The community mural project went through three phases with the purpose of building a solid foundation of trust, respect and relationships before delving into the actual designing and painting of the mural. The following photo sets will be separated into those three phases we went through: talking circles, mural design and mural painting. Some of these phases incorporated and intentionally invited community members that were not a part of the talking circles.
While it may have seemed like a good idea to keep all mural sessions open, this would have worked against the safe and sacred space we further established each time the mural crew met and dug deeper. Our first gathering, which was an open invitation to all, was a large group of over thirty people; our crew eventually settled in with a consistent core of community folks who met throughout the entire summer and realized the mural's completion and installation.
By coming together three times a week in the form of an intimate circle we were able to do a lot of listening and contemplating on what others shared. This helped create ownership amongst everyone in the group over what the mural would look like. It was in this phase that we were able to collectively envision what the mural would look like and how we could create something that would speak from and to our communities. Many of the community members in the mural crew shared that at times the talking circles were a very difficult space to be in. Because the nature of the talking circle is for people to listen more than to speak, in order to honor the process of the talking circle, many people had to reimagine the way they engage in conversation. Want to hear more on this process by individuals of the mural crew? Click here.
Compañero, Bryant Partida from Phoenix, AZ who currently resides in Pacoima, CA came to visit us during one of our talking circles. He shared his experience living within two cities where murals are heavily present in the community and how these murals deeply move him and affirm his identity as a Chicano in the Southwest. He shared that he is not directly involved with the current murals that are coming up in his neighborhood, but is a supporter and believes in the power of muralismo or muralism. To give respect to the current mural movement happening in Pacoima, we had a Skype session with April Aguirre, a member of Hood Sisters -- a collective of womyn of color from the San Fernando Valley that have sparked a mural movement in their barrio that represents the struggles and stories of being a mujer.
A projection on a panel of wood covered in scratch paper at Sweet Black Coffee on Milwaukee's Northside; many of our session were rasquache, we made things work with what we had
We found ourselves in disagreement from time to time, which to us became a sign of strength and an opportunity; a time for us to figure out how we could honor everyones points of view and figure out a way to collectively move forward. The mural session one week before the following set of photographs were taken, there was a disagreement in the need to figure out the "statement" of this mural; some folks felt this was necessary in order to come up with the mural design. Others felt that we would be able to come up with a design by following the stories that people had already shared in the circle. In this session, we decided to create three groups that would each write a statement beginning with, "This STITCH Mural is about..." It is important to mention that on this day, we were locked out of our North side location, Sweet Black Coffee, but this did not stop the group from holding the mural session. We decided to post up outside and continue with our planned talking circle.
This session brought about an in-depth look at the intimate and vulnerable work we were doing together, as well as a reminder for us to take a moment to reflect on what it was that we had manifested up to that point together. There was a difference in opinion between some saying that by us coming together, we were "embracing diversity" while others felt that our work was actually "combating segregation" that our city has systemically created. Community members were also cautious in using the word "diversity," and how it has been used in ways to hinder our communities of color. "Diversity" to some us has meant being chosen to fill an institutions "quota" and for others has meant to "develop" our communities, which has lead to gentrification and the displacing of our people.
After our 5 weeks of talking circles wrapped up, everyone transformed their testimonies into drawings that would be incorporated into the mural. After two sessions of sketching, we did a walk through of the drawings to see the how these stories could visually exist together. Because of the work that had been done prior to these five weeks, life become the art even before the mural manifested...and art was integrated into our real life context. We became the “CONTEXT providers” rather than “CONTENT providers” to the mural.
After everyones sketches were done, they were scanned in and projected onto the plywood. All sketches remained exactly as they were in the peoples drawings, and were transfered as so. This allowed for the complete authenticity of everyones sketches, that came from stories to manifest into the mural.
On August 20th, the grills were going, vegetables marinating, families walking through the mazes of vegetables and herbs, music bumping, anticipated poets waiting to scribble their name on the open mic sign-up sheet and endless amounts of hugs and smiles and love.
The four panels of the mural stood up against the pavilion at the center of Alice's Garden, a beautifully healing and necessary urban garden located on Milwaukee's Northside. We layed out paint brushes, tarps and cups of water for our community to join us in starting the first layer of the mural.
The STITCH CommUnity Cookout was our way of closing out the summer and wrapping up our Summer Open Mic Series. We invited our mural crew to begin painting this day and to share a little bout their process thus far.
Now, well after our mural has been completed and installed on both the North and Southside of Milwaukee, we find folks' comments on social media and they warm our hearts: "I remember helping paint the tree" and "My daughters really enjoyed being able to be a part of something like this." "I remember painting!" Looking back, this space was necessary to the whole mural process, it opened hat was very intimate amongst participants and allowed them to begin sharing their experience as a group and as individuals.
To see our complete photo albums, please visit our Flickr album.