The Mural Arts Program’s newest tour takes you through Philly’s collection of African American–inspired murals, guided by the trusty voice of The Roots’ ?uestlove.
The Mural Arts Program recently partnered with the African American Museum in Philadelphia to present the Albert M. Greenfield African American Iconic Images Collection, a project designed to showcase 47 murals that depict the rich African American culture that permeates the city. While the streets of Philadelphia serve as its gallery and the concrete surfaces of buildings double as canvases for its art, the genius of the collection actually rests in its ability to paint an all–encompassing picture of the African American experience. To relate how this culture specifically pertains to Philadelphia, the artists have used the natural urban setting to portray an intimate, harrowing history of a close–knit and high–spirited community.
The collection pays homage to national icons, including Malcolm X, Jackie Robinson and Patti LaBelle, and it gives tribute to local celebrities, such as politician Lucien E. Blackwell and virtuoso Grover Washington Jr. Yet all 47 murals, scattered throughout Philadelphia, are unified by their broader ability to appeal to raw human emotion in all races of people. The mural Common Threads exemplifies this sentiment, as artist Meg Saligman juxtaposes royal figurines of the 19th century European elite with contemporary intercity students from Benjamin Franklin High School. Saligman observes the same grace and poise in both of her subjects and suggests that “such a similarity on the outside [must speak] to a common thread in all of us.”
Though it’s certainly not the first series of murals to adorn Philadelphia’s rugged and industrial architecture, the collection stands out for its exceptional depiction of the distinct African American experience that is unique to Philadelphia. And it definitely doesn’t hurt that The Roots’ drummer, Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, offers his voice to the project and narrates an audio podcast available online for those who want to view the murals independently.
Although the breadth of the collection is included in the comprehensive, interactive website provided by the Mural Arts Program (with each mural supplemented by commentary from scholars, artists and community leaders) the spirit of the collection is unrealized unless viewed in its live context. For all those Urban Studies, American History, Africana Studies and Art History quadruple–majors (and everyone else too), this collection might be right up your alley… literally.
The tour price includes a two–hour guided tour as well as admission to the African American Museum in Philadelphia (a $37 dollar value) for a price of $27 for adults and $20 with a student ID.