Hey, It’s Good to be Back Home Again

Liberian Mural by Phillip Martin

Zwedru was almost unrecognizable.  There were some basic buildings I remembered from 1989, but there was so much growth.  I was unable to find my two previous homes.  They used to be in the bush on the outskirts of town.  There was no bush or outskirts where they were once located.  But, I knew where to find the Multilateral High School.  In spite of all the growth, it was easy.  And, my friend Joshua had been the principal for ten years.

Zorzor was much smaller than Zwedru.  My home town had several professional artists and four or five of them were among the twelve to help with the mural project.  Upon discussion at our first meeting, we came up with a theme.  Zwedru was more developed than Zorzor.  There was much more electricity and availability to water.  Their issues of concern are illustrated left to right on the mural:

  1. Safe Roads.  After my trip to Zwedru, I readily agreed with that one.
  2. Improved Health Care.  I’ve seen enough to know that nobody wants to get sick enough to need a hospital in the developing world. 
  3. Food Security.  In Liberia there is a season called “hunger season”.  It’s the time after harvested crops run out and before new crops are ready to gather.  In Zwedru, the problem was accentuated when the roads became impassable during the rainy season.  No new supplies could make it to town for two or three months.
  4. Education.  Okay, I put this in.  It’s still the teacher in me.  And, I love maps, so I needed another one of Liberia and Grand Gedeh County.
  5. Traditions.  There is no country cloth made in Grand Gedeh.  There are few – if any – locally made paintings, traditional masks, carvings or instruments.  Artists in the community hope to change this.   
  6. Importance of Family.  Nuclear or Extended, Present or Past, family is important in every situation we face in life including civil conflict, Ebola and hunger season.

The best idea of the session came from one of the youngest people present.  Patrick, an incredible artist in his own right, tied everyone’s ideas together.  He suggested that there be a light in the center of the design.  It should represent a light shining the way for a new Liberia.  I wish it had been my idea, but that is the whole purpose of community discussion for the mural designs. 

On the first day of painting, a staff of six or seven really good painters took over once the sketch was completed.  I don’t always understand Liberian English, but I heard the artists marvel about how fast I was at drawing my design and how steady my hand was.  Yes, I’m always glad to understand those words.  But, I had to take everything with a grain of salt.  They were also amazed by my desktop mechanical pencil sharpener and the use of a chalk line to make a grid.

In about a half day of work, one third of the color was added to the mural.  Since I had several artists among me, I had them add African patterns to clothing that normally would have been much more solid.  And, when I needed an African drum, guitar and mask, I turned that over to my staff.  I just showed an artist where I wanted them drawn.  I’d never given up as much control of the murals as I did in Liberia.  But, I knew it is the way it should be done when the opportunity presented itself.  As it turned out, with so many local artists on hand, the mural in Zwedru was the easiest one I’ve ever worked on.

The artists enjoyed the secret that nobody ever discovered without help.  During our brainstorming process, everyone liked the idea of a text that I used to spell “Zorzor” in the previous mural.  There was some discussion that perhaps “Grand Gedeh” was better than using “Zwedru”.   I had my heart set all along on the name of the town.  And, seriously, the name of the county was just too many letters.  So, since these really were concerns across the whole country, it was decided that we really ought to use “Liberia”.  Look for a big red “L”, a big green “I” and a big purple “B”.  If you can find them, you’ll see the rest.

Now, you also know our little secret.

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