For Richmond, 2018 is a time for us to come together to understand not only the present we live in, but the ways in which the past has influenced us. The Virginia Museum Of History & Culture is doing just that with their most recent installation, Fresh Paint: Murals Inspired By The Story Of Virginia. Armed with their creativity, ten Virginia artists used an item from the museum’s collection as inspiration to create their murals. The result is ten complex and very different works of art.
Speaking with several of the artists provided the opportunity to learn what their murals communicate.
Nico Cathcart is a native of Toronto, Ontario, but is currently, in her own words, “adventuring in the southern wilds of Virginia.” We spoke briefly about the three women who played a key role in Virginia’s past, who are pictured in her mural: author and abolitionist Elizabeth Keckley, who fought for freedom; suffragist Adele Clark, who fought for the vote, to have a voice; and activist Casey Dokoupil, who fights for those who are currently disenfranchised.
“These women guide our everyday life through their actions,” said Cathcart. “They made it okay to use our voices, and break away from the traditional role of women in the household. I hope my piece tells a story of hope to the women of today, and of tomorrow. That we have the power to enact real, positive change. I hope my piece speaks of the value of being strong, a leader, and a survivor.”
Muralist Mickael Broth is the founder of Welcoming Walls, a project which brings art to “the highways and gateways of Virginia.” His mural uses a powerful image of a mother mourning for her dead son in a wartorn landscape. His use of blue is reminiscent of Picasso’s blue phase, or Chet Baker’s melancholic jazz.
According to Broth, he had ”connected with the internal and external struggles of war — in this case, World War One — to depict the way in which decisions on paper have real world ramifications.“ Losses suffered in war “ripple out throughout society,” Broth said.
Modern-day renaissance man Noah Scalin explained his mural, The Readjusters, as “an attempt to show how much Virginia’s history hasn’t changed, both good and bad.” Scalin’s use of figures such as Janie Barret, who created a school in Hampton to help incarcerated African-American girls, and Samuel Tucker, who took part in the first civil rights sit-in in Virginia, demonstrate a response that modern-day activists may look to for inspiration.
“The issues we’re grappling with today about racism and intolerance are longstanding,” said Scalin. “But there have also been amazing models of civil rights activism and collaboration in support of social justice that have existed throughout our history as well.”
Scalin describes his mural as “a story about how even during our darkest times there have always been people who have risen up, spoken out, and worked tirelessly to make sure that this country truly lived up to the values it proclaims.” He compared today’s activists to the multiracial post-Civil War coalition known as the Readjuster Party, active in the 1870s following Reconstruction, which placed priority on African-American education. “[My mural is] a story of the ‘readjusters’ who exist today, who are fighting to tell a new story about our priorities as a state and a nation,” Scalin said.
Austin Miles is a graduate of VCUarts. Her piece, By Any Means, tells the story of Black women utilizing education as a tool to free themselves and others from physical and mental enslavement. It is inspired by two American women of African descent: Mary Smith Peake, a free black woman in Hampton, VA who educated slaves and former slaves both before and after the Civil War; and Barbara Johns, a black Farmville, VA high school student who led walkouts at her school in the early 1950s to speak out about how separate education was NOT equal. “These were two Black women who stressed the importance of education and actively worked towards change,” said Miles.
By Any Means features a woman moving in a forward motion, holding the bright burning “Torch of Knowledge” representing the passing of knowledge from one generation to the next, with an eager flame in her left hand, while she releases her right wrist from the shackles of slavery that once bound her. As the woman moves forward, she is guiding and lighting the way for others to follow. For us in the present, “this guiding light allows us to dig deeper into the psychological bondages that could be occurring within our present community,” said Miles.
The installation features a number of other highlights, including Hamilton Glass’s powerful mural (pictured at top) depicting a pair of black hands bound by a rope with both an American flag and a Confederate battle flag in the background. The most difficult mural to understand is that of Endeavor Gallery’s Wing Chow, whose mural seems to be a vegetal portal to another world; it arouses curiosity standing next to the other murals, and left me wondering what object from the museum inspired it.
You can ponder all ten of the murals for yourself at the Virginia Museum Of History & Culture, located at 428 N. Blvd in the (you guessed it) Museum District, where they will be on exhibition until April 21st 2019.
Images via Virginia Museum of History and Culture