Just when the intense heat of August has us all running indoors for cover, the Frist Art Museum presents “Murals of North Nashville Now,” an exhibition of new murals by local artists that illuminate a culturally and historically rich— yet often overlooked—part of the city.
Nashville’s continuous growth makes it an ever-changing city. This change has paved the way for a burgeoning street art community that has produced vibrant, emotive murals throughout the city. “Murals of North Nashville Now” focuses on artists who live, work or have studied in the historically African-American neighborhood of North Nashville. Eight, site-specific murals were created by Omari Booker, LeXander Bryant, Brandon Donahue, Elisheba Israel Mrozik, the Norf Art Collective, XPayne and members of the community’s youth, with Courtney Adair Johnson, Marlos E’van, and Nuveen Barwari.
“Nashville has long embraced creativity, and the current flowering of arts connected to North Nashville demonstrates that we are still a place brimming with cultural expression,” says Curator Katie Delmez.
This exhibition marks the first in the museum’s history dedicated solely to showcasing work by local African-American artists. According to Delmez, it is also the first time a Frist curator has sought to explore a specific concept by commissioning work from a group of artists.
“These artists have strong ties to the neighborhood, and the imagery in their art often reflects its unique character as well as important social issues,” she adds.
The murals were created on 8×12 panels and will be installed in the large bays of the Conte Community Arts Gallery. The exhibition will also feature a map illustrating where other murals can be found in North Nashville.
“The work addresses both persistent problems, such as displacement, gun violence and incarceration, as well as positive elements like thriving black-owned businesses, a revitalized art scene and valuable educational institutions,” explains Delmez. “This duality suggests the multifaceted current position of this community in particular and much of Nashville as a whole.”
In his mural, Omari Booker highlights “redlining,” the legacy of discriminatory lending and investment policies and the gentrification caused by the current residential construction boom. Photographer and graphic designer LeXander Bryant combines text and images to create overt propaganda meant to re-brainwash viewers with messages like “We Want You” that elevate the value of black lives.
Brandon Donahue commemorates victims of local gun violence by creating a memorial wall on which the name of each person killed in 2018 is airbrushed. Elisheba Israel Mrozik focuses on the strength of women in particular as they navigate an environment filled with systemic inequities, incomplete histories and racially motivated violence.
The Norf Art Collective presents the children featured in their Clarksville Pike mural Family Matters, which honors local civil rights pioneers, as maturing individuals rising above negative situations and making plans for a healthy future with education, community and clean natural resources as necessary building blocks. XPayne’s mural features a young superhero attempting to slay the dragon of greed, guided by the wisdom of a stoic elder dressed as Batman.
The Frist is also partnering with Vanderbilt University Press in co-publishing a book titled Murals of North Nashville Now. The publication will include plates of the murals in the exhibition, along with images of several public mural installations in the neighborhood and an essay on North Nashville and its history by Dr. Learotha Williams Jr., associate professor of African American and public history at Tennessee State University.
“Murals of North Nashville Now” will be on display through January 5, 2020, in the Conte Community Arts Gallery with free admission.