Patti McGill Peterson Center for International and Intercultural Studies
The travel enrichment grant from the Center for International and Intercultural Studies Office allowed me to be part of the painting of a significant graffiti-mural in Bristol, U.K. The event was partly led by Mohammed Ali, a Birmingham (U.K) based Muslim Graffiti artist. He uses his two passions in life "Islam" and "Graffiti" to fuse street-art and Islamic scripture in order to build inter-faith bridges among many communities in the United Kingdom.
Mohammed Ali was invited to this event to specifically carry out workshops on diversity awareness in Southmead and also organize a graffiti-mural painting by the local community of Southmead to advocate the appreciation of diversity in the area. There was a documentary made in the summer of 2009 by Panorama (BBC) that branded the Southmead community as one that was not open to diversity and even labeled as racists. This event therefore aimed at creating awareness on how far from the truth that stereotype was.
The event lasted four days, the first two involving community youth tours in the surrounding art galleries, mosques, churches and graffiti walls around Southmead. These tours aimed to assist children and youth workers in coming together to contemplate what diversity meant to them. The third day involved a session with artist Mohammed Ali, where the youth brainstormed on ideas for the graffiti-mural. Some of the ideas they gave, when asked what diversity meant for them, included phrases like: "we are all one," "peaceful co-existence," "one love," ‘celebrate difference' etc. Mohammed Ali says he was excited to be invited to Bristol, because Bristol is a place where street-art and graffiti are celebrated and as always, this was another opportunity to take "graffiti to another level where the message is the heart of it"! (External link).
The youth looked cheerful during the wall-painting day as snacks were provided by the Southmead Youth Center. I asked what the event meant for those who participated and one eleven-year old girl said; "you know one love, um, it means we are one people and we love each other no matter what. I will be happy to have a Jamaican neighbor whom I can play with!"
Marie Stoner, the Senior Youth and Community Worker for Southmead Youth Centre and also from Bristol Southmead Positive Futures said: "The young people are very excited about this project. Some of the young people have said that they enjoyed it. It has broaden their minds and made them re-evaluate some of their previous perceptions. This is exactly why we wanted to do the project." The goal is for the artwork to leave a lasting legacy of community cohesion, a perpetual reminder of the group's pride and openness to diversity. Together with the help of the youth, Marie was also able to set-up a website which hosts the welcome pack and has links to other local agencies.
I am grateful to the Zhang family and the CIIS for such an opportunity. This experience enabled me to be a part of such a significant event in the history of Southmead, Bristol and I was able to see firsthand how street-art fused with current community issues to create change in a society!