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.