On Sept. 18, the Providence community gathered for the unveiling of a new mural by North Carolina-based artist Georgie Nakima — who goes by Garden of Journey — at the George C. Arnold Building on 94 Washington St. The mural, titled “Salt Water,” was commissioned by The Avenue Concept, a non-profit responsible for the majority of public art installations in Providence.
Since 2015, the rear wall of the historic building downtown featured Natalia Rak’s mural “Adventure Time,” which depicted a young girl on the verge of entering a psychedelic dreamscape through a doorway. The mural had since become a Providence icon — but while it will always be timeless, the installation could not stand the test of time under New England weather conditions.
Although the loss of Rak’s “Adventure Time” was felt deeply by the Providence community, the work was soon replaced by a mural made by another renowned female artist, Garden of Journey.
“It was really important for me to maintain that another woman paints this, because it’s important to represent the female mural artists out there,” said Nicholas Platzer, manager of The Avenue Concept’s Mural Program.
Recommended to him by Gaia, the artist who painted “Still Here” — the mural honoring indigenous heritage installed across the bridge from Memorial Park — Platzer said that he was just “blown away” by her portfolio.
The mural is over 35-feet by 110-feet, making it the artist’s largest scale work to date and more than twice the size of Rak’s “Adventure Time.” Nakima’s mural features two figures representative of creative and destructive energy, playing into the style of Afrofuturism characteristic of the artist’s recent work. Afrofuturism is a genre of many different mediums that chronicles the history and social dilemmas of the African diaspora, portraying the African American experience in a position of resilience and hope through the genres of science-fiction and fantasy, the artist said. “And ultimately we become our own protagonist or our own hero in our story.”
The work’s culturally complex themes are broken down visually in the multi-dimensional, celestial piece, making it accessible to a broader audience. “I really just put a lot of visual symbolism that can be digested,” Nakima said. “It kind of has an aphorism embedded into the imagery.”
Despite the massive scale of the project, the mural was completed in just two weeks. “It was very easy because The Avenue Concept did a great job of constructing a team that helped,” said Nakima. “There was a lot of support so it was, you know, just a matter of doing it.”
Years of planning and organizing preceded the relatively short two-week period of creating the work. “The planning starts years and years in advance,” Platzer said. Even before finding an artist, organizers must find a suitable site, get permission from property owners as well as the city and raise sufficient funds, he explained.
Nonetheless, the unveiling of the mural made it evident that the hard work paid off. The mayor of Providence, Jorge Elorza, expressed his admiration for Nakima’s work at the event. “It’s exciting to see this come together, but it’s just as exciting to see the community come together to support the artists,” he said.
Elorza also emphasized the importance of public art to the Providence community and his own dedication to investing in infrastructure for public art. “We want our city to be a canvas and a stage,” he said.
Nakima also acknowledged public art’s value. “Institutional artwork is often class-based or academia-based, so there are barriers that prevent all walks of life from connecting with it,” she said. “I love public art in just that anyone can enjoy it, anyone can consume it.”
Other new murals installed by The Avenue Concept this year include “Hope” by Joanna Vespia and “Love Is A Many Gendered Thing” by Brian Kenny.