Ebonique Little, Contributing Writer
Strangers are combining different cultures and artistic talents to create murals throughout Richmond that foster conversations about race relations and healing.
Artist pairs will complete sixteen murals around the city through the Mending Walls mural project. In response to George Floyd’s death and the resurgence of the Black Lives Matter movement, Richmond-based artist Hamilton Glass initiated the project in June to provoke discourse surrounding racial inequality.
“When the passing — or murder — of George Floyd happened, I really kind of just was in this dark place,” Glass said. “The dark place came from people just kind of waking up to say, ‘Oh, there’s injustice happening.’ Of course there is. There’s been injustice happening.”
Floyd, an unarmed Black man, died in Minneapolis police custody in May. His death sparked protests in cities across the country, including in Richmond.
Glass spoke with frequent collaborator and muralist Matt Lively about systemic racism and questioned why the issue was just now becoming a national headline. He said the conversation deepened their connection as they talked about their unique experiences from different racial backgrounds.
“That’s like a model of what the world — our society — should be doing right now,” Glass said.
Glass said he wanted to further intercultural conversations on a local level through the use of public art. The idea for Mending Walls, a project that would foster tough conversations, was formed.
“I’ve always been about the community,” Glass said. “I’ve always been about the power of art.”
The artist immediately began reaching out to organizations for funding and contacted both familiar and unfamiliar artists through recommendations and artist submissions.
As of now, 34 culturally diverse artists have joined the endeavor after being hand-selected by Glass based on their work and skill. The project’s last mural is currently underway.
“Women’s stories are important. Indigenous stories are important. Black Lives Matter is important. They’d have to kill me for me not to show up.” — Meme
After submitting a brief introduction, artists were paired with someone from a different background. The two muralists were then encouraged to have conversations about their lives and important topics to guide the collaboration’s concept. All artists had complete control over the themes and topics referenced in the installations.
Black portraiture artist David Marion and Native American graffiti artist Meme were assigned to work together and completed “Silence Isn’t Golden” on Sept. 14. Located on the side of the Visual Arts Center of Richmond at 1812 W. Main St., the mural presents an abstract representation of water and clouds with serene shades of blue.
“Silence Isn’t Golden” tackles issues such as mass incarceration, arrests of protesters and unclean water systems in Black and Indigenous communities through powerful text and images of activists.
“I wanted our conversation to truly be reflected on the wall,” Marion said. “And that’s why it’s so layered in so many different ideas, because it’s literally everything we talked about.”
Despite some initial awkwardness of sharing personal struggles with a complete stranger, both artists said they enjoyed working together. Marion and Meme fused their ideas of what they wanted in the mural, bringing forth representations of their communities.
“There is no conflict when you’re trying to elevate people’s voices,” Meme said.
Richmond activist and musician Aaron Brown is depicted at the center of the mural above stripes that represent prison bars. They flow from his body as he shouts a quote from author Zora Neale Hurston, “If you are silent about your pain, they will kill you and say you enjoyed it.”
Marion said he faced overt acts of racism as a Black man in South Carolina and wanted to communicate the importance of speaking up, especially in his community.
“The whole idea of the mural is to resist being silent and to really be vocal about your oppression,” Marion said. “Be vocal about your experiences, and don’t accept others being complacent in the silence.”
The mural also features Meme’s family totem pole, which highlights her Native American heritage.
The rushing waters presented in the mural’s background were inspired by conversations with local reservations. Meme said she reached out to about 20 Indigenous artists and asked what they felt would be important for the mural to include.
“Water rights for all” is written along the bottom, and Canadian Indigenous activist Autumn Peltier is depicted balancing a bowl to catch the flowing water. Meme said this detail alludes to the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, a proposed 550-mile natural gas transmission system from West Virginia through North Carolina that was canceled in July.
Hazardous byproducts could have threatened the Appalachian National Scenic Trail’s water supply and soil, Energy News Network reported, disturbing some reservations and Black communities.
Throughout the creation of the mural, the artists encountered a few obstacles during the process, such as consistent rain and an extensive treatment of the brick before it could be painted.
Despite having an injured back at the time of the mural’s creation, Meme said it was important to persevere because of the project’s significance.
“Women’s stories are important. Indigenous stories are important. Black Lives Matter is important,” Meme said. “They’d have to kill me for me not to show up.”
Locations of completed murals can be found at mendingwallsrva.com/walls.