For decades, Indiana Avenue was the epicenter of Black life in Indianapolis. Today, few reminders of the avenue’s significance to the Black community exist. However, thanks to 18 local Black artists, a resolution from the city-county council and the Indianapolis Urban League, a Black Lives Matter mural — which are popping up in cities around the country — now exists as a tribute to what Indiana Avenue used to be and the ongoing struggle for justice.
Harriet Watson, 25, was tasked with creating the letter “A” in Matters. With paint supplied from the Indianapolis Urban League and inspired by Faith Ringgold’s protest art “The Flag is Bleeding,” Watson said she pulled from other Black artists and her own experience as a Black woman to create her part of the mural.
“Because I’m a Black person, I just feel greatly about the brutality that’s going on,” Watson said. “I felt the need to participate. I’m not usually an artist who does Black identity-based work, so I definitely looked for inspiration from Black artists who were involved in revolutionary projects.”
Unlike some Black Lives Matter murals created in other cities, the mural downtown is reflective of each artists’ individual style and voice.
“I think that it’s just really cool to go up close and see the 18 artists different perspectives on celebrating being Black and protecting Black people,” Watson said. “Literally every letter is an individual mural, is an individual expression of what the artist is feeling — it’s more unique.”
The creation of the mural was made possible by a resolution from the city-county council, co-sponsored by President Vop Osili. The resolution said the creation of the mural was a way to “convey a message condemning racism and inequality.”
Throughout the course of the day — which included a brief rain delay — community members could come and watch the artists create. This provided some the chance to protest the creation of the mural. Watson, however, believes focusing on the art and its message is more productive.
“We weren’t there to focus on them, we were there to spread positivity,” Watson said. “I mean, it’s not shocking that people are angry about it. It just reflects the need for more education and more experience of bringing people together. … It’s nothing to be too angry about, it’s just art.”
With Black Lives Matter activists out and about in Indianapolis on almost a daily basis, the movement shows no signs of slowing down. For Watson, a student at Indiana University, the opportunity to be part of a historic movement is one she said she won’t forget.
“It’s a huge honor, and I’m really proud to be a part of it,” she said. “It’s a really great message, and I hope it sticks. I just feel so grateful to be a part of spreading that message.”
Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.