While we had been semi-consciously aware of them, the Clarion Content first encountered the “Face up” Pauli Murray Project Murals up close and personally during our Lakewood Fashion Drive-by. When we chose the Azteca Grill we were not aware who had done the spectacularly colorful Aztec calendar on the side of the building. Photographer Jessica Arden, aka Jessi Blakely, and Fashion Design Coordinator, Cady Childs, who also modeled for these shots, were enamoured with it. It popped and crackled with vibrancy. Later working our way down Lakewood Avenue, we stumbled across the diptych of Reverend Doctor Pauli Murray on the Side of the Institute of Southern Studies.
Fortunately the recent of addition to the Clarion Content rotation of regular contributors, of the burbling fount of artistic enthusiasm and drive that is Catherine Howard gave us somewhere to turn.
Ms. Howard attacked the ‘What is the “Face up” Pauli Murray Project‘ assignment with her usually vim and vigor. We reap the fruits of her labors below.
Pauli Murray Project Murals
by: Catherine Howard
Meander through downtown Durham long enough and you will run into any number of large, vibrantly colorful mural portraits of a warm, smiling woman. The joyous visage that bathes all our faces is the result of a collaborative public art project called “Face Up.” This project engaged more than 1,500 people in a series of events hosted between 2007 and 2009 that fostered dialogue and human connection, expanded awareness of local history, and ultimately resulted in the creation of fourteen permanent public murals.
Led by artist Brett Cook, who has more than twenty years of experience with collaborative community-based art-making, “Face Up” opened artistic and documentary processes to many groups and individuals whose paths had never crossed. While seeking a unifying theme or figure to solidify the project, the multifaceted and complex Pauli Murray proved to be a worthy symbol of Durham’s tenacious and vivacious diversity. Reverend Murray was a Durham native, civil rights activist, women’s rights activist, lawyer, writer, and the first black woman ordained as an Episcopalian priest. Cook eloquently summarized her importance:
“She is everything and nothing. She’s African-American; she’s not African-American. She’s academic; she’s not academic. She’s an advocate for peace; she’s a revolutionary… She’s been marginalized; she’s been on the cover of Life Magazine. All these pieces that literally and figuratively are what people can connect to. And using that as a major thread to build things to.”
This exercise in creating as a collective community culminated in a series of block parties that featured neighborhood discussions, quilting, sketchbooks, a community labyrinth, live music, and mural coloring, as well as an interactive, multimedia exhibition of images, documents, and artifacts that both inspired and came out of the many social collaborations of the “Face Up” project.
The murals, visual artifacts of our community’s collaborations, are now installed on the walls of businesses, schools, and other publicly accessible spaces in Durham, and reflect the creative involvement of Durham’s diverse panoply; toddlers and elementary school children, middle and high school students, college kids and professors, newer neighborhood residents and elders, both wealthy and working class, among them African-Americans, Latinos, whites, and Asians.
The Pauli Murray Project Murals sparked renewed interest in Pauli Murray’s story and has inspired this Durhamanian to read more about Murray’s legacy and to continue to weave insightful and sensitive community-building into her own work.