Black artists at the forefront of the Atlanta public art movement
George F. Baker III has been practicing Muralism for three years and saw his career take off in the summer of 2020. The last year, he said, has been crazy – in a good way. “The last time I counted I did about 15 to 18 murals all over the country,” he said. “Muralism as an art form has been around for eons now, but especially in Atlanta there has been a lot more shine on a lot more black artists who have done this.”
Over the past year, many black artists have come to realize that there is nothing stopping them from displaying their work on a wall, other than getting the wall, Baker said.
“We live in a city that is fueled by black culture. People were looking for black artists to work on their walls and looking for black perspective, ”he said. “I hope it’s not just seen as a moment in time. I don’t think it will be because now we have shown that we have the capacity. “
Baker said he was also happy to see a growing number of black mural women pushed to the fore.
Artists such as Zipporah Joe’l, Charity Hamidullah, Sachi Rome and COUCH participated in the Stacks Squares mural project in Atlanta Cabbagetown, a rotating wall art project curated by Austin “Blue” Richardson in which each series of murals consists of 10 artists from all stages of their careers painting in a 7 foot framed square. One tour included the thematic exhibit “Say Their Names”, with portraits of 10 black people whose lives have been lost by the police.
Erica L. Chisolm was enlisted by a company to create the #ShineDifferent mural located in Cabbagetown, 87 Estoria St. SE, in tribute to the women featured in a campaign for hair care brand Black Creme of Nature.
Chloe Alexander doesn’t think of herself as a muralist, but the printmaker undertook a collaborative mural project with Living Walls, the Upper Westside CID, and MARTA’s Artbound Initiative at the MARTA Mobility Center on Brady Avenue.
“I don’t answer any call for the sake of painting murals, but it spoke to me because I’m from Atlanta and it’s an area that is in transition and my memories of this place are very different from what you would see now, says Alexander.
Yuzly Mathurin described her efforts to capture the beauty of Asian and African American culture. The work has been influenced by hate crimes against Asians happening across the country, Mathurin said in a recent telephone interview. While creating plans for the mural, she was also watching the George Floyd trial and wanted to portray black strength.
The mural, located behind the Plaza Theater in Poncey-Highland, was part of the Adult Swim Atlanta mural project, which in collaboration with Living Walls provided public spaces for black muralists to display their work.
“When it comes to public art, it’s important to convey what’s going on around you,” Mathurin told AJC in July. “I thought it was appropriate to do something that was uplifting. I wanted to do something that would make people smile when they looked at the wall.
Her mural of a black woman in a flowery kimono wearing red, black, and green striped tubular socks and a resplendent afro with a pickaxe in hand suggests we all find time to “spread love, not hate.” “.
The increase in the number of large-scale murals for black artists has been led primarily by black women, said Art Rudick, founder of the Atlanta Street Art Map which has been documenting Atlanta’s street art scene since 2017.
In the summer of 2020, Rudick was following all the murals and preparing a celebration for when the city will reach 1,000 installations. At the end of 2019, the tally was in the 800s, he said.
Then came the pandemic and the wall installations slowed to almost zero. Then came the murder of George Floyd. “All of a sudden there was a huge wave of protest murals from Black Lives Matter supporters,” he said. “That’s what pushed Atlanta above the 1,000 murals mark.”
The city hit the mark in July 2020 when Ashley Dopson painted a mural at Kipp Strive Academy in the Westview neighborhood. Dopson is currently working with ATL1000, an initiative launched by Rudick to celebrate Atlanta’s status as a landmark mural. The effort features a who’s who of local black female artists.
But many of the projects that black wall artists have hired are public commissions, and the artists know that real money, the kind that can keep you focused on your art and quit your day job, doesn’t always flow. in their direction.
“I think I’m standing in the middle of something, but I don’t necessarily see as many black murals as I would like to see,” artist Sachi Rome said. “There’s a lot more room to grow and show, especially considering how much money is coming in and out of this city. I would like a wider net to be cast for corporate dollars … not just street work, but the interior beautification of corporate spaces that leads not only to more money, but to a better silver.
Rome remembers growing up in Atlanta, looking at the art on the city walls and thinking she wanted to do that when she grew up. She made that dream come true with enough murals all over town for people to recognize her work. “I love to come up with work that people can just stop and enjoy, and I love that the community has access to the artwork in the community,” she said.
But art is a handy fruit for planners looking for quick beautification projects that will energize an area. “Most artists who make public art are aware of this,” said Rome. “We provide an entry point for gentrification and raising your standard of living. “
This is why it is so important that black wall artists remain committed to preserving and building community and recognizing that their sphere of influence is in their hands, Minniefield said.
“My work is a step back against erasure because I elevate black narratives,” said Minniefield, who recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts through Emory Arts for his Praise House project.
The art installations of Emory, Decatur Square and the historic South View Cemetery pay homage to the small wooden structures where slaves gathered in the South East to worship and move in rhythmic prayer that helped preserve their cultural identity and traditions. “Erasure comes in many forms – gentrification, forgetting, appropriation,” Minniefield said. “Our public monuments are a means of preserving our history and our history and a means of advancing our ideals.”