On a cold Saturday afternoon, a mural installation was unveiled on the Olson Memorial Bridge sound wall across I-94. It helps restore a bit of history that was lost more than 20 years ago.
The ceremony on December 2 brought together Minneapolis artists and Northsiders to recreate a new version of acclaimed 20th-century African American artist John Biggers’ “Celebration of Life” mural that was torn down in 2001, to make way for the Heritage Park housing development in North Minneapolis.
A collaboration between the artists collective the John Biggers Seed Project, the Chicago Avenue Fire Arts Center, Minnesota Department of Transportation, and Minneapolis Arts and Cultural Affairs, the public artwork project was 10 years in the making. Work on the installation began in 2014.
“There was a call put out for artists, and we just applied for it,” said Christopher E. Harrison, one of the original artists who contributed to the new mural. “So, it was really important to get the flavor of the community to come through in the final project.”
The mural, which is composed of more than 20 glass-enamel panels, stretches across the chain link fence on either side of the I-94 bridge. “The goal was to study Biggers’ work, but really think about this community. To think about Minneapolis. To think about what it means to have a highway here,” said Mica Lee Anders, one of the artists whose work is featured in the mural.
“It was really important to use Adinkra symbols, which are West African symbols. They’ve been incorporated into a lot of African American art,” continued Lee Anders. “We tried to infuse the art with the meaning of those symbols.
“We wanted to tell a story so that when you follow the mural there is a story that’s being told. There’s water at the bottom of the mural, which is very important here in Minneapolis. There’s the seed, and the bird, and the growth,” added Anders.
“The mural represents the cycle of Minneapolis. The growth. The destruction and then the rebirth that is happening in North Minneapolis.”
The unveiling of the mural was followed by a program at the Capri Theater that detailed the history of the project, with reflections from Seed Project artists Ta-coumba T. Aiken and Bing Davis, as well as Councilmember Jeremiah Ellison, who is a member of the collective. A reception followed.
“It’s a love letter to North Minneapolis,” said Harrison. “We speak to the generations that come before us and those who come after.”