artist amy sherald celebrates six black women with philly murals

August 2, 2019
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Public art is such an important part of uplifting a community and Black and brown communities all across this country are largely under-represented in the art around their cities. Partnering with Mural Arts Philadelphia, artist Amy Sherald — known for her official portrait on Michelle Obama — has erected an untitled series of portrait murals around the city. Based in Baltimore, Sherald recently took up a space in Jersey City, N.J. where teens from the art education program spent the day in her studio learning and exploring ideas for a mural. Together, the group decided to highlight issues pertaining to identity and the public gaze, asking the questions: “Who is allowed to be comfortable in public spaces? Who is represented in art? How can one woman’s portrait begin to shift that experience for others?”

“For years we have admired her painting; there is such strength in her composition, her color and the way she captures a gaze. And now she has teamed up with our art education program to create a unique mural in the heart of our city. What an extraordinary moment for Mural Arts and for Philadelphia.”

When it came time to conceptualize what the murals might look like, Sherald was instinctively drawn to student Najee Spencer-Young as a subject for the project. “She had a special energy. I really liked her face. I met her, and probably within 15 minutes, I knew that I wanted to paint her,” Sherald told NPR. “I think it’s important that you know, girls like Najee get to see themselves beautiful and empowered. You know, she’s the reflection of so many girls that look like her in the community.”

In 2016, Sherald was the first African American to be awarded the Smithsonian National Portrait Gallery’s Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition.