Usually we don’t notice walls; we notice the rooms that they divide, the rain that they keep out, the picture frames that hang upon them. But walls usually remain invisible, disappearing into the background, easily forgotten. Oct. 10 through Oct. 13, the public art and mural festival “Talking Walls” made a statement about the invisible. Producing over 20 murals throughout Charlotte, the festival exclaimed that the people of Charlotte need to come together to notice the unnoticed and start having conversations about how to make our city more equal and more beautiful.
The festival featured the work of 18 local, national and international artists displayed in 19 different locations throughout the city, including two murals in the UNC-Charlotte Center City building. A diverse array of artists, they ranged from the self-taught to those holding Masters degrees in the Fine Arts. Each artist, regardless of background or credentials, was given a location and a wall. “Talking Walls” treated all artists equally, something not often done in the realm of art, where graffiti and street art often is considered mediocre and even illegal. The first lesson “Talking Walls” teaches Charlotte is to level the playing field — we should value all people equally, regardless of appearance or background.
Several artists decided to directly address social and political issues through their murals. One artist, Charlotte-local Dammit Wesley, spelled out the words “Strange Fruit” in both of his uptown murals, referencing Abel Meeropol’s 1939 song made famous by Billie Holiday about the lynching of African-Americans. In one of these murals, below the words “Strange Fruit,” is eerily painted “Exciting Times,” comparing the time in which “Strange Fruit” was written to the social and political issues of today. Another uptown mural, painted by another local, Nick Napoletano, depicts a woman painting. The mural features the excerpts of conversations that Napoletano has had with homeless people while painting. Napoletano stresses the importance of using the walls for starting conversations about the socio-economic status of Charlotteans and the gaps therein between.
“Talking Walls” created voices for the voiceless, not just the walls but people too, and did so in a way that you can’t miss. While walking through uptown searching for these walls, I would notice many people stop what they were doing just to look for a moment at the murals. The walls immediately grab the attention of the passersby, thus forcing the viewer to stop and think about things.
“Talking Walls” can be found in uptown near The Plaza and along Central Avenue as well as in a few other spots around the city. The walls spark conversation about the current state of affairs, drawing attention to the unseen, and lastly, they beautify the Charlotte community. Art makes everything more vibrant, more interesting and more exciting. Why haven’t we done this sooner and in more places such as East and West Charlotte?
President Trump and his administration love to think of walls as barriers. It seems like the perfect thing to keep people out, to divide the fortunate from the less fortunate, the wanted from the unwanted. In the poem “Mending Wall,” Robert Frost addresses the notion of walls as barriers, the folly of having walls between neighbors and the idea that there is something in the universe, a conscience perhaps, that doesn’t like these barriers: “Something there is that doesn’t love a wall/That wants it down.” “Talking Walls” acknowledges the walls that exist, repudiates the idea that they should be barriers and instead opens them up for many to paint on and for all to see. The festival beautified Charlotte, helped it acknowledge its flaws, and most importantly, invited all people to come together to pay attention. Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, that wants it painted.