"The whole movement of life is learning" (Krishnamurti). "To be an act of knowing, then, the adult literacy process must engage the learners in the constant problematizing of their existential situations" (Freire). "Once you learn to read, you will be forever free" (Douglass). "I can learn anything I have the desire to learn" (White, S.G.).

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Mural Placement

     Looking at murals in class was soothing; when it comes to the arts I am easy to impress.  I do enjoy painting large surfaces, making a slightly dingy wall come to life again and I can paint a mean stripe; our master bedroom looks like a “circus tent” according to my husband.  Yet last year I was asked to co-teach an art class for the first time and my discomfort was palpable.  Detailed painting to me means window trim.  Thankfully the art teacher upon whom they dumped me was a generous man.  Today I want to share what is right in Richmond that I’d never known about until I became an art “student”.  Perhaps you’ve all seen the g40 murals, maybe you even drive by one each day, but me… well I was never a student of the arts before.  Had I driven past one before I may have been charmed and amused by the “graffiti”, admittedly I never would have thought that a world famous artist had done the work and that I should slow down or even stop.  I guess it is safe to say I am now enchanted and educated.
      A little background… Art Whino is a D.C. based art gallery which looks for fresh new talent from around the world and has a large existing base of artists, some 1200 total.  Little did I know that Richmond had a new art district, but in art class I learned how 12 of the world’s top muralists from Art Whino were invited to Richmond in April of 2012 to create 20 large scale wall murals .  Some of the murals appear to be bright, colorful and playful, like the bunny above.  Others, like the robots below, most likely represent the human condition when we become entranced by electronics, be it television or film.  Somehow I doubt the depth of the bunny’s message, but am looking deeper at the robots image.  The placement of the murals teaches us even more about the images.  The bunny located on the bright brick surface on a street corner, where nice cars park and the tree hangs over, give me the security of thinking this is fun.  Yet the robots embody a deeper thought process, the placement more somber causing a viewer to think before smiling.
       I consider this image, found on 18th Street, to be more reflective of the area.  Although clean and tidy in appearance during daylight, I wonder if the dogs come out at night.  Perhaps they even wear protective gear when they search for scraps.  Although I have survived living in Boston and Philadelphia, I gravitate to trees, not pavement, and certainly not vacant lots.  After living in the tri-cities area for fifteen years I know little of Richmond.  I cannot tell you if a block from this dog mural is a Hyatt or a Marriott, all I can do is consider the art's placement and ponder the artist’s intentions.
       These Angry Woebots amuse me.  I wasn’t sure of the artist’s intention with the beady, but blue eyes.  Were we supposed to think of angry panda bears I wondered?  And so I looked up the artist.  Maybe I’d learned something in art class after all; I wasn’t far off the mark.  The artist, Aaron Martin, is described as famous for his “stressed out emotional pandas, which represent the story of struggle”.  Still I struggle not to be amused and wonder more about the area surrounding the mural.  Is this a wall that once was covered with neighborhood graffiti and now a slightly lighter approach was offered?
       My favorite mural is found on 1501 West Main Street by a Belgian artist, ROA.  The first mural is found in Richmond, the second one is the one I discovered when trying to learn more about this artist.  I’m not sure why the animals appeal to me, on their backs and suffering in the city, but I love the tail leading to the window, as if it were a fire escape one could slide down.
       His twelve foot rabbit in Hackney is a subject of disagreement.  Though the business owner had given ROA permission to paint, the Hackney Council wanted the “grafitti” painted over.  ROA’s reponse was that he wanted to re-populate the city with animals.  The Hackney Council felt it was their job to keep the streets clean and threatened two years ago to follow through sending the business owner the bill.  A petition of 2000 saved the rabbit.  Again I considered the placement; it reminded me of a cute, quaint street, maybe not wealthy, but I wondered why the Hackney Council considered the rabbit “unclean”.  The rabbit though attracted 2000 with a powerful message to remain.
    Perhaps as an “art teacher” (Ha, ha) I learned a little more about enjoying the view, but as a literacy student I now view the placement of the murals too.  Take a drive and see what our city offers.  I am planning a second drive, with a second view.  And if I haven’t lost you yet, you might want to visit youtube to take the Richmond tour and see the artists at work.  Enjoy.


  1. OK Lisa - I kept thinking about Roa's eagle and had to make another comment. I must be "reading against the text" on that mural b/c it didn't sit well with me. It's not the fact that you posted it - but the essence of mural itself. I love this post.

    I see an upside down, dead eagle with an arrow thru its heart. This is a bald eagle b/c the only color is the gold beak and talons - to me it was unmistakable. The eagle is the symbol of the USA.

    I'm a veteran, my husband is a retired Colonel. The eagle is the symbol for the rank of Colonel. An eagle with an arrow is part of the symbol for the US Department of Defense. To me, the dead eagle with the arrow thru its heart is a few steps shy of burning our flag. It upsets me. Of course, this is my Culture speaking now.

    So, the context of the mural is Richmond, VA. I have dead eagle, arrow, Richmond. The arrow is the symbol of war. The eagle holds an arrow in one talon and an olive branch in the other. (war and peace). Richmond was the capital for the confederacy during the civil war - the war that torn the country apart, brother v. brother, almost tore the Union apart.

    At the time this mural was painted, our country was fighting over how to pull troops out of Afghanistan, how to end the war in Iraq, and everything involved in the "war on terror" was tearing us apart, killing us, maming our young people who serve their country, tearing our hearts out. War is destroying our country. War will take down the great Eagle.

    Or, maybe it's the people who shot down the Eagle because they want war to end. Either way, it's so much more than a dead bird to me.

    Wow, isn't this cheerful? I'm a real hit at parties now, whipping out a little CDA to get the conversation going.

    Thx! Susan

  2. Oh Lisa I so enjoyed this blog! As you all may have noticed I too was "enchanted" by the article last week regarding this world that we have all walked past at least once in our life time. I for one had truly not given these masterpieces perhaps the consideration that they were due:). This is not of course to say that I did not enjoy the work, but who knew what could truly be "hidden" within these texts! Whether an artist who chose a change of venue, or a message that has been styled in a discourse that only some may truly understand....my eyes have definitely been opened to a world within a world that I never knew. And, as I read the response from Susan, definitely a world that we may never close our eyes and minds to from now on.....one may debate, a good thing or no?

  3. I promise this is my last comment....I'm eating CROW b/c the eagle is not an eagle, it's a hawk. The symbolism of the hawk is that of messenger. I guess that means we have killed the messenger? Or, don't kill the messenger? Is ROA referring to himself and other graffiti artists for bringing their messages to us? We treat them like criminals because we are disturbed by the message? Of course, ROA was invited to take part in the mural project in Richmond....I guess that means we need to be prepared to "read" his message?

    I still say I have never seen a hawk with a gold beak and talons, but I had it all wrong with the eagle. How humbling. I feel like that dead hawk.

  4. Susan,I love your openness!These images do produce a visceral reaction - and a lot of the time we just don't know how to interpret those "body" responses. I applaud your (and Lisa and Holly's) effort to "read" the physical response. This is the road to discovery...

  5. I have to be glad it is a hawk... I was feeling guilty about the eagle on his back appealing to me. Although appealing may still be the wrong word, it's just the mural that made me stop and look deeper into the artist and I did truly love the alligator (or is this a crocodile?). Thanks ladies for caring enough to look and discover.

  6. I had Susan's initial response to the eagle (I'm a veteran and the widow of one as well). It was gratifying to learn that it's a hawk, but then do we get into a hawk representing conservatives? Is our society becoming so democratic that conservatism is dying? Just my thoughts.

    I live outside Richmond, so I don't get to drive around downtown that much. Now I feel like I want to have my husband take me driving around downtown to see the art. Although I must admit, it takes getting over initial discomfort seeing buildings 'defaced', even if it is art, even if it is literacy, and even though it takes incredible talent. I never stop learning, and part of learning is learning what we know and why we think we know it.

    Joyce M.


Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts on this post. Diverse opinions are welcomed.