By Emily Jo Wharry
Art is an integral part of social justice movements and murals are an integral part of Highland Park. So it’s no surprise that Black Lives Matter has given rise to new murals on York Boulevard, most prominently, on the walls of Oxy Arts, Café de Leche and Town Pizza.
The Boulevard Sentinel recently explored the origins of the mural at Oxy Arts, the community art center at the corner of York Boulevard and Armadale Avenue. Unlike the other two murals which were painted by professional artists, this one was painted by non professional artists and volunteers from the community, most of them students from Eagle Rock High School, Franklin High School and Occidental College. The volunteers also included passersby who joined in the effort on the spur of the moment.
The lead artist on the Oxy Arts mural, Lucia Sano, 14, will be a sophomore at Eagle Rock High School in the coming school year. Sano was “discovered” by Meldia Yesayan, the director of Oxy Arts, who saw a Black Lives Matter illustration by Sano posted on Instagram.
Yesayan and Frankie Fleming, coordinator of community programs at Oxy Arts, had been searching for ways to utilize the building’s facades and continue their partnership with students at local public schools. They reached out to Sano, asking if her design could serve as the basis for the Oxy Arts mural.
“It felt like a moment of a lot of urgency,” Fleming said. “On-site, we made decisions together about design elements, colors — and people took on different parts of the wall and painted different pieces of it.” The project was completed in two days in early June.
The mural features images of two black women, one in profile looking both pensive and resolute and one with her fist raised, wearing a mask. Another dominant feature is a quote: “I am deliberate and afraid of nothing,” by writer-activist Audre Lorde. Fleming said that the volunteers scoured their phones for a quote while the painting was underway and collectively chose the one from Lorde.
“Everyone was feeling really strongly and moved by this image of the woman with her first up, and we wanted to allow that to have space and breathing room to just be the striking image that it is,” Fleming said. “That quote really resonated with us because it felt like a standalone quote, but also like something that maybe that woman could be saying or feeling in that moment.”
For Sano, who started painting with watercolor and gouache about four years ago at the encouragement of her grandmother, a retired art teacher, the mural project was her largest and most ambitious undertaking to date.
“I just think it’s incredibly important to learn the history [and] to educate people on why the movement is happening and how racism still exists — and the fact that racism exists, because some people don’t even think that’s true,” she said. “It’s been really important to me to continue to educate myself on things that I haven’t learned in school.”
That education involved a lesson in public reaction to political art. While the mural was being painted, most of the passersby expressed gratitude for the artwork, took photos or talked to her about Black Lives Matter, said Sano. “I think it sunk in for me how much art can mean to a community,” she said. “I already knew the importance of art in activism and how it can move people, but it was crazy feeling that myself.”
Still, not everyone was supportive of the mural. Some passersby criticized the painters by yelling “all lives matter,” said Sano. Those barbs prepared her somewhat for the moment on June 21, when she learned that the mural had been defaced with knife marks and permanent marker. She was sad and angry, but not surprised. She and staff members at Oxy Arts quickly restored the mural.
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