In an effort to learn more about the Black history of Memphis, and recognizing that the city I live in has many stories to tell, I set off on a journey of discovery. As I drove around, I found myself drawn to the murals that do their part to tell these stories in a unique and beautiful way. Their stories spoke to me. From Binghampton to Midtown, from Downtown to Orange Mound, and finally, to South Main Street.
I found artists who use their time to develop youth programs and organize community clean up efforts, teachers who inspire students to tell stories with colors, non-profit organizations that bring communities together, lift people up, and honor the compassion and courage of heroes, artists who encourage us to celebrate the past and dream of the future, and all who fully embrace the diversity of this vibrant city.
I am in no way claiming to be an expert on this, nor do I present this as an all-inclusive list. To the contrary, I discovered that there is enough urban art scattered across this city than could ever fit in a hundred articles like this. However, these are some that spoke to me, and I’m happy to share the stories they tell.
"This Is We"
Covering nearly 200 feet of the side of a warehouse on Broad Avenue, the words on this mural say, ”This is me, this is you, this is we.” You will find this mural at the center of the Broad Avenue Arts District, which is doing its part to revitalize an area of the city that had almost been forgotten. The geometric design and words painted by French artist Guillame Alby are simple, but powerful. This is our community, our home.
This inspiring mural covers the south wall of the DeNeuville Learning Center in Midtown. The Mission of DeNeuville Learning Center is to "empower women to improve their lives through education and community". As the mural depicts, they embrace women of all colors and backgrounds. Their message is a shining example of helping others see the light of hope in their own lives, and in doing so, spreading that light throughout the greater community.
The street level murals on the Sterick Building in downtown Memphis were created by Kyle Taylor, Brandon Donahue, and Brandon Marshall, in collaboration with AXA Equitable and the Downtown Memphis Commission. This colorful collection of works can be found at the intersection of Madison Avenue and North B.B. King Boulevard. The colorful artistry brightens up an otherwise abandoned building, its story being best told by the creators' own words. The inspiration for the murals is "the work, the big ideas, the soulful struggles, and the elbow grease that has made, and is making, Memphis what it is."
"A Note For Hope"
This 5 story tall mural was created by Jeff Zimmerman, assisted by students from Rhodes College Center for Outreach in the Development of the Arts, and developed by the Memphis UrbanArt Commission. According to the UrbanArt Commission, the intention of this project was "to begin a conversation about moving Memphis forward" and help people to think about the "hopes and dreams they have for this great city".
This wall mural is just one example of the explosion of art you will find in the section of Lamar Avenue known as Orange Mound. According to my research, the main section of the mural is called "Soulsville", and was created by artists Kyle Taylor and Brandon Marshall. Among others, it pays tribute to legendary Stax Records artists Otis Redding and Robert Johnson.