What do civil rights icon Rosa Parks, football player Colin Kaepernick and Sam Oni, one of Mercer’s first black students, have in common?
They each stood up (or sat or kneeled, in the case of Parks and Kaepernick) for what they believed in.
They’re also all depicted on a new mural painted on a wall in Mercer Village along Coleman Avenue in Macon.
Visual artist Joerael Elliott painted the mural, which blends civil rights history and contemporary themes, as part of the Art in the Park series, a project funded by the Knight Neighborhood Challenge Grant to add public art around Tattnall Square Park and Mercer Village.
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Elliott said he designed the mural with the theme of standing up for what you believe in and incorporated different images inspired by people and events throughout history. The mural also depicts black Civil War soldiers and black Civil War general and physician Martin Delany.
“I think it’s just time to kind of call (injustices) out and do a piece on knowing what you stand for,” Elliott said.
He said he depicted the people and themes in the mural also in response to some people’s belief that taking down Confederate monuments would erase history.
“We can honor the history by telling different layers of the story from the past as well as make it (relevant) to the present,” he said.
Craig Coleman, a Mercer University art professor who founded Art in the Park, said a colleague told him about Elliott’s work after he mentioned he was looking for a visiting artist.
“I looked at his work and was impressed by the beauty and the profound ideas behind his imagery,” Coleman said. “What interests me most about his work is that it is very accessible and inviting to look at but is layered with multiple meanings.
“I also like that most of his projects fit into the genre of public art and help to turn the exterior into an art gallery.”
Born in 1980 in San Angelo, Texas, Elliott has been involved in art for most of his life. He began painting graffiti letters in 1994 when he was 14 and started creating street art in 1999.
The Macon mural is part of Elliott’s global project called Mobilize Walls. The goal of the project is to create a “decentralized conceptual wall” to “out scale” the border wall between America and Mexico proposed by President Trump during his candidacy, according to the artist’s website, www.joerael.com.
“Square foot by square foot, these walls all over the world can out scale the proposed wall,” Elliott said.
Elliott said the idea was inspired by the graffiti culture born from the Berlin Wall and the notion of spreading love and positive feelings toward those who would want to put up literal and metaphorical walls to separate themselves from others.