How racist flyers inspired the push for Madison’s newest mural
MADISON, Wis. – The city of Madison’s newest mural is the latest way the city’s neighborhoods are fighting against racism, according to those behind its creation.
On Saturday, nearly 100 people gathered at the intersection of Monroe Street and Harrison Street to see the mural unveiled for the first time.
Titled ‘The Machine’, the piece sits along Neuhauser Pharmacy was completed by Bay Area native and Madison resident Simone Lawrence.
The concept for the project dates back more than a year.
“At the end of last summer, some of the neighbors in the Dudgeon-Monroe neighborhood found a series of racist fliers in the neighborhood,” said Emily Balsley. “That kind of spurred this feeling of wanting to react to what we’re finding.”
Balsley and a group of other neighbors would eventually form MOSAP, or Monroe Street Anti-Racism Project.
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“When we were talking about what our response could be, we wanted it to be big and meaningful, and someone suggested, ‘What about a mural?'” Balsley said. “Which is literally big. That’s kind of what got us thinking about public art and the power that art has.”
Not long after, the organization was searching for an artist, eventually landing on Lawrence.
“They were looking for an artist of color to put this mural up,” Lawrence said. “They gave me the theme of antiracism. That was really it. Any concept I could come up with around anti-racism was kind of left up to my interpretation. I took all of it and tried to incorporate it into this piece here.”
MOSAP worked with the city to clear necessary channels of approval for the mural itself to happen, while members of the community came together to help with the cost.
“Anything we had to do, we had help,” Balsley said. “I’ve done several murals myself and I know what goes into it. From an artist’s perspective, but also from how hard it is to find a location and get permission from a business owner. There’s just so many hoops that you need to jump through to make something like this happen.”
Eventually, Lawrence had the final design – which depicts a group of children of color being made to choose their future from a vending machine with grim options, such as prison, police brutality and poverty.
“It was something for me that I thought was just an interesting metaphor that people could relate to. We go to vending machines all the time, right? We can conceptualize that these are our only choices in a vending machine to choose from. If I’ve got a line of kids of color here standing up to choose from this, I thought people could understand really what society hands to us.”
Balsley says other aspects of the mural impacted her specifically.
“When I first saw this design, the first thing I saw was that very tall White woman standing in the middle amongst all of these Black children,” she said. “To me, just that visual really made me feel uncomfortable to be honest. It kind of made a sinking feeling in my stomach, like ‘Oh my gosh, this is us. This represents me and white society.'”
MOSAP says it hopes the mural will spark conversations and thought from those who see it.
“We can see how powerful this piece of art is, hopefully this (helps) many people realize what art can do and the message we can put out there,” Balsley said.
“I hope that they think about injustice on a daily basis as they’re passing by to go to Trader Joes, as they’re passing by to go to the coffee shops over here,” Lawrence said. “It’s something that we have to continually process and internalize and take it home.”
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