By Sean Rolwing, Staff Writer
The mural titled “One Love” currently stands proud and beautiful for all to see next to the Gallery 210 at the University of Missouri–St. Louis. Its explosion of color and symbols stained upon the wood paints a future of hope for all to behold. However, as those rough wood boards behind the beautifully painted art know so well, any expression of human transcendence comes at a cost, which is usually too high.
After the shooting of Michael Brown, Ferguson, Missouri was in a rightful uproar about the treatment of their citizens. Whether one calls them peaceful protests or simple rioting, the fact remains that this shook us down to the foundations of our community. We all waited with baited breath as the grand jury deliberated.
Nevertheless, when they announced their decision not to indict Officer Darren Wilson, feelings of despair and desertion radiated across our rural city until it seemed there could be no light to brighten this darkest day. However, instead of continuing in their social agony, they clung to hope and inspiration instead.
On the day following the grand jury decision, citizen-leaders from the South Grand and Tower Grove East neighborhoods gathered to discuss how to best move forward following the destruction.
During the meeting, Natasha Bahrami of Café Natasha came up with the creative concept of having her boarded-up windows painted rather than simply tearing them down. Unsure about whether the idea would work, the group created an “artist sign-up” to circulate through social media. To their astonishment, within one hour over 100 citizens had shown their wish to volunteer their time and effort into making their community beautiful once more.
As shown on COCA’s online website, these artists were able to discuss in depth how this emotional experience affected their lives. “Reggie”, a Ferguson resident, spoke here about how he dedicated his time and skill to “Painting for Peace” in order to reveal the true face of the community. “As a resident of Ferguson, I knew I had to go out and do whatever I could for my neighbors and the businesses. I felt the world had seen us as monsters and thugs, but we are just like you and your community. I believed the paintings would help show the world that we are human, we wanted peace.”
“Kelley,” another resident of Ferguson, is also shown on the COCA website to have felt this great sense of achievement, “While my group was painting a mural, a mother and her young son pulled over and asked if she could take a picture of her son in front of it. As she left, tears of joy rolled down her face as she told the whole group ‘thank you.’ That brief moment is how I will forever remember the aftermath of Ferguson.”
While over 250 works of art were created from these dilapidated boards that covered the broken windows of many Ferguson businesses, “One Love” was actually a project painted by the Ferguson Youth Initiative using the same artistic medium. But although this work was not a part of the immediate post-painting effort following the damage done in Ferguson, the piece was still inspired by the November 2014 movement. The piece later became a part of the larger movement to beautify the boarded-up windows of Ferguson that particular Thanksgiving weekend.
This in turn inspired “Painting for Peace in Ferguson,” a 2015 book written by Carol Swartout Klein describing the artistic movements following this tragedy. The Klein book became the catalyst for COCA to work with the author and arrange the “Outside In” traveling exhibit. In 2016, these various events formed the basis upon which “One Love” now stands on outside of Gallery 210.
Both staff and volunteers working with COCA have been able to cultivate hundreds of the still usable boards, and other artistic pieces inspired by this work such as “One Love”, with the intention of displaying them for the entire world to see. Dr. Jacquelyn Lewis-Harris of the University of Missouri – St. Louis, is now curating select pieces inspired by this movement for display all across the city.
Dir. Terry Suhre of the Gallery 210 remarked, “Because of its location between the Metro Link and the [Millennium] Student Center, the potential is for hundreds of students to see the artwork.” He continued to say, “The work is well made and stands up to the elements quite nicely…” Hopefully, the message painted upon “One Love” will stand firm against its opposition for hundreds more to witness.
Update: Revisions have been made to the original article to reflect the correct attributions of the information from COCA and “Painting For Peace In Ferguson.”