Music Feature

"African American Iconic Images" Tour Shares a Proud History

by Kim-Thao Nguyen
With highlights of our favorite pieces from the Mural Arts Program's newest tour.
 Loading slideshow…

Most people will agree that not enough can be said about the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Luckily, a picture is worth a thousand words. And after twenty-nine years and about 3,500 murals, next month this hometown hero of NGOs will be offering yet another fresh program we can all be proud of: the new guided tours of the Albert M. Greenfield African American Iconic Images Collection.

Since 2011 Iconic Images has existed as a special collection that powerfully honors the African American experience in murals throughout the city. In the new guided tours, MAP will be highlighting twenty-one of these pieces with thoughtful examination and expert presentation. The murals are celebrated as timeless works crafted from public and also personal histories. More intimately explored are the stories behind the artists, who hail from near and far, as well as the neighborhoods and the people the mural has impacted.

While the collection commemorates the African American history and culture of Philadelphia, it is meant for all people to enjoy, regardless of ethnicity, nationality or age. Viewers, from musicians to sports fans, can expect to spot a stellar local cast of community heroes such as Poet Laureate Sonia Sanchez, the distinguished “Dr. J” and civil rights activist and lawyer Cecil B. Moore, as well as figures like Marvin Gaye and Jackie Robinson. Charming and obscure tidbits also arise, such as the honorable origins of real urban cowboys, the vain pickiness of famed boxer Smokin’ Joe Frazier, and numerous mind-blowing histories behind unsuspecting mansions and buildings throughout the city.

In true MAP style, Iconic Images continues to thrive from collaboration, including a partnership with the African American Museum of Philadelphia, guidance from a distinguished advisory board, and support from the Greenfield family. During last month’s sneak peek tour, Two.One.Five had the opportunity to meet additional key members of MAP, such as the gold-minded tour guide, TJai Abdullah, whose natural playful delivery somehow manages to prompt speechlessness and awe, yet amplifies excitable Philly pride, nonetheless. Further emphasizing MAP’s sincere loyalty to the city, project manager of the initiative Almaz Crowe explains that, “The more we all know about our collective history, the better prepared we are to communicate and grow together as communities.”

MAP invites the public to achieve this growth through the many more ways both tourists and residents can enjoy Iconic Images. In addition to the guided tour, the entire collection is featured on an interactive website narrated by Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson of The Roots, who will soon begin their own community mural project. For street-spotters on the move, check out the handy smartphone app developed by Blue Cadet, which is available for free download.

And if you find yourself craving a quick taste, here are some of Two.One.Five’s favorite picks from the tour of our own backyard. Seriously, amp that pride; check it out.

Dr. J by Kent Twitchell, 1219 Ridge Avenue
A legend portraying a legend, LA-based artist Kent Twitchell chose to showcase the famed Sixers player as the “shirt and tie and a coat kind of athlete” that Julius Erving aimed to be. Dr.J embodies the reoccurring theme in Iconic Images as “a man of distinction,” or a role model for African American youth in Philadelphia. This suddenly breathtaking piece oversees the neighborhood with a steady gaze, reminding all residents to embrace the same dignity, worthiness and confidence of which Dr. J himself famously demonstrates. For more pieces on distinctive male role models, also keep an eye out for David McShane’s black and white optical illusion of Jackie Robinson and the ethereal air of Ernel Martinez and James Burns' Malcom X.

ARTsolutely Awesome North Philly…Yeah! by Marcus Akinlana, 1516 Parrish Street
Fueled by local artists and musicians and supported by the wealth of numerous schools, Philly is often embraced as haven for creative or personal growth. Marcus Akinlana is a transplanted polymath with a story to which many artists can relate. Displaced by Hurricane Katrina while also losing his entire life’s portfolio in the disaster, Akinlana relocated to Philadelphia, where he continued to use his talent to document and inspire social change. This particular ode to North Philadelphia’s creative dreams features a variety of media, including an on-site, original sound track. Click the above link for a thorough description, although Akinlana summarizes this work charmingly: “You can’t just say the name of the mural, you have to sing it.”

Uptown Reunion by Peter Pagast, 2240-48 N. Broad Street
Any sucker for nostalgia (me!) will melt at the billboard-style commemoration to the history of the Uptown Theatre. Seeing those unforgettable big names like Stevie Wonder, Martha and the Vandellas, Marvin Gaye and of course Georgie Woods (“The Man With the Goods!”) will take the viewer back to a time when true ladies and gentlemen would don their Saturday night’s best to catch some of the greatest performers in the city. With five shows a day on the weekends and three shows a day during the week, the Uptown Threatre was not only a legendary venue that launched the careers of notable names in R&B such as Teddy Pendergrass, but it was also a key stop in the “Chitlin’ Circuit,” a string of venues safe and acceptable for African American entertainers to perform throughout the U.S. Amazing news: Word on the street is that Uptown is in the process of being revived.

Metamorphosis: Blueprint to End Homelessness by Josh Sarantitis, 1360 Ridge Avenue
This 5,000-square-foot mural brings attention to the many community initiatives that MAP offers. Designed by Josh Sarantitis, with the input and assistance of the men enrolled in the drug and alcohol recovery programs at the Ridge Avenue Shelter, the mural’s mixed media execution speaks to the multiple talents each contributing artist, from painting to poetry. Not all visual artists, welders were able to demonstrate their abilities through the elegant metal butterflies streaming through the mural, which as a whole signifies the metamorphosis from addiction to health, and the importance of a supporting community in the process. Catch the piece soon—Metamorphosis will soon be removed.

A Celebration of Poetry and Celebrate the Arts by Parris Stancell, 1531 & 1535 W. Girard Avenue
For murals that revere the written word, these images are uncanny, and true works of visual poetry. A collaborative project including Philadelphia native artist Parris Stancell, Temple University professors and notable poets Kimmika Williams-Witherspoon and Sonia Sanchez, A Celebration of Poetry tells the story of the African American poet's journey while Celebrate the Arts is “an allegory of dreams, some lost and some found.” Excerpts from poems by Sanchez, as well as Theodore Harris, Trapeta Mason and Jerome Robinson weave throughout A Celebration of Poetry, naturally blending every bold thought and emotion with African inspired bright colors and geometric shapes. Between the two pieces, the art leads the viewer’s eyes in continuous whirlwind movement, always finding something better, always realizing some deeper.

Follow me on Twitter @keemthao

blog comments powered by Disqus


No future events scheduled


Follow @215mag