Black artists at the forefront of Atlanta’s public art movement

George F. Baker III has been painting murals for three years, and he saw his career take off in the summer of 2020. The past year, he said, has been crazy — in a good way. “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 specifically in Atlanta, there’s been a lot more brilliance on a lot more black artists who have done this.”

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Over the past year, many black artists have realized there’s nothing stopping them from putting their work on a wall, other than getting the wall, Baker said.

“We live in a city fueled by black culture. People were looking for black artists to put art on their walls and looking for the black perspective,” he said. “I hope it’s not just seen as a moment in time. I don’t think it will be because we have now shown that we have the ability.

Baker said he was also thrilled to see a growing number of black mural women being 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 mural arts project curated by Austin “Blue” Richardson in which each series of murals consists of 10 artists from all career stages painting in a framed 7-foot square. One round included the “Say Their Names” themed exhibit, featuring portraits of 10 black people whose lives were lost by the police.

Erica L. Chisolm was enlisted by a company to create the #ShineDifferent mural located at Cabbagetown, 87 Estoria St. SE, in tribute to the women featured in a campaign for black haircare brand Creme of Nature.

Chloe Alexander doesn’t consider herself a muralist, but the printmaker has undertaken a mural project in conjunction with Living Walls, the Upper Westside CID and MARTA’s Artbound initiative at MARTA’s Mobility Facility on Brady Avenue.

“I don’t answer just any call to do murals, but this spoke to me because I’m from Atlanta and it’s an area that’s in transition and my memories of that place are very different from what you would see now,” Alexander said.

Yuzly Mathurin described her efforts to capture the beauty of Asian and African American culture. The work was influenced by hate crimes against Asians occurring across the country, Mathurin said in a recent phone interview. As she created plans for the mural, she was also watching the trial of George Floyd and wanted to portray the strength of black people.

The mural, located behind the Plaza Theater in Poncey-Highland, was part of the Adult Swim Atlanta Mural Project, which, in conjunction with Living Walls, provided public spaces for black muralists to display their work.

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Atlanta artist Yuzly Mathurin completed her mural behind the Plaza Theater in Poncey-Highland this spring. She said it was by far the biggest painting she had ever done and it allowed her to do more. (Courtesy of Brock Scott/Living Walls)

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Atlanta artist Yuzly Mathurin completed her mural behind the Plaza Theater in Poncey-Highland this spring.  She said it was by far the biggest painting she had ever done and it allowed her to do more.  (Courtesy of Brock Scott/Living Walls)

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Atlanta artist Yuzly Mathurin completed her mural behind the Plaza Theater in Poncey-Highland this spring. She said it was by far the biggest painting she had ever done and it allowed her to do more. (Courtesy of Brock Scott/Living Walls)

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“When it comes to public art, it’s important to convey what’s happening around you,” Mathurin told AJC in July. “I thought it was appropriate to do something uplifting. I wanted to do something that would make people smile looking at the wall. »

Her mural of a black woman in a flowery kimono wearing red, black, and green striped tube socks and a resplendent Afro with a guitar pick in hand suggests we all find “Spread Love Not Hate” all the time.

The wave of high-profile murals aimed at black artists was mostly led by black women, Art Rudick said, 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 tracking all the murals and planning a celebration for when the city hit 1,000 installs. By 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 creative wave of protest murals from Black Lives Matter supporters,” he said. “That’s what pushed Atlanta over the 1,000 murals mark.”

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Ashley Dopson’s BLM mural was Atlanta’s 1,000th mural, as documented by Art Rudick of Atlanta Street Art Map. (Courtesy of Atlanta Street Art Map)

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Ashley Dopson's BLM mural was Atlanta's 1,000th mural, as documented by Art Rudick of Atlanta Street Art Map.  (Courtesy of Atlanta Street Art Map)

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Ashley Dopson’s BLM mural was Atlanta’s 1,000th mural, as documented by Art Rudick of Atlanta Street Art Map. (Courtesy of Atlanta Street Art Map)

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Credit: document

The city hit the bull’s eye 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 started by Rudick to celebrate Atlanta’s landmark mural status. The effort presents a who’s who of local black women artists.

But many of the projects that have hired black mural artists are public commissions, and artists know that real money, the kind that can allow you to focus 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 much black wall art as I’d like to see,” said artist Sachi Rome. “There’s a lot more room to grow and show, especially when you consider how much money is coming in and going out of this city. I’d like to see a wider net be cast for corporate dollars…not just street work, but the internal beautification of corporate spaces that leads to not only more money but a better money.

Rome remembers growing up in Atlanta, looking at the art on the city walls, and thinking she wanted to do this when she grew up. She realized that dream with enough murals around the city for people to recognize her work. “I like to produce works that people can just take down and enjoy, and I appreciate that the community has access to works of art in the community,” she said.

But art is a low hanging fruit for planners looking for quick beautification projects that will energize an area. “Most artists who do public art are aware of that,” Rome said.. “We provide an entry point to gentrification and pricing your standard of living.”

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Fatimah Stevens’ “Hey Brown Girl” mural in Castleberry Hill was done in 2019 just before the civil unrest in the summer of 2020. (Courtesy Atlanta Street Art Map)

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the "Hey brunette girl" The Fatimah Stevens mural in Castleberry Hill was erected in 2019 just before the civil unrest in the summer of 2020. (Courtesy Atlanta Street Art Map)

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Fatimah Stevens’ “Hey Brown Girl” mural in Castleberry Hill was done in 2019 just before the civil unrest in the summer of 2020. (Courtesy Atlanta Street Art Map)

Credit: document

Credit: document

That’s why it’s so important for black mural artists to remain committed to preserving and building community and recognizing that their sphere of influence is in their hands, Minniefield said.

“My work is a pushback against erasure because I raise black narratives,” said Minniefield, who recently received a grant from the National Endowment for the Arts through Emory Arts for her Praise House project.

Art installations at Emory, Decatur Square and historic South View Cemetery are a tribute to the small wooden structures where slaves gathered throughout the Southeast to worship and move in rhythmic prayer that helped preserve their cultural identity and traditions. “Erasure comes in many forms — gentrification, oblivion, appropriation,” Minniefield said. “Our public monuments are means to preserve our history and history and a means to propel our ideals forward.”

Norma D. Ross