About the Project
Artist Amy Sherald made headlines around the world with her stunning official portrait of Michelle Obama, portraying not only the beauty and intelligence of the woman herself but the depth and breadth of all that she represents as our first African-American First Lady. Sherald’s overall body of work represents reflective, everyday moments within the lives of Black people, evocative portraits that explore how people construct and present their own identities.
Now Sherald brings her work to a new scale: working with Mural Arts Philadelphia on a massive mural portrait in Center City. The portrait is of Najee S., a young Philadelphian and participant in our art education program. Like the First Lady’s portrait, Sherald’s mural challenges ideas about identity and the public gaze, asking the questions: “Who is allowed to be comfortable in public spaces? Who is represented in art? How can one woman’s portrait begin to shift that experience for others?”
The project began with a field trip to Sherald’s studio by some of Mural Arts’ art education participants. The young people spent a day with Sherald, learning about her unique artistic practice, exploring costumes, and taking photographs together that would form the inspiration for the mural.
Three of Mural Arts’ Art Education assistant artists, Kien Nguyen, Arthur Haywood, and Emily White, also had the opportunity to study with Sherald in order to learn about her artistic process. They shared her unique process in classroom exercises with Philadelphia students, and also began work from Amy’s design to execute the six-story-high mural.
Mural Arts Philadelphia Executive Director Jane Golden says, “We are so honored to be working with Amy Sherald. For years we have admired her painting; there is such strength in her composition, her color and the way she captures a gaze. And now she has teamed up with our art education program to create a unique mural in the heart of our city. What an extraordinary moment for Mural Arts and for Philadelphia.”
The Forrest & Frances Lattner Foundation