For a little over 40 years ago, February has become Black History Month, an event celebrated in the United States, Canada and other countries around the world.
In response to racial profiling and prejudice the Black community has been a victim of and still, but, more importantly, to pay tribute important events and figures, a whole month of celebrations has been devoted to honor the black community countless and unfortunately often overlooked contributions to the world’s history, culture and society.
Politicians, businessmen, journalists and many others have shown their support to the Black community and paid tribute to important figures with speeches and texts since. And, when words are not enough to express the pride felt, visual artists conveyed those emotions through a great variety of creations. Having also the power to overstep language barriers and reach a greater audience, these artworks are becoming a symbol of cultural affirmation.
As this year’s Black History Month theme in Montreal is “Black history is made every day!”, we’ve gathered murals showcasing some well-known figures, but also some less familiar faces who will remind you that the Black community’s contributions are made everyday and in many spheres.
1. Basquiat/Jay Z by Owen Dippie
Acclaimed poet, musician and graffiti artist, Jean-Michel Basquiat’s work filled with political commentaries on systems of racism marked everyone’s mind, in the 70’s. As a fan of both Basquiat and Jay Z, the New Zealand born artist, Owen Dippie, created this mural in Brooklyn, where both Basquiat and Jay Z are from, as a play on words from the famous rapper and businessman’’s line “It ain’t hard to tell I’m the new Jean Michel.”
2. Long live the dead queen serie by Mary Sibande
Dressed in an hybrid of a maid’s uniform mixed with extravagant victorian dresses, these portraits created by the South African artist back in 2010 were meant as a critique of stereotypical depictions of Black women.
The portrait of this great Montreal pianist and teacher was immortalised in the neighborhood where he grew up, in 2014, on his 80th birthday, as an homage to his involvement in the cultural scene, putting Montreal’s jazz culture on the map.
4. Black History Month by Ernie Pryor
As the first celebration of Black History Month happened at Kent State University, organised by students and educators, Ernie Pryor created this painting over the walls of the university’s Center of Pan African Culture as a tribute to its founders.
5. Jimi Hendrix by Nychos
This one doesn’t need introduction. Known as one of the most influential musician in popular music history, Jimi Hendrix has been a role model for many African-American aspiring musician. This piece by Nychos, which was a part of Juxtapoz Clubhouse art fair in 2017, is inspired by one of the rocker’s famous song, “Purple Haze”.
6. Martin Luther King Jr. by Kobra
One of the most important event in the fight for racial equality: Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I have a dream” speech.
“I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. I have a dream today!”
For Kobra, this piece recreating the symbolic event evokes hope, inspiration and awareness.
7. The oldest person on the planet by Sebastien Waknine
Meet Susannah Mushatt Jones. She was 116 years old, oldest person on the planet and the last person living American born in the 19th century and the world’s oldest person alive, when she received a Guinness World Record in 2015. Throughout her long life, she contributed in her own way to society, including establishing a college scholarship fund for African-American students at her old high school.
8. Jackie Robinson by Fluke Art
When the Dodgers heralded the end of racial segregation in professional baseball for him, Jackie Robinson became the first African-American to play in the Baseball Major League.
Montreal born street artist and founder of A’shop, Fluke paid tribute to this example for young black athletes and an inspiration for militants of civil rights with this massive artwork painted as part of Mural Festival’s fifth edition.
9. The Resurrection by Aniekan Udofia
As a tribute to the Black community’s heritage to the Jazz scene, a few figures who marked African-American’s history with their music color this Jazz club wall in Washington DC:
> Ella Fitzgerald, jazz singer, nicknamed Queen of Jazz and First Lady of Song;
> Miles Davis, jazz trumpeter, bandleader, and composer, and one of the most acclaimed musician in the history of Jazz;
> John Coltrane, jazz saxophonist and composer, also Pulitzer Prize winner and canonized as Saint John William Coltrane;
> Bud Powells, jazz pianist and leading figure in the development of modern jazz.
From Rosa Parks to Angela Davis to Malcom X, the “Freedom Wall” in Buffalo showcases 28 important figures of the local and national African-American history to highlight historic and ongoing struggles with social and political inequalities. In addition to encouraging conversation around the long journey for equality and freedom, this mural was meant to highlight the fact that it’s not only one person’s job and that there’s not only one way, everybody can contribute in their own way to this journey.