This October, N.C. Central University’s Department of Art gathered their students’ talents together to create a mural called “The Souls of Black Folks,” in memory of victims of police violence.
Chad Hughes, an associate art professor, acted as the faculty adviser for this project. In all, 19 art students were involved in creating “The Souls of Black Folks.” Devin Davis, a visual communications junior, was the student leader in the project.
At the beginning, the students worked on creating the outlines for the bodies and painting the mural’s gray backdrop. As more students joined in, everyone gathered as many of the victims’ names as they could. It took the students two and a half weeks to finish the mural. Toward the ending of Homecoming week, they installed it in the walkway between the Fine Arts Building and the Edmonds Music Hall.
Davis said the idea for the mural initially came from Hughes.
“I think it’s a great idea,” said Davis. “We’ve been doing stuff like this since my freshman year regarding the killings of black people by police. I think this is a step up from what we’ve done before.”
Two years ago, the art department painted large, black silhouettes, which represented the students’ social commentary about black lives in America following the Ferguson protests. These silhouettes were hung on the windows in the front of the Farrison-Newton Communications Building.
For this new piece, one of the students’ goals was to raise awareness about how many citizens have been affected by police violence and how police violence is still an issue for citizens today.
“The Souls of Black Folks” is portrayed through various elements.
The top of the mural has a ring of white masks, which represents the souls of black ancestors. The two figures that are floating near the masks represent the lost souls of black people killed by the police.
The figures are attached to their ancestors through umbilical cords, representing the connection between their souls and their ancestors.
Below it are large wooden panels painted with black silhouettes positioned as outlined bodies at a crime scene. Victims’ names such as Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Phillip White, and Trayvon Martin are written in chalk and charcoal near the silhouettes.
“The figures are also observing what’s going on in today’s society hence the names of the victims of police violence and other types of violence,” said Hughes.
“There’s just this continuum of what’s happening in society today. It isn’t just happening today. It’s been happening through Jim Crow, during the Emancipation Proclamation, and during slavery … That’s what they’re looking at and reflecting on.”
The students agreed to leave space for the public to write the names of victims who weren’t publicized or for victims people knew personally. They encourage faculty, students, and staff to cover the mural.
Davis said “The Souls of Black Folks” is an important piece because it’s a representation of black culture, conveying the cycle of experiencing police violence and other types of violence in America.
“It’s a part of our culture whether people want to be aware of it or not,” Davis said. “It’s things that people experience every day.”
While the mural is still on display, Davis said he hopes everyone who walks by “The Souls of Black Folks” treat it with care. They plan to have the mural displayed outside for a long time.
“We don’t get a lot of chances to do stuff like this on campus,” he said. “It feels nice that we get to do these things and people should appreciate them. Whether they appreciate art or not, they should just appreciate the message behind it.”