A giant mural now stretches along the expanse of a corner at Lamar Ave. and Airways Blvd., the unofficial gateway into Orange Mound, Memphis’ first African-American community built by African Americans.
It’s a bigger-than-life, explosion of vibrant color and artistry set against the backdrop of an inner-city community in the 21st century.
The creation constantly stops traffic. People slow up or pull over and get out to take photos with friends in front of the massive painting. Many of those pictures find their way onto social media, along with associated thoughts about the significance of the imagery and the rich, historic symbolism.
The mural is the work of Jamond Bullock and Siphne Sylve, gifted members of the local art community.
“I am not only an artist, but I am a storyteller,” said Bullock. “Each scene and every character depicted on the mural tells a piece of that story, from the beginning in 1890, up to the present and even beyond into the future. I love sharing my gift to create something positive. It is my way of sharing love.”
Sylve is a project manager for the UrbanArt Commission. The veteran, serial mural painter has made her mark all over Memphis, bringing color and beauty into the blight and decay of inner-city communities.
Bullock and Sylve were honored for their work last Thursday night at a reception punctuated by long-lasting praise.
“It feels good to be done with the mural and for people to appreciate it,” Sylve said. “I’m glad people are celebrating something positive in this community.”
The entire project is spray paint. Vivid and unique, it’s structure and design was a collaboration of Orange Mound residents, business owners, children – everyone had an opportunity to give input.
“People are driving by, saying, ‘Oh, wow!’ They’re stopping, getting out of the car, sharing photos,” said Linda Steele, founder of ArtUp, who commissioned the project. “It was essential to choose artists who understood the importance of listening to those who live in Orange Mound, what they envisioned, for their community. …
“At ArtUp, we are about removing the barriers to creative people becoming small business owners and entrepreneurs,” said Steele. “I was formerly chief engagement officer for ArtsMemphis. I moved here two years ago from New York. I left ArtsMemphis to create ArtUp. We are grant makers helping artists get into creative entrepreneurship.”
Bullock is owner of AlivePaint, whose murals and art are exhibited throughout the city, the region and many parts of the country. He’s also sent pieces to Saudi Arabia and other places in the Middle East.
Sylve, a New Orleans native, moved to Memphis in 2006 to attend the Memphis College of Art, where she earned a bachelors in Fine Arts in the study of illustration and art history. She is one half of the “acapella, hip-hop/soul/R&B/funk duo” Artistik Approach.
The mural’s most unique feature is that it’s interactive. Bullock explains.
“There are orange wings – wings of the phoenix,” he said. “Orange represents the community, and the phoenix…is a mythical bird that rises from its own ashes to soar once again. Well, only the wings are there. People step into the space where the bird would be, and they become part of the design. They become the phoenix. There are photos being shared on social media and everywhere. It’s pretty dope.”
Other images emerged from the artists’ extensive collaboration with Orange Mound residents.
A little girl represents a hopeful future – students from Dunbar and Hanley elementary schools.
A teenager holding an orange is “Duke,” a young man who was murdered recently.
“We immortalized him in this painting,” said Bullock. “His family and friends were just blown away when they saw it.”
The shotgun house represents the beginning in 1890. Roots under the house depict a strong foundation and celebration of “black home ownership.”
Hands and the wood reflect a community that builds.