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Local artists collaborate on a mural in support of Black Lives Matter

Art is able to articulate ideas and emotions in a way that words cannot, capturing the essence of the subjects in question. This is especially true in the case of issues such as racism and discrimination because art can give voice to experiences and feelings that are otherwise difficult to communicate. A group of Hamilton artists is using their art to do exactly this.

The protests that followed the killing of George Floyd in police custody got muralist Kayla Whitney thinking about how she as a white person and an artist could be a good ally to the Black community. Deciding to play to her strengths, she began to look into finding a space for a mural in support of the Black Lives Matter movement. By mid-July, she had found a wall in downtown Hamilton. While she had the space ready to go, she wanted the project to be led by Black artists. 

“I opted not to be an artist on this wall because I am white and this mural isn’t about me. My role in this project is to be helpful whenever I am needed, to answer questions on painting techniques and to deal with all the annoying background paperwork, funding and organizing,” explained Whitney.

Whitney put out a call on her Instagram page for Black artists in Hamilton interested in joining the project and this is how she came to meet graphic designer and illustrator Tandeka Tremblay and artist and designer Aichoucha Haidara

Tremblay’s parents immigrated from the Caribbean and while she was born in Montreal, she spent most of her adolescence in Florida. In high school, she founded an art club, which gave her a community, a sense of belonging and later drove her to pursue art school. She now works for a design agency in Hamilton, creating promotional print pieces and murals.

Haidara is originally from Mali but moved around a lot within Africa growing up. Though she has been drawing all her life, it wasn’t until moving to Canada that she got into painting. Now based in Hamilton, she used her time during the pandemic to develop her art and design skills. 

While the mural itself is still in the early stages, it has officially gone from just an idea to an actuality. Currently, Whitney is finalizing the administrative work regarding the landlord’s approval of the design and funding. Meanwhile, Tremblay and Haidara have spent two weeks brainstorming and finalizing the design for the mural’s design.

Murals are a unique form of art as they are typically more accessible than traditional gallery pieces, as they are often in public spaces. Additionally, murals tend to be up for a very long time; people walk by them regularly for years following their installation. For these reasons, it was important to Tremblay and Haidara to include as much as possible in the mural, so that every time people visit it, they will see something new.

The artists have been very deliberate in choosing which images to depict in the mural to ensure many aspects of the Black experience are represented as well as key pieces from Black Canadian history.

The artists have been very deliberate in choosing which images to depict in the mural to ensure many aspects of the Black experience are represented as well as key pieces from Black Canadian history.

“I found that we went back and forth with ideas to include and how best to depict them in a unified way because we wanted both of our styles to really come together and to merge on this piece. We wanted it to depict a Black woman since Aicha and I both are Black women so obviously it’s an experience that we both lived in. We wanted to illustrate our main hero, the Black woman, to be a representation of African, Black American and Caribbean cultures, all embodied into the same person to show unity of all of our different cultures together, which we don’t often get to see . . . We also wanted to highlight different areas of innovation in history throughout the artwork and wanted to play with scale [to] show the dramatic size [of] our contributions, in music for instance . . . We just wanted to jam-pack it with as much information and knowledge and history that we could, but also in a beautiful package,” said Tandeka.

Both artists hope that the mural can serve as a celebration of the Black community and their history but also a reminder of the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“The Black Lives Matter movement has always faced backlash and pushback, unfortunately. I’ve always been a supporter of the movement and its core message. I often defend it online and in person. But I feel like no human being should have to defend their life’s worth, or their right to live or their life mattering. So it can be frustrating having to keep explaining and defending a movement that at its core is just our right to live and to survive normal interactions. So, this mural can be interpreted as a response to why Black lives matter, I think, because it proudly displays a small portion, like a fraction, of our contributions, to society worldwide,” explained Tandeka.

“So, this mural can be interpreted as a response to why Black lives matter, I think, because it proudly displays a small portion, like a fraction, of our contributions, to society worldwide.”

“I hope that [the audience] will walk away feeling happy and if they’re Black, I really hope that they’ll walk away feeling proud and really inspired to appreciate their own culture and just fall in love with it because not everybody is truly able to accept or enjoy their Blackness so I hope that if that person does come across it, they can be like, “Wow, Black artists did that,” or “it’s really afro-centric work, I feel represented”,” continued Haidara.

The mural is very much a labour of love. All those involved in the project are passionate, full of enthusiasm and dedication. They are eager to move into the next stage of their work and to continue to use their art and their skills to raise awareness and to support Hamilton’s Black community.

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