Jason Harvey stood outside his downtown Phoenix office as a protest for Black lives marched by. He looked back at the glass covered building and saw a blank canvas.
In early August a 19-story mural of author and activist James Baldwin will be posted on the side of the Ten-O-One office building (at Central Avenue and Roosevelt Street) Harvey co-owns in the Roosevelt Row Arts District.
“I was sitting there seeing this powerful movement happening and I was just like, ‘I gotta jump in this and do something different here,’” Harvey said.
The Prescott native knew exactly which artist to reach out to – Antoinette Cauley.
Why Cauley was chosen for this project
Cauley, a Phoenix native, is best known for fusing portraits of young women with hip-hop imagery. Her painting, “Excuse Me I Have on Too Much Jewelry” was winner of Artlink’s juried exhibition last year.
“I immediately called Antoinette, she’s an incredible artist, and I pitched her the idea,” Harvey said.
But the idea changed.
His goal for ‘something different’ meant changing his initial idea of a Martin Luther King Jr. mural on the building. The building already hosts a multi-color mural of Theodore Roosevelt by Debra Hurd.
“MLK is a significant civil rights leader, but it’s a familiar image to people,” Harvey said. “We wanted something that was going to make people question, ‘who is that’ and want to research and learn something.”
Why a mural of James Baldwin?
Baldwin was a novelist, playwright, poet and activist from the 1950s to the 1980s. His work explored themes of sexuality, race, class and masculinity.
For Cauley, a mural of Baldwin would speak volumes.
“He was queer, a civil rights leader, a black man, an author and it was all these beautiful things that created this melody of a person who could speak to so many different populations,” Cauley said.
She hadn’t known much about Baldwin until a recent trip to Paris.
“I never learned about him in school and it was just mind-blowing to me that somebody so important was not taught to me,” she said.
“I started researching him when I got home. I didn’t know that he moved to Paris to escape racism and I just connected with who he was, what his mission was. His voice was so powerful.”
A striking portrait
Cauley painted a striking 5-foot portrait of Baldwin, eyes wide open, looking up. His brown skin melts into the warm tones of his shirt, a green tie pops in the center.
Words outline his body, a quote of his own: “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.”
“This piece was so different for me, but the message is all the same. The message is empowerment, and my focus has always been the Black community because I’m Black,” Cauley said.
Cauley’s painting will be enlarged from 5 feet to a more than 100-foot decal that will be attached to the windows of the building. Construction of the large mural is to begin this week.
Growing up, both Harvey and Cauley have experienced discrimination in their home state, but hope their mural can inspire people in the Valley to think differently.
“It feels like a legacy that I can start to lay down here,” Harvey said.
“I’m grateful that I’m able to work on such a meaningful, powerful project and create representation like I’ve been screaming for more representation for so long,” Cauley added.
“So to actually put that in action, it feels like this is my purpose and I really wholeheartedly believe that we need to see more images of black people done by black artists downtown.”
Elizabeth Montgomery is Arts and Culture Reporter for The Arizona Republic, azcentral.com. Reach her at [email protected] or 602-444-8764. Follow her on Twitter @emontnews. Support local journalism. Subscribe to azcentral.com today.
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