Colors of Connection
An overgrown monument depicting slave settler and indigenous conflict.
This mural portrays the woman in the important role of creator, nurturer and educator of society. While the other murals from the Tunaweza Portraits promote women entering new roles in society in a more modern vision, this one celebrates a role that women have traditionally held in society. This mural recognizes her essential contributions to the survival and development of the community. Lengthy discussions about this topic were held with community leaders and the participants, revealing that this particular role of women is highly valued by everyone in society. The Community Arts Council decided to portray this positive and invaluable role that is ancient as time and relevant as ever.
Because this mural was painted on a health center, the theme focuses on how women accomplish this in the health arena. On the right, community members, including women, clean their streets and neighborhoods. Women in society ensure that their families and communities are kept clean and free from disease. On the left, a female doctor cares for a child. Here, while the image promotes women in more advanced careers, it also portrays the woman as a nurturer and caretaker. Written in Kiswahili are the words “Mwanamke msingi wa maadibisho,” meaning, “women are the pillars of education in society.”
This mural portrays a female judge in a portrait on the right, and hearing a case in a short comic-style story-telling on the left. In the middle of the mural is the DRC Constitution, Article 14. Written into law in 2015, Article 14 asserts the Country’s commitment to gender equality, including preventing gender discrimination, promoting women’s participation in national development, and fair and equal representation in government at national and regional and local levels.
This mural portrays several intertwining stories on gender: A real resident female judge in Goma is portrayed because, while women do have jobs within the justice system in DRC, being a female judge, one of the higher positions, is very rare. Written in Kiswahili are the words “Mwanamke katika ngazi zote za sheria,” meaning, “Women belong in all levels of the justice system.”
On the left side of the mural this same female judge hears the case of a woman. The specifics of the case are not detailed but what is evident is that a woman is able to have her case heard, wins it, and this results in the imprisonment of a man. This scenario was chosen to encourage women and girls to come forward and seek justice in cases of abuse, sexual violence, and gender discrimination. The mural is painted on the outside of an elementary and secondary school.
Women and girls in Congolese society are tasked with many tough jobs, from hauling water and firewood to hand washing clothes. However, some labor intensive jobs have not yet achieved gender parity, as with the case of construction work.
This mural portrays two women working with one male construction worker and the simple phrase in Kiswahili “Ndio na weza Jenga,” meaning, “Yes I can build.” The mural was painted in Kyeshero neighborhood, on the side of an old facility that hosts a coffee roasting factory as well as an engineering training center for both young men and women. The Community Arts Council specifically wanted to portray women in unconventional jobs such as this one that displayed their physical strength.
Female painters and visual artists are few and far between in the Eastern Congo region. In line with the Tunaweza Portraits’ central goal to challenge gender stereotypes, this mural portrays a female artist, along with the words in Kiswahili “Kubali ujuzi wangu,” meaning, “Consider my talents.”
The center portrait is based off of a photograph of one of the young women artists who painted this mural, Alice. The motifs to her left and right have been designed and created by the participants with inspiration and guidance from a local artist, Justin Kasereka. On the left side of the portrait, the young woman artist appears again, portrayed at work on a canvas in which the flowers grow off the page.
The Community Arts Council selected the neighborhood of Mapendo as the location for this mural because it is a commercial district with a lot of business activity. While there is a healthy level of commerce, the Council wanted to encourage young women in this area to expand their efforts into the creative field, noting that there was a lot of untapped talent. The Community Arts Council also noted that many young women and girls in the neighborhood are in vulnerable situations and could benefit from positive encouragement. The mural is located in a busy and frequently-trafficked crossroads.
Given the violence that engulfed Northern Mali and drove the refugees out of their homes, it is easy to understand the reason why the community leaders chose peace as the theme for the second mural. Although the conflict is often simplified to portray a conflict between the southern and northern ethnicities, as well as between the dominant darker skinned tribes versus the lighter skinned Touaregs, it is complex, with violence being perpetrated by all sides, and mutable and complicated allegiances to religion, politics, ethnicities, etc. Although all of the families in the camp had been forced to leave their homes and were equal in terms of the loss and trauma they had suffered, there were many prejudices and conflicts among the ethnic groups in the camp as well. The leaders therefore wanted to portray a message of peace that would serve to bring the community together. The mural unifies multiple ideas provided by the community arts council on what peaceful cohabitation between different ethnic groups in Mali looks like.
Different ways of showing hospitality to strangers and celebrating together are shown: In the center is a celebration attended by people of different ethnic groups including the White and Black Touareg, Arab, Peuhl and Songrhaï. Photographs were taken at a marriage celebration in the camp and the griot playing music, as well as the two women dancing in the center, are based on these photographs. In the upper part of the mural a father and son slaughter a goat to prepare food for an honored guest, two men shake hands as a sign of friendship and peace, and one man prepares tea for another man, also indicating friendship and peace. On the lower part of the mural a camel race is taking place, showing that the community is at peace and able to have festive activities. Camel races are an important tradition for this community.
They are the people of the land, no matter the different languages they speak. Social cohesion and agreement is the remedy against all their ills.
Reconciliation is a solution in the case of an injury, especially with everything is broken. If the people are in solidarity, they will live happily one day and they will be the pillars of the land as a result of their contributions.
The Importance of Education Mural depicts the following:
The purpose of the Health Mural is to show a healthy community in Harper. Malaria, typhoid and diarrhea are common illness in Liberia. There is a lack of latrines within the communities and people use the beaches that border Harper for this purpose. Another common health concern is malnutrition. A typical diet consists of white rice or cassava with a spicy pepper and palm oil sauce that may contain limited vegetables, meat or fish. Many adults struggle to provide sufficient amounts of food for their families.
The local Community Arts Council came up with the health theme. Students working on this mural were asked to identify what needs to change to overcome these life-threatening illnesses. Ideas included washing hands, using latrines, creating protected wells to prevent pollution, draining flooded areas to stop mosquitoes from breeding, sleeping under mosquito nets, and growing vegetables.
The mural shows different practices that will prevent sickness.
The market mural was created to emphasize the importance of agriculture in the development of the city of Harper and Maryland County, where Harper is situated. The soil in Liberia is extremely fertile, with the capacity to grow many foods, yet there is a myth that food cannot grow in Maryland County, which has left much of the land unused. The type of foods that are grown are extremely limited, and many foods are imported from the Ivory Coast that could easily be grown in the region.
In designing the market mural, students were asked to imagine what would be needed to create a thriving market in Harper.
The Energy mural is about bringing energy to Harper, both in the literal sense of electricity, but also other forms of energy such as food, the kinetic energy of dancing and music, and the type of psychological energy that is needed to get up every day and do what needs to be done. It’s painted on the front of a burnt out building that belongs to the electricity company that was destroyed during the war. Inside this building there used to be a giant generator that gave electricity to Harper.
The quote ‘the day is done, the sun has set yet light still tints the sky’ is interpreted in the mural to mean that even after the day’s work is done, there’s still energy to do more. You shouldn’t give up after the sun has set, again meant both literally and metaphorically.
The Peace Through Human Rights Mural depicts the following based on the Articles of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights:
The Women in the Workforce Mural depicted women in roles that are typically taken by men in working society in Goma, DR Congo. These images sought to show the capacity of women and girls beyond their traditional roles in the domestic domain as wives, caretakers of children and responsible for household duties. This theme connects to several important aspects of the promotion of women’s/girls’ rights, including: gender equality, equity, gender parity, and more broadly the shifting of gender norms. For the young women participants and our Community Arts Council members, the three workforce-related positions that they were most interested in showing in their mural painting were: a woman motorcycle taxi driver, a woman artist/painter, and a woman police officer. Some factors that drove this selection were the complete absence (or very small percentage) of women in Goma represented in these job positions, and the personal desires of the girls to have these particular jobs one day. The girls were eager to represent themselves (i.e. their own faces) in the mural to show that they themselves could actually take on these roles – thus, three participants were randomly selected from the group to be represented in the mural.
Education was chosen as one of the themes by the community leaders because it is still not seen as valuable by much of the population. For a largely nomadic people who live off of their animals, such as the Touareg and Peuhl, the idea of attending school has historically been seen as unnecessary and useless, requiring a complete change in ways of living, and this mentality persists today. Schools are few and far between in Northern Mali, making access very difficult. This makes it challenging even for the more sedentary people, such as the Songrhaï and Arabs who largely rely on agriculture and business respectively. In the mid 20thcentury in Mali, the colonial French government forcibly took children from their families in order to put them in school, essentially kidnapping them. One of the participant’s fathers, Oussmane Ag Souleymane, described being taken from his family at the age of 10 to be enrolled in a school. On the journey there he tried to run away but they tied his foot to a large rock. His family took him back and tried to hide him in the desert but the authorities found him again and re-enrolled him. Oussmane’s father died the year he was taken and Oussmane never saw him again. After Oussmane was taken his family relocated, and moved outside of the town where he lived. Despite the trauma he experienced, he went on to finish his education, and became a government employee and is a huge advocate of education today, including for girls. (More can be read about him below.) This is a typical story of the colonial era and demonstrates the complicated relationship these populations have with education. Regardless, community leaders are convinced that education is one of the only ways to improve their communities and wanted to advocate for education through the mural.
The Education Mural depicts different types of education, both Koranic and Classic. On the right, a marabou teaches children in front of a mosque. In the center and left of the mural a teacher in a primary school helps a student to write “Bonjour” and “Matolahad,” which mean “Good morning” in French and Tamacheck respectively. Next to a school building, a woman prepares lunch for the school canteen. The community arts council identified portraying the feeding of students as an important motivation for both the students and parents for the children to attend school. Pictured below the school building, a father takes his child to school following behind other children on their way as well, indicating that parents need to support their children in attending classes. The classic education system at the university level is also represented in the top center part of the mural, in which a university building resembling the University of Bamako in Mali is shown with two students approaching it. Two former students in the camp who studied at the University of Bamako were photographed for this part of the mural. They both hope to return to the University when the crisis is over.
An intellectual has to act with clarity and a great sense of responsibility to lead his people and benefit from the admiration of all. His expressions must be relevant, worthy, and admired by others.
Ignorance is tantamount to a piece of clay between the rocks, which erodes in the winter rains. Every time a person walks on the eroding path, the path becomes more and more dangerous until it arrives at its ultimate decline.
This Culture Mural is about cultural practices the Harper community want to encourage or preserve. The cinema building in its former glory was a bank on the first floor and the second and third floors were a night club and cinema respectively. Now the first floor has been partitioned and part of it renovated into a small shop and the other part is used occasionally to show soccer games. The old cinema seats are still there for the soccer fans who come to watch.
Students were asked to answer the following questions when thinking about the design for the mural: Where are you coming from? Who are you? Where are you going? as a way to encourage them to identify their culture, history and dreams.
So much of the transfer of culture was lost in the war as families were broken up by death and emigration. Consequently, stories and cultural practices weren’t passed down. Cultural heritage is a starting point for identity and for discovering your self-worth.
The Education Mural depicts the following:
At the center is a school where children are arriving, dressed in their school uniforms.
On the way to the school is a man and his son, headed down the road that forks, one path marked “non” that leads into the forest and the “oui”, that leads to the school (in french – “yes” and “no.”). Here it shows that parents have a choice whether to send their children to school, and that unfortunately some make the choice to have their children work instead. Alternatively there’s a woman walking with her daughter on the path to the school.
The school itself is under construction, with people mixing cement and building a wall around the school, expressing that more schools need to be built.
On the bottom right, with the help of education a school boy’s head is full of new information, words, letters and arithmetic. This expresses the transformation of the mind that occurs through education.
On the top right are three different jobs that can be attained through education: a lawyer, a president, and a doctor.
The Peace Mural depicts the following:
On the left, two chiefs reach an agreement ending a conflict between their tribes. This is witnessed by their constituents, and food and drink are provided to celebrate this occasion of newly found peace.
Symbols of peace are depicted: Doves fly through the air and flowers grow. In the center a girl holds a lamb a symbol of peace, and likewise a handshake above her also symbolizes peace.
To the right, couples dance in a nightclub to celebrate the end of war.
The W.V.S. Tubman University Mural depicts:
The five Colleges of the university are each represented by a distinct image in this mural.
The Woman Leadership Mural focused on the development and promotion of women leadership. These images sought to draw attention to the capacity of women and girls beyond their traditional role in the domestic domain as wives, caretakers of children and responsible for household duties. This traditional role has historically up to today limited Congolese women from meaningful participation in political life. This mural has two sides; on the first side, we showed an image of a strong female who believes in herself and her own capacity to create change in society. On the other side of the wall, we showed a female political candidate being supported and encouraged (by both men and women) to move forward and create change in her society. Through our discussions with the Community Arts Council (CAC) members, it was highlighted that although there are some female political candidates in this context, it is rare that women support them in this pursuit; instead, the followers of these candidates are typically male. The CAC members posited that Congolese women themselves doubt their own capacity and/or the capacity of other women to make decisions and take charge. In our discussions with the adolescent girls about women leaders, they confirmed this belief; for example, many expressed their doubts that a woman could become president and preferred that a woman take on a secondary post such as vice-president. Thus, these mural images sought to shift this widely held perception by women, girls and the community that women are not fit to be leaders.