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Five Black Philly Artists We Love—and Would Love to See Replace the Rizzo Mural

Black Lives Matter, and our public art can help change the story.

Public art can beautify, uplift, challenge, and inspire. Some can stir our imagination as to what is possible, while other pieces celebrate where we’ve been. Whether you are conscious of it or not, walking around a city that doubles as an art museum is a constant history lesson and dialogue. Our art expresses our values—who we choose to revere, whose voices we want to amplify with a stories-high monument.

 

This cuts both ways, especially when a piece of public art glorifies someone who is divisive and representative of the pain and injustice in our history. Placing that piece of work in front of a government building serves as a painful reminder of the wound, and sends a message that those in power don’t understand and don’t care.

 

The statue of Frank Rizzo has been one such lightning rod in Philadelphia, and for years many have called for its removal. I will not spill any more ink explaining why his legacy of discrimination and brutality is disgraceful and undeserving of a monument; but it is unsurprising that in this week’s protests following the murder of George Floyd, the statue again became a target and symbol of Black pain. When it was quickly cleaned and guarded as our city burned, its days were numbered. Early this morning, Mayor Kenney finally acted to remove the statue, hopefully signifying a new chapter in our city’s story.

 

Art ignites change. This is the mission statement of Mural Arts Philadelphia, and during the COVID-19 crisis this was never more clear. The organization responsible for so much good and beauty in our city dedicated itself to improving morale, aesthetics, and even public health. Their Space Pad Project activated its artists to create squares throughout the city to encourage social distancing, while the Storefront Artwork Initiative took on our dystopian pandemic cityscape by transforming boarded-up storefronts into canvases for more public art. Yet this same organization had amongst its thousands of works a mural of Rizzo, towering over South Philly’s iconic Italian Market. Today, they have finally announced that they intend to decommission the work.

 

We applaud these steps, and look forward to the landscape of our city continuing to make us proud. We hope that a new mural will soon take its place—one that will uplift and unite us, and live up to its location in the City of Brotherly Love. Let us dream together. Here are just some of our favorite Black mural artists we hope to see get this wall instead.

Alloyius McIlwaine

 

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There are so many layers and meanings embedded in every work by Philadelphia native Alloyius McIlwaine. Blending influences from graffiti, abstract art, and comic book art, each colorful piece seems to move and speak directly to the viewer with its complex of words and images. It all goes together, yet each section grabs your attention at different times or moods.

Nilé Livingston

 

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You may remember Philly native Nile Livingston from her COVID-19 inspired mural, encouraging healthy habits, or you may remember her from her devastating statement on Black marginalization and disenfranchisement in the To the Polls exhibit by Streets Dept. Her artwork, like her life, has an eye towards civic engagement and giving a voice to the voiceless.

Gabe Tiberino

 

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Gabe Tiberino comes from Philly art royalty, and he continues in his family’s footsteps with his work. A graduate of CAPA and PAFA, Tiberino’s work can be found citywide; it is evocative and at times dreamlike. It feels deeply personal, and celebrates Black experiences, icons, community, and family in all its complexity.

Marian Bailey

 

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I want to live in one of this Philly-born illustrator and mural artist’s pieces. Life is in full color, everyone is beautiful, and even the mundane has the potential for fantasy. Which is not to say she doesn’t also tackle deeper and more painful issues– it’s all a vibrant glimpse into how she processes the world around her, and inviting us to see things that way too.

Derick Jones

 

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Philly-based illustrator, comic book artist, and writer Derick Jones can make even a backdrop of rowhomes feel epic, and when he had a mural in the airport, it made us feel like superheroes in our own stories. That’s one big wall down in South Philly–it might just take a hero to replace a villain, and Jones is the man for the job.

 

 

Lead photograph by Laura Swartz: artwork by Alloyius McIlwaine, pictured.

Editor | Email tips to laura@familyfocus.org

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