Meet the Artists: Mural Walking Tour

Graphic Design by Emily Wright

The Murals for Racial Justice Project emerged in response to the nationwide unrest after the unjust murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor. Involving over 20 artists, this initiative has given the local Black creative community an opportunity to tell their own story in the form of large scale art pieces publicly displayed on boarded up storefronts across downtown Indianapolis.

Police brutality is one of many social injustices faced by Black Americans. The demand for systemic change and visibility persists. The Mural Project is essentially an effort to uplift Black voices using a medium that will stand the test of time, art. Through art stories are told, history is made and the community is impacted in a meaningful way.

Though most of the temporary murals have been taken down, as stores and office buildings have reopened, we had the honor of meeting many of the artists, and getting the chance to document their art and the story behind it, in the artists’ own words. Read the highlights of the interview below, and scan the QR code to hear each artist share the inspiration for their mural!

Mechi Shakur

How and when were you introduced to art?
My dad is an artist. I’ve always been around art. I used to draw when I was little and sell drawings to kids in school. I was an art magnet in middle school. I didn’t really start painting until after high school when I broke my leg. I kind of got back into art a little bit before then. I started taking it more seriously and started painting everyday and getting into art shows and things of that nature.

What message do you want to send through your art?
I want to inspire people and explore my imagination.

Name three people who inspire you?
My father, Malcom X and Basquiat.

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
What it means to be an artist is being misunderstood most of the time. A lot of artists I know are very introverted and a lot of times the only way we can fully express ourselves is through art.

You can keep up with Mechi on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter!

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Ess McKee

How and when were you introduced to art?
From a young age, I really did love to draw, but I think I really became connected to art around eight or nine years old. I lived in Frankfurt, Germany and that was the first time I got exposed to more street art and things of that nature. I was like, “man I love this, what is it?” I started to just indulge myself in that.

What message do you want to send through your art?
My biggest message is just freedom, freedom through expression and allowing art to just guide me and guide the viewer into whatever narrative they want to take from it. I don’t really want to guide anyone too much into what they see. I have my messages and anyone can receive whatever they want from those messages, but for me it’s a freeing thing. I love to have other people come along with me on this journey.

Name three people who inspire you?
Florence Griffith Joyner aka Flo Jo. My mother and Ernie Barnes.

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
What it means for me to be artists is to be a catalyst for conversation, a problem solver and a builder.

You can keep up with Ess on Instagram or visit her website!

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Boxx the Artist

How and when were you introduced to art?
I was introduced to art very young. My parents used to buy me the Lisa Frank art kits, so I would always draw, color and things like that. Throughout school, I was the one that you call to draw something or design something. I spearheaded it, designing school t-shirts, recreating logos and mascots and printing it on the shirts. Literally in high school, I designed our shirts from freshman year to my senior year. That was the introduction, but throughout college I didn’t pick up a pencil. I didn’t draw and didn’t take any art classes. Once I graduated and merged into corporate America, I would literally sit at my cubical and draw. I feel like that brought me back to it. With painting, it was a similar process. I bought a paint kit while I was working a corporate job and never opened it until I quit and moved. I moved from North Carolina to Illinois. I was working another corporate job and I got laid off. I remembered the kit that I bought the year prior, I still had the canvases that I bought. I opened it for the first time and just started painting.

What message do you want to send through your art?
I don’t necessarily look to send a message, but I always look to leave a piece of myself in my creations. If anything, you can identify with me through the things that I create. I always make an effort to include who I am, culturally, so you’ll see a lot of brown faces and a lot of black faces. You’ll see black women, black men, black children, just embedding the things that I value, but also tying it into any relevant issues that I identify with and feel are important. If people can connect with me on that level or dissect me through the art I guess that’s some form of a message that I implant in my work, just Blackness.

Name three people who inspire you?
Beyoncé, she’s inspiring. She’s a virgo, I’m a virgo and she just makes me want to work harder. Definitely family, because I do have a large family. I am one of seven so it’s inspiring how they view what I do. I get a lot of people who try to measure my value based on, “so what do you do?” I think my family admires my work and that motivates me to do what I do. Myself, can I say myself? Not from an egoistic standpoint, but just my evolution and how I constantly strive to be a better version of myself. It’s inspiring to see my past self, see my current self and see how much further I can go.

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
Being an artist literally means living on your own terms and creating your own reality. That could be in any sense, whether you’re a visual artist, a performing artist or a writer. We have these different lanes and elements of artistry, so literally creating your reality and being comfortable with it, not feeling pressured to conform. I think that’s a big part of artistry, not that we have to, but rejecting the system. Certain things don’t really apply to me. I’m an artist, I don’t conform to the system. Being comfortable with not being compliant to the matrix. That’s how I would define being an artist. Living on your own terms, creating your own reality and using the tools around you to create that reality. Whether or not it impacts someone, that’s not your responsibility, but to simply create and exist.

You can keep up with Boxx the Artist on Instagram, Facebook and Twitter!

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Shade Bell

How and when were you introduced to art?
In elementary school I was fascinated with my art class. I moved to the far East side in the third grade and ever since then I was making art as a hobby. I started taking it serious when I sold my first painting in 2015. In April of 2015, I sold my first painting to a nursing student and I was like, “oh wow, I can make a living off of this.”

What message do you want to send through your art?
To be unapologetically yourself. Through my art I honestly just want to be the purest form of myself, loving and healing and along the way, hopefully inspiring another person or another mind to create as well.

Name three people who inspire you?
I am inspired by crowds of people and conversations. I can’t really pinpoint specific people. I get inspired by life experiences.

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
Being an artist is someone who will not conform to social norms, they conform to themselves. It’s self expression.

You can keep up with Shade on Instagram and Twitter!

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Tashema Davis

How and when were you introduced to art?
I’ve been doing art since I could hold a writing utensil. I’ve always been one who was drawing. Since I could remember I was always redrawing cartoons or coloring pages, but I was first introduced to painting when I attended Ball State in 2000.

What message do you want to send through your art?
The message I want to send through my art is focused on brown beauty and expression. A lot of the things that I do are centered around those two things. Its all about freedom of expression. I paint and draw primarily the African American figure because that’s who I am and I love painting and drawing Black women in a beautiful way.

Name three people who inspire you?
Frida Kahlo, Tracey Ellis Ross and Jill Scott.

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
A creative that has complete freedom to recreate their dreams.

You can keep up with Tashema on Instagram or visit her website!

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Israel Solomon

How and when were you introduced to art?
I was always doodling and drawing when I was a kid. I just kept doing it throughout high school. I’d just be sitting around imagining my own pair of Air Jordans, drawing them out and stuff. I’ve just always had a knack for drawing, it just developed as I got older. Once I got out of high school, I went to Ball State University and there I got a degree in visual art education. It’s something that I’ve been doing my whole life at different levels.

What message do you want to send through your art?
The message that I want to send through my art is a positive one. There’s art that is controversial, there’s art with negative messages, there’s art that people create just to get buzz. I can leave that for someone else. I really want to spread a message of positivity in my art. I want to celebrate my people in ordinary ways, through portraits and using vibrant color. Really, I hope the viewer is intrigued just by the colors that I use and the shapes that I use. I’m not really looking to make a big statement, but I just want to please the viewers eyes and send out a positive vibration. One thing I do want to do though is to make sure my people are portrayed in a positive light.

Name three people who inspire you?
I’m inspired by a lot of hip hop artists. Some of the work I do may even be related to hip hop, because I use a lot of rhythmic colors and patterns. As far as artists, I love Kerry James Marshall. I love the vibrant colors he uses, and the detail in his work. Another artist that inspires me is Jacob Lawrence. He’s a painter who worked in the early 1900s up until the 70s. Some of the more known works that he has done include The Great Migration. He painted a lot of images from the city he grew up in, Harlem, New York. His paintings are very rhythmic and colorful as well. I feel like I can relate to that. As far as hip hop, I am inspired by 2pac and his messaging and his passion. I wish that I could translate my passion on the canvas as much as he could translate his passion through words. This may be kind of odd, but I am also inspired by Bone Thugs-N-Harmony. I love how they allow their styles to merge together as one voice.

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
To express yourself in a creative way.

You can keep up with Israel on Instagram or visit his website!

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Nasreen Khan

How and when were you introduced to art?
I was raised in West Africa in Dakar, Senegal so I had a pretty colonial childhood. My parents were college professors and I had a West African nanny and she was very artistic. She was my first introduction to art. She did more traditional art-forms like sand painting and clay sculpting. 

What message do you want to send through your art? 
Education is kind of the family business. I was a college English professor for four years before I left academia. The idea is like disruption or like creating disruption through the mixture of highbrow and lowbrow art and literature or coming together to create a space of dissonance is particularly interesting to me. For example Malechi’s poems about Black motherhood, we originally settled on a very stylized, medieval image. Very stiff, very anglicized, then we were just going to add African cloth patterns and darken her skin and use brighter, more vivid colors that were less classical. I like disruption, but I don’t want anarchy. I want disruption that produces questioning. 

Name three people who inspire you?
Elias, that’s my son. He’s four. I think he has certainly been the driving factor for when I can create. I think even the mediums I have used have changed since having him. I can’t do big oils any more with a little kid around. I have to use mediums that can be cleared up quickly. He was born the last semester of graduate school so I was writing my thesis and teaching full time with a newborn. He actually walked the stage with me for my graduation, because I think the two accomplishments are intertwined. I think the neighborhood I live in is the biggest landscape inspiration that I’ve had. It has gone through waves of Slovenian immigrants and then it was a historically black neighborhood and now it’s becoming more Latin and there’s also some Asian immigrants. It’s really close to downtown, but it gets very little attention and very little infrastructure support. That landscape asks me to challenge my own privilege on the daily. It challenges me to ask who I am as an immigrant in the United States and where my place is in that neighborhood and how to amplify the voices of people who have historically been there. The third thing that is inspirational to me is diasporic literature. The idea of taking the West at face value and saying you want us to be Western, here’s literature that doesn’t perform race for you. 

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
I think it means to be a storyteller or to be a witness. Thinking about the protests and thinking about my time in the states. I think it means more to stand witness to things and events that are happening around me and the lives of people that I rub shoulders with. I think that contemporary life in particular often does not allow us and discourages us from bearing witness to each other’s lives. Many times we don’t ask for stories, we don’t tell stories and we don’t affirm each other’s lives. I think that’s more what artistry means to me now. It’s to stand witness and to hold the narratives of many lives together. 

You can keep up with Nasreen on Instagram!

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Manon Voice

How and when were you introduced to poetry and spoken word?
I was introduced to poetry in grade school. I was probably introduced in second grade. I remember there was a book mobile that would come around and students could choose three books off of this book mobile to take home. I remember somehow stumbling across poetry. I had never read language , in this artistic format. I remember the first time, just feeling transported, like, “wow, this is my language. This is how I think. This is how I talk.” Even if I couldn’t articulate exactly what that was, the feeling was already there. I started writing what I felt with poetry in grade school and I kept writing up until college. I got to college and I went to an event that was being put on by the Black cultural center there. They had invited a poet from Michigan who came down, it was the first time I encountered spoken word. All of my life, I thought that poetry was just a written form, I did not know that you could perform it. I was blown away.

What message do you want to send through your work?
I consider myself a poetic journalist. Most of my work is centered around social justice themes and of course I am a Black woman living in America so I am always writing from my personal experience. A Lot of my work explores that intersection and then I have also been interested in a lot of other social justice issues, housing, incarceration, police brutality, etc. I’m constantly exploring who we are as human beings and I’m constantly exploring the past and the present as being a bridge to our future selves. If we are able to look critically at where we come from and who we are right now, then we can make some new choices. We can create a future that is better for everyone, where we practice radical equity and inclusion. I hope that my poetry and spoken word invites us to look critically within ourselves and within the environment in which we inhabit and examine what our role is in that and how we can transform.

Name three people who inspire you?
My parents inspire me. I wouldn’t be who and what I am without them. I am also inspired by many of the Black women and femme writers. I would put Maya Angelou right there at the top and Mari Evans, because she’s from Indianapolis. If there wasn’t a Mari Evans, there would be no Manon Voice. I’m inspired by Chantel Massy, who is a good friend of mine, a poet and an educator. Gissel Schoraby who is the founder of For Colored Girls Book Club. Also Nina Simone, she is my favorite artist of all time.

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
I’m echoing Nina. She said it’s an artist’s duty to reflect the times. For me that is my duty, to reflect the times and to always be critically evaluating even myself. Part of my responsibility as an artist is to first tell the truth to myself. I sometimes even write what I’m afraid to say, but that’s the gravity of my vocation. I have to always be willing to tell the truth, to take the road less traveled and to live with those consequences.

You can keep up with Manon on Instagram or visit her website!

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Rebecca Robinson

How and when were you introduced to art?
I have a fashion design background, when I first finished high school I knew I wanted to do something in the creative industry. I ended up going to school in Atlanta and then went to pursue a bachelor’s at North Carolina Central University in Visual Communications which helped me learn some great tools in fashion and art. 

What message do you want to send through your art?
I simply paint and create what I feel and I don’t have one medium. To me, as an artist, you have to push yourself an get out of that comfort zone and some of my most powerful work has simply come from whatever feelings I have recorded at that moment and feel that in many cases it shows in my work

Name three people who inspire you?
My mom, my dad and my family. They were my biggest supporters and they are people who inspire me a lot. 

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
Being authentic and that definition is different for all people. For me, that means that at the end of the day I do work, because I love being an artist and having the ability to express myself. I also think that it is important to not be selfish with your work and not deprive people of your perspective. It’s important to be willing to share and inspire and influence the world.

You can keep up with Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and visit her website!

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Gary Gee

How and when were you introduced to art?
I’ve been drawing since I was four or five years old, on envelopes, paper sacks, all of it. I used to draw my teachers, I couldn’t argue with them, but I would make fun of them in caricature form. Art always kept me in and out of trouble as a kid. 

What message do you want to send through your art? 
I don’t aim to send a specific message with my work usually. A lot of my work comes from emotions and feelings. I do use imagery that I feel is powerful or that has some kind f message or meaning behind it. 

Name three people who inspire you?
There is a lot that inspires me through art, but in terms of art influence I would say Ernie Barnes, Jacob Lawrence and my family. They pushed me to do more with my life artistically.

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
Art is relevant, art is important, you can take something from nothing and create anything. Anything that was put into this world was probably sketched before it became an object or a building. Art to me is pure life and I get to be a part of it. 

You can keep up with Gary on Instagram or visit his website!

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Quiana Quarles

How and when were you introduced to art?
It was always something that came natural to me. I remember in kindergarten we had this timing class and if you were like student of the week you would get to paint while the other students were asleep. I would panic if another kid got student of the week. They would put you in this little apron and sit you in front of an easel and just let you paint away. I remember that very vividly. 

What message do you want to send through your art? 
Do your research, never stop learning, keep the lines of communication open and never quit fighting. 

Name three people who inspire you?
I’m a big hip hop head and neo-soul listener. I love David Banner for his activism, Erykah Badu for her free thinking and knowledge, and A Tribe Called Quest. A Tribe Called Quest is old school, but has a dope vibe about them. They started all that smoothness. 

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
This is probably cliche, but it is very truthful. I do a lot of reading and research and through it all, artists in many different facets and forms, have been storytellers, truth tellers. That is what I strive to be. I strive to be a truth teller. I want you to be able to look at my stuff and research some factual stuff. 

You can keep up with Quiana on Instagram!

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Mike Martin

How and when were you introduced to art?
I’ve been doing art since I was about six or seven years old. I did many drawings over the years and in my life which led me to do tattoos for a while, but I’ve only been painting for about three years. 

What message do you want to send through your art? 
When I express my creativity through my work there are different messages. Nothing is the same and the message depends on the context of the piece. I like for people to have the ability to interpret my work and its meaning their own way so that it can be a personal experience for everybody. 

Name three people who inspire you?
My mother, Ram Brant Artwork and Fast Guy.

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
It’s a gift that you have to share with the world. 

You can keep up with Kwazar on Instagram!

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Kaila Austin

How and when were you introduced to art?
I got my first sketchbook in forth grade, which is why now I am mostly a sketchbook artist. I went to Ivy Tech downtown and got my associates in fine art, focusing on painting and bookbinding. Then I went to Herron and got a certificate in museum studies and began working on exhibit installations and gallery spaces. I then moved to Bloomington and obtained a triple major in African American Studies. 

What message do you want to send through your art? 
In school, my thesis centered around the idea that race is a visual construct with a primarily negative connotation socially. How do we get rid of that narrative and elevate the Black voice? Most of my work is centered around that idea. 

Name three people who inspire you?
Dave Chapelle. He was supposed to be doing his first comedy special, but then corona happened. He said something that stuck out to me it was, “my heroes are the people who can survive this hell hole.” I admire that statement. 

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
I never know what to say, it’s good to be able to be an artist and a part of a community of people who love and appreciate art. I think that being an artist helps bring the community together. 

You can keep up with Kaila on Instagram!

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Amiah Mims

How and when were you introduced to art?
Immediately. I don’t remember a specific moment that got the creative juices flowing in me. I think it was just always there. I mean I always remember wanting to draw and doodle with crayons and markers, but I don’t really remember a specific moment that art was introduced to me. Once I did go to school and start going on field trips and stuff, art was always the section that got my attention. It was always the more artsy and creative exhibits that I liked. 

What message do you want to send through your art? 
I guess that’s a, “it depends” sort of question. It depends on what I am creating for. I mean if it is like this piece, something to bring awareness to everything that’s going on, then awareness is what I am trying to project. I think it just depends on what I am creating for and my hope is that I achieve whatever I am creating for. 

Name three people who inspire you?
Music inspires me. I can’t pinpoint one specific artist that inspires me. When I am in a painting kind of mood it definitely needs to be something with a little bit of soul. Definitely Erykah Badu and Jill Scott, so I would say that those two are definitely my main music inspirations, at least when it comes to art. Toni Morrison inspires me. It’s her words of wisdom, I like her voice and that is something that I resonate with. I’m a very, “it depends” sort of person so I could be in one realm one day and in a completely different realm the next day. Let’s say music inspires me, even though that’s many persons. Honestly, the environment inspires me. That’s also not a person, but that inspires me. I am a very environmentally driven person, I like my environment to match the mood, if that makes any sense. It doesn’t matter if I’m in my apartment, or if I’m outside or if I’m in a completely new place, it’s just whatever that environment is, I can always pull some sort of inspiration from where I am at. 

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
Freedom. I just feel like it’s a way to express yourself freely and in a way that doesn’t necessarily have to make sense to other people, but it makes sense to you. I feel like what it means to be an artist to me is also being a storyteller. Getting to tell your own stories and doing it in a way that is never going to be the same as someone else’s story. I feel like that’s what an artist is, and that can be any form of art, it doesn’t necessarily have to be painting or drawing or anything in that realm. It’s the whole realm of art in itself, I think it’s a form of storytelling. You get to do it however you like. It’s about the people listening to that story as well.

You can keep up with Amiah on Instagram and Facebook!

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Shane "Fitz" Young

How and when were you introduced to art?
I found drawing early in my life as a kid. Pokemon, cartoons and things like that made me want to draw what I saw on TV. From there I always wanted to come up with my own cartoon. Around college, I saw other artists on Instagram making a living off of their work. I never knew that you could make a living with art until college, so that’s when I realized I could make steps towards becoming a professional artist.

What message do you want to send through your art?
The ultimate message that I would like to send through my art would be don’t settle for less than anything you want out this life. That really bleeds through my head when I’m working on pieces. Anyone trying to be an artist can understand. It’s really difficult to do. Even if you want to be anything else, but an artist it can be difficult. It’s like a battle, just don’t settle.

Name three people who inspire you?
My brother. His name is Jeffery Hill. He owns his own motorcycle business. He’s a real go-getter. Hebru Brantley, he’s a famous artist from Chicago and of course my mom.

Define what it means to be an artist in your own words?
To be an artist is a mental release. You’re taking what you have in your head and letting it out in a peaceful way. It’s something that has always inspired me, how you can take your pain, your happiness or whatever you’re feeling and just put it down on paper. That’s an artist.

You can Keep up with Fitz on Instagram!

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