Atlanta Mural: Cross-Racial Collaboration
Kristin Jordan is opening a beautiful fair trade / handcrafted goods shop called Zumbido. It is tucked between several historically black neighborhoods in South Atlanta.
She wants her store to be like the neighborhood's living room, a place where everyone feels welcomed, and she thought a mural on her building could help do that. So after attempting to contract a couple artists from the neighborhood, she reached out to me.
About the same time, through reading White Fragility and having conversations with my Latina girlfriend, I was learning how important it is to value other voices, especially those who don't look like me. Some white guy's art on the wall was not the best way to make the store feel welcoming to this community and I had no right for my art to be a beacon of the neighborhood.
So I told Kristin I could probably find a local collaborator and she thought it was a great idea.
The initial vision for the mural was to paint a few birds (which is a theme I've been drawing lately) painted onto a visual pattern that fills the wall. That pattern is what I envisioned would be done by the other artist.
After doing a lot of research I found Travis Love who is known for his patterns. And everything else seemed to say he would be a great fit as well.
You've probably seen Travis Love's artwork if you've spent much time around Atlanta. He is famous for his pattern of interlocking loops in bold colors. He worked with Adidas to make the themed tennis shoe of the Atlanta soccer team (Atlanta United). He also painted the large square posts in the "Underground Atlanta" walking mall in downtown Atlanta.
When I met with him I admitted that not only was I a rookie at Muraling (I'm mainly a digital artist) but that I was very much a rookie regarding race relations, emphasized by the fact that George Floyd protests were raging through the city at the same time. I wanted to learn a lot from him, whatever he was willing to share and teach to me.
I was encouraged by a friend to make sure to emphasize to whichever artist I worked with that we would be equal collaborators. I could not be the lead. There would be complete transparency and we would both have equal weight in the design and compensation.
I was just honest with all of this and Travis said it was unusual and he respected that. I told him my initial vision for the piece, he spoke into it, and we landed on something we were both excited about.
The Meaning of the Design
The only two requests that Kristin made for the mural were that we used the colors of the store's brand and that it promoted diversity, community and unity.
Our design for this mural "Birds Paint Together" shows 4 sparrows flying to a spot on the wall where they will help paint the interlocking tube pattern (that happens to resemble worms!) The idea is that these birds that are the same breed, though each looks different, are coming together to create something beautiful (because it looks like something they love.)
We want to communicate to the neighborhood that we want them to create what they love and come together to display it in the shop, along with other creators from across the world. Even if we look different, we are the same species, and can create together.
Zumbido is the name of Kristin's store, planning to be open before the time the pandemic is over. In it she will have beautiful, handcrafted goods, ethically sourced. Some of the goods I got to see were organic, vegan chocolates meant to be held in the mouth as a two minute meditation, beautiful stones mined by small families across the globe, and incenses from ethically gathered plant sheddings In South America. Her products will come from locals as well as from around the world.
Travis is easy going and has a great sense of humor. He is professional with a positive presence, and also a patient teacher.
Travis has seen sides of different cultures, from inner city in his youth, to suburban in his teenage years. He's a skater and a basketball player. He is a graffiti artist, a successful entrepreneur, and a gallery co-founder.
We talked about dreams and girls and race-relations while painting on the same wall. While we sat in his car drinking QuickTrip slushees outside the art store, waiting for the rain to stop he shared his experiences growing up. The cops treated the black kids differently than the whites, and the white skaters wouldn't invite him in. He told me how he just wanted the same rights and opportunities as everyone else.
He gave me insight about the people in the neighborhood. He had skated for years at a park around the corner and played ball just down the street. He knew what they would think of a mural like this, and a shop of this type. He said they would both be a hit.
It was a good decision and a real pleasure to collaborate with him as an equal partner on this project. More accurately, although I brought the project, he was the teacher and I was the student. And through the process of creating together, two people, who are different in the way they look and grew up, found a lot in common. I'd like to think this is how good friendships are born. I look forward to working with you again, Travis.