By J. K. Schmid
Special to AFRO
Annapolis’s Banneker-Douglass Museum held the Grand Opening for “The Black Vote Mural Project” on Feb. 15.
Set to run through to the end of December, the project will be exhibiting “Public Art + Black Voices + Civil Rights,” during a new election year where mainstream media narratives increasingly focus on who will get the coveted Black vote.
Eyes are looking ahead to the South Carolina primary, the first real test of a candidate’s viability among Black voters, an indispensable contingent for anyone hoping to secure the Democratic Party nomination in July.
Megan Lewis’ “Vote Like a Blk Woman.” (Photo by J. K. Schmid)
In Maryland, 17 voices are reflecting on what was, illustrating what is and putting forth a demand for what must come next, through large interior murals.
“It is our hope that as you leave here today that you would not only leave here talking about how wonderful the artwork is, but you would be empowered to go back to your communities and share with other people the importance of the African-American vote,” said Rev. Dr. Tamara England Wilson, vice chair of the Maryland Commission on African American History and Culture.
“And not only talk about that, but you would also vote.”
Wilson echoes the artists direct appeals. Students of Steuart Hill Academic Academy worked together to create “Let My People Vote” and Nessar Johanbin’s “The Future is Mine” demands that the viewer take into account the future of a young girl, Ryleigh Allen, the young daughter of a fellow muralist.
“I’m a public artist, that’s my background,” Chanel Compton, executive director at Banneker-Douglass told the AFRO. “And we were trying to come up with a theme for exhibition 2020, and our staff decided to adopt the 2020 theme African-Americans and the vote. Public art has such a profound history on social history and community building it just seemed like a perfect tie-in.”
The exhibit comes at a time of more than a few victories for Black Marylanders. Adrienne Jones is now Speaker of the House of Delegates, and the Maryland Legislative Black Caucus now has 59 members in a legislative body of 141.
“We got to come here to see the work that is being done, to celebrate voting, in an artistic way,” said Delegate Shaneka Henson on her early preview of the exhibit. “None of us would be elected if it weren’t people who elected us to office, if it weren’t for voters who say that we want diversity: we want to see our elected body in the general assembly, reflect the diversity that is in the state of Maryland.”
Megan Lewis, creator of “Vote Like a Blk Woman ” lionized one such voter.
“Black women, we love our people,” Lewis told the AFRO. “When we vote, we want everyone to win together. That’s what I meant. As radical as we are, we still have so much love and care for everybody. We still want everybody to succeed.”
Lewis’s idealizing Black women, is depicted in a stunning profile. The words of Maya Angelou all around her, as she sports Chisolm and Panther buttons.
When the exhibit concludes, Banneker Douglass hopes to donate the murals to libraries, schools, and community centers in the area, so that the messages can propagate further.
“Today, we are reflecting on history and it’s also to help inspire the next generations,” Tomora Wright, co-curator of “The Black Mural Project” told the AFRO. “This is what we’re building towards: to ensure the safety of their futures and to give them the opportunities that they should have.”