Two new murals flank the sides of the City Services Building, across from Philadelphia City Hall. They honor black activists of the past year, as well as decades.
The two murals – “Crown: Medusa” and “Crown: Freedom”, by Philadelphia Mural Arts artist Russell Craig – are a continuation of the mural he created for the facade of the MSB building, “Crown “, unveiled last summer. All three images are based on photographs of contemporary people and refer to classical paintings from the 19th and early 20th centuries.
The mural on the west side, “Crown: Medusa” is a group portrait of several young activists against the backdrop of the names of unarmed blacks killed by police.
At the center is Sudan Green, the founder of Spirits Up !, which promotes healing and well-being for blacks through yoga and meditation. Craig put an image of ThÃ©odore GÃ©ricault’s âRaft of the Medusaâ (1818) on Green’s t-shirt in the mural. It is a chaotic and tragic painting of shipwrecked sailors struggling on a makeshift raft.
Green hadn’t been familiar with the painting. When he saw it on his chest in the mural, he read it as a struggle for survival: The inspiration for Green to advocate for the well-being of blacks came last May, when he took part in a demonstration following the murder of George Floyd by police last summer. This demonstration degenerated into clashes with the police. This scene of unrest was in the exact spot where the mural now stands.
“It was the first time that I have been in a protest and seen people injured, injured by the police right here on these stairs, where we are now,” Green said. âI knew I wanted to start Spirits Up because I knew I couldn’t do it every day. “
The other characters of “Crown: Medusa” are Max Ho, Debora Charmelus, Christina Jackson, Aaliyah Michelle and Gregory Coachman.
âEvery time I see Sandra Bland’s name, I see myself,â Stanford said. “I remember where I was with Walter Wallace Jr.â¦ when it happened. And Eric Garner in New York. I remember that. So much so it’s jubilant, it’s different for me. I can’t. explain it.
“Crown: Freedom” is based on Howard Pyle’s painting “The Nation Makers” (1901), showing a line of Revolutionary War soldiers, in profile, marching in combat. Characters in the mural also include YahNÃ© Ndgo, Keziah Ridgeway, Krystal Strong, Ajeenah Amir and Sajda “Purple Queen” Blackwell, who is also a partner of WHYY’s News & Information Community Exchange (NICE).
Stanford saw the mural, showing this lineage of women activists, as a representation of how far we’ve come, but it also made them think about how far we still have to go. All the women in the fresco were at its unveiling and posed together for a photo. Stanford wanted them all to smile for the camera, but was dismayed when she discovered that some of them had to keep their masks on because they had not yet been vaccinated. It has struck home for the doctor whose No.1 priority for more than a year has been to protect black people in Philadelphia from the virus.
This article originally appeared on WHYY.org.