an artist.

“My Culture, Mi Gente” is located at 3064 15th Street (MAP), across the street from the Columbia Heights Metro Station, in northwest D.C.  Funded by the D.C. Commission on the Arts and Humanities, the colorful mural celebrates the neighborhood’s rich diversity and culture, and was created by artists from the Latin American Youth Center’s Art+Media House, including Jamilla Okubo, Daphne Zecena, Janie Velasquez, and Gean C. Martinez, along with lead artist Joel Bergner.

Also known as Joel Artista, Joel Bergner is a social action muralist and street artist, as well as a youth and community art organizer who through art projects seeks to educate others on issues of culture and social justice by creating works that relate stories of those who have been ignored or misunderstood by society.

In addition to “My Culture, Mi Gente,” Joel Berger has also created large public murals in many other U.S. cities, as well in Brazil, the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, Cuba, Kenya, Mozambique, Poland, Cape Verde in West Africa, El Salvador, and Peru. And much like his collaboration with the Latin American Youth Center here in D.C., his other works often feature collaborations with other youth-based organizations which represent incarcerated teenagers, Syrian refugees, youth from marginalized communities, the mentally and physically disabled, and street children in Rio de Janeiro. He has been commissioned by and worked with human rights groups as well, including the International Rescue Committee, the U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, the Boys & Girls Club, UNICEF and Amnesty International.

I also found out that he has created other murals and other public art works here in D.C. So I hope to visit them on some of my future bike rides, and continue to learn more about the social awareness and action which they inspire.

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

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The first photo (above, left) is of row houses in the 100 block of D Street (MAP) in the Capitol Hill neighborhood in southeast D.C.  The other photo shows a mural of the same block of row houses.  It is located in the alley behind the houses, and is painted on the garage door of one of the houses depicted in the mural.  It goes to show that almost anything can be a canvas for an artist with enough imagination, so you just never know where you might find a work of art in D.C.

After discovering this mural, I also discovered a new iTunes app called ArtAround. ArtAround started out as a budding social project to map art in D.C., San Francisco, New York, Oakland, and a few other cities. It has since expanded to include the entire United States.

ArtAround helps users find, map and share the “art around” them, creating a community-generated map, tagged with the locations of publically accessible art, including murals, sculptures, and even graffiti. Anyone can photograph the artwork, then upload its location and information to the ArtAround app. Fellow followers are able to explore the map, comment on particular artwork and update information on the piece to include its name, creator and description.  I uploaded this mural to the ArtAround web site, and am hoping to find out more about it through the app.

The app’s Executive Director Anna Bloom was inspired by walking throughout and exploring the city of San Francisco where she lives. Much like I do on a bike in D.C. In describing the app, she stated, “I think the idea behind the app was to make those experiences, those deeper connections with art — and by extension, place, history and culture — more ordinary. To make them a part of everyday life.”   It is kind of like bringing museums out onto the street, and I’m all for that since most museums won’t let me ride my bike in them.