Photo by Joshua Steadman

Messages in Murals

In July/August 2020, Web Exclusive by Lauren KruchtenLeave a Comment

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WEB EXCLUSIVE The fight for voting rights for African Americans and people of color, as well as for racial equality, has been going on since even before the 1960s, when mass civil rights protests broke out over the right for equal rights for Black people as well as for their right to vote. Though the 15th Amendment prevents the federal government from denying any citizens the right to vote, ingrained racism and voter suppression targeting people of color has become even more apparent in the electoral system as of late.

Renowned artist Shepard Fairey believes voting rights are human rights, and that everyone should have equal voting access regardless of race or economic circumstance. In an effort to share this message on a larger scale, he collaborated with photographer Steve Schapiro, who documented many important civil rights protests in the 1960s, on a new 18-foot high mural for the exterior of the Cortez restaurant on Glenwood Avenue. The work, titled “Voting Rights are Human Rights,” was also created in response to George Floyd’s murder.

Photo by Joshua Steadman

Wyatt Closs of Big Bowl of Ideas, a creative production company that collaborates on projects surrounding themes of social justice, selected Fairey’s art for a national project called “Walls for Black Lives.” The project will support a national day of strike for Black lives on July 20. As part of the project, eight cities around the country—including Raleigh—now feature artworks supporting the Black Lives Matter movement.

Closs says he chose Raleigh as one of the participating cities because of its notoriety. “[Raleigh] is a flashpoint for voting rights and the minimum wage is too low, both of which disproportionately impact Black people, a metaphorical set of ‘knees to the neck’ for African Americans generally,” Closs says.

“Voting Rights are Human Rights” is Fairey’s first large-scale installation in Raleigh. Closs says the mural should last at least a month, but he hopes it can last until Election Day on November 3—because of the medium of the artwork, it’s hard to predict how long it will last. Raleigh Murals Project secured the location and local artists Taylor White and Sarahlaine Calva installed the mural at Cortez.

Closs says he hopes Fairey’s mural will make Raleighites pause and contemplate what’s going on in the world right now. “It’s really a message to folks that, not just that Black lives matter, but it’s important to channel the energy from [the strike] into civic engagement and voter participation and be a voice for change,” Closs says.

Fairey also created the Barack Obama “Hope” poster for Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign. In Wisconsin, Fairey will paint the same “Voting Rights are Human Rights” mural on the south side of the 12-story Railway Exchange building in downtown Milwaukee, which served as the city’s headquarter’s for President Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign. The piece is expected to be completed in time for the Democratic National Convention in mid-August.

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