On May 25, 2020, people around the world were shocked and horrified by the murder of George Floyd, a Black man who was suffocated by a police officer in Minneapolis.
For Kayla Whitney, an artist living in Hamilton, Ont., that terrible event became the impetus behind a new mural celebrating the Black diaspora around the globe. Titled “For the Culture,” the mural was created by artists Tandeka Tremblay and Aichoucha Haidara, in partnership with Kayla and The Salvation Army.
Unveiled last summer, the mural spans more than 30 metres—the entire length of the eastern wall of the Army’s thrift store in downtown Hamilton. It uses many different symbols to pay homage to Black people from various cultural backgrounds.
Kayla notes that the mural project is about addressing racial inequality in society at large and in the public art scene. Rather than make the mural herself, she adopted the role of facilitator, raising funds to create the mural, hiring the artists, finding a suitable location and pitching in with whatever needed to be done along the way.
“I wanted to do a mural in support of the Black Lives Matter movement, and I wanted it to be a paid opportunity for Black women artists because we don’t have much diversity in our public art in Hamilton,” she notes.
The two women who designed the mural brought a wealth of experience and knowledge to the project. Tandeka is a graphic designer, illustrator and first-generation Canadian, with parents from Jamaica and St. Vincent and the Grenadines in the Caribbean. Aichoucha is an artist and designer from Timbuktu, Mali, who uses her skills to create artworks that are often Afrocentric in theme.
“The design is so good, it blows my mind,” Kayla smiles. “Nothing is there just because it’s pretty; it all means something. And I think that’s what makes it so powerful.
Once the artists were hired and fundraising was underway, Kayla faced the challenge of finding the right location—one that would ensure high visibility for the mural.
“I didn’t want to make a mural that felt this important and then have it be way out there somewhere,” she says. “I wanted it to be downtown, to be something that people would walk by and interact with a lot.”
Kayla eventually got in contact with the business improvement association for the King Street area, which is where the Army’s thrift store is located. When approached, the store, which already had an award-winning mural on the western wall celebrating the history of Hamilton, immediately jumped at the chance to be involved.
For Ted Troughton, managing director of The Salvation Army’s National Recycling Operations (NRO), the mural speaks to the Army’s commitment to working toward diversity and inclusion for all.
“When people visit our store and see the mural, I hope they’ll see that we’re an inclusive organization, and we’re not afraid to say that we are,” he says.
“When someone comes to The Salvation Army for help, we don’t look at their sexual orientation, colour, religion, anything,” Ted continues. “We just ask, ‘Are you in need?’ and we help.”
“Having the support of The Salvation Army was huge to us,” says Kayla. “We always knew that we had a big team of people behind us.”
That support was present from start to finish.
“Once we actually started painting, everyone at the thrift store was so enthusiastic,” Kayla says. “They would talk to us and say, ‘I can’t believe what you have done—this looks great!’ ”
Kayla, Tandeka and Aichoucha, along with experienced muralist Leone McComas, painted the mural last summer. Youth from a local arts camp also helped with painting.
“Our goal was that the mural would be positive and inspiring,” says Kayla, “that the Black community would see their culture celebrated and welcomed. We wanted to let people know that you belong here. We’re happy that you’re here.”
In Their Own Words
Artists Tandeka Tremblay and Aichoucha Haidara explain their mural:
1. The floral designs represent the flowers of the Caribbean and Southern Africa. The peacock is a representation of West African religions and cultures that are shared among Indigenous Africans and people of African descent. The swallow-tailed hummingbird is the national bird of Jamaica.
2. This traditional Malian pattern is called BogolanFini. The pattern is typically made using colours created from earth minerals. The vibrant rainbow zebra is to show our love and support to our LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, who face many of the same hardships as BIPOC.
3. Our centrepiece is a Black woman. She portrays elements of identity from African, American and Caribbean culture to display the unity and strength of our cultures together. Her glasses reflect the history of Blacks in Canada.
4. The right side of the design showcases inventions and musical contributions by Black people. A disco ball and piano keys signify the funk and soul era. The guitar is used in music across the globe and can be seen as a musical instrument that connects us all. Stickers on the guitar and the capoeira outline represent some of the musical styles and societal contributions Black culture has created.
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Thank you to the talented artists. And thank you to The Salvation Army NRO staff for giving opportunity for this visual reminder that we are all fellow persons 'in community'.