Aug 8, 2019

How to Ignite Change in Perspectives

by: Laura Kochman

Whether you lean in close to see the details or zoom out for the full panorama, perspective changes everything. Our murals can shift views on a neighborhood, help frame an issue of social justice in a new way, or elevate conversations that are too often kept out of the public sphere.

How can we use perspective to challenge the conventions of fine art? Look closer at the mural on the walls of the beloved Lucien E. Blackwell West Philadelphia Regional Library, and you’ll see that the heroes of these scenes are people of color, adorned in textile patterns and jewelry that celebrate the global culture of the African diaspora.

Legacy (detail) by Walé Oyéjidé. Photo by Steve Weinik.

In a West Philadelphia neighborhood that has become a hub for immigrants from African countries, Walé Oyéjidé’s Legacy lovingly highlights how we construct identity through clothing, and how much history is contained within our everyday choices. The mural includes life-sized children painted on the wall, pointing at the mural in wonder, in a classic painters’ trick of the eye that includes these young people—in the act of seeing themselves reflected in art—as heroes in their own stories.

This spring, painter Amy Sherald used scale to change perspectives: she installed a massive portrait of a young, Black woman, a participant in our Restorative Practices Youth program. The portrait also shows Najee as the hero in her own story: calm, confident, rising above the buildings of Center City. We’re reminded of how important just one person can be.

untitled © 2019 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Amy Sherald, 1108 Sansom Street. Photo by Steve Weinik.

From our work in the criminal justice world, the bold, illuminated Portraits of Justice on the Municipal Services Building across from Philadelphia’s City Hall intends to upend assumptions about people who have been incarcerated. The large-scale portraits from formerly incarcerated artist Russell Craig show participants in our Guild program in moments of laughter and reflection, on public display in monumental proportions at the center of the city.

Portraits of Justice by Russell Craig and Jesse Krimes. Photo by Steve Weinik.

For audiences without this experience, and in a building where many decisions are made that directly affect lives in our city, the mural asks the viewer to think again about the humanity and dignity of people whose lives have been disrupted by the criminal justice system. For those whose faces could have appeared on the wall, or whose loved ones have been touched by the justice system, Portraits of Justice is a reminder that everybody has a right to exist in public space.

Last updated: Aug 8, 2019

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Cheryl Messina says

Stunning. Powerful. Transformative. Incarceration should be about reform, not soul-crushing, unrelenting punishment. So beautiful to see individuals refusing to be defeated from such injustice. May your light continue to shine.