Mural tour mirrors DCCC reading: Struggle for racial justice

By Anthony Esbensen

Mural Arts Philadelphia hosted a virtual tour of different kinds of art made by people with very diverse backgrounds named “Black Art Matters” for Delaware County Community students.

Matthew Brophy, associate professor of English, said murals in the March 31 tour dovetailed with themes of the College-Wide Reading book, “Brown Girl Dreaming” by Jacqueline Woodson. 

She “addresses themes of race and race relations in the U.S. as she writes of memories growing up in the era of the Civil Rights Movement during the 1960s and 1970s,” said Brophy in an email.  

He added that the “Black Art Matters” tour depicts Black history and the struggle for racial justice. 

“It shows how visual artists, like creative writers, can engage with this political and historical subject matter in their imaginative works.”

To introduce the tour to DCCC students, the program’s director of tours and merchandise, Ellen Soloff, explained the goals of the tour.

“I think Philadelphia Mural Arts exposes people to the artwork, learning about it and possibly becoming donors who want to champion public art.”

Real people with real lives made these different artworks. Others can see their messages and easily relate to them. 

It is interesting to see what inspires people to create art. Soloff said Mural Arts Philadelphia has showcased 4,000 different works over 38 years in the mural arts capital of the world. 

Then, the virtual tour kicked off with host Valerie Block. 

“You see, Mural Arts Philadelphia is more than just an art program. It is a connection to communities, children who are art students, and people with special needs. The program incorporates art into problem-solving for these different groups, making the program different from other art programs.” 

The first piece of art showcased was “We Still Here.” The program’s website explains the mural’s purpose: “The simultaneous racial justice uprisings pushed all Americans to examine the inequities built into our country.” 

The mural created by Chip Thomas, also known as “Jetsonorama,” and Ursula Rucker is located in Germantown.

Photo courtesy of Mural Arts Philadelphia.

The next mural on the tour was “This Deep Desire.” The artwork depicts African Americans connecting with their roots in Africa. The artwork can be seen in North Philadelphia on North Marvine Street. 

Photo courtesy of Mural Arts Philadelphia.

The Philadelphia Mural Arts website states the mural “represents the desire to recapture what was taken from those in America and those scattered and enslaved throughout the African diaspora.” 

The third piece of artwork shown was a tribute to former boxing champion Joe Frazier. 

The artist, Ernel Martinez, worked with the Frazier family to create the mural. 

Frazier was the world heavyweight champion from 1970-1973. He fought some of the most famous boxers, including Muhammad Ali, in multiple bouts. 

Photo courtesy of Mural Arts Philadelphia.

According to the Philadelphia Mural Arts website, Frazier lived in North Philadelphia and managed his gym before his death in 2011.

The mural of Frazier on West Allegheny Avenue was completed on October 1, 2020. 

The final piece of artwork on the virtual tour was “Philly Rising” by Nilé Livingston. 

Photo courtesy of Mural Arts Philadelphia.

Livingston created the “citywide” mural to capture Philadelphia’s underdog mentality and resilience. 

Mural Arts Philadelphia creates a path for many different artists to express whatever they want. Whether it’s race, where they grew up, or the city as a whole, the program creates opportunities for people to make incredible artwork to share with all.

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