NEWARK, NJ – More than 30 local artists came together this week to work on a one-of-a-kind “Black Lives Matter” mural which encompassed a year’s worth of planning and preparation.
After the killing of George Floyd sparked protests and rallies around the country in 2020, it served as a catalyst for local artists to come together and commence a project that would symbolize their perspective on the issue of social justice.
The mural, which spans an entire parking lot at Manufacturers Village in East Orange, welcomed a group of individuals including longtime Newark residents Suliman and Samad Onque, along with their mother Yvonne, to each bring their own artistic vision to the piece.
“I’m having fun with my family while making history,” Suliman, a Central Ward resident, said. “At a time like this where we can make our message be seen in an artistic way, every artist has their own skill set that they are putting into each letter - their own entity and essence.”
The location for the Black Lives Matter community mural will be the largest parking lot at Manufacturers Village located on Glenwood Place. The mural will be nearly 20,000 square feet and will become the largest public art installation in East Orange.
The project is aimed to engage and employ artists from East Orange and surrounding areas. Selected artists were paid to design and paint individual letters in the mural.
Lead artist on the project, Malcolm Rolling, a lifelong East Orange resident and muralist, was tabbed to design the outline structure for the mural. After extensive research, he chose a typeface created by Tre Seals, an African American designer and typographer.
Once a typeface was chosen, the 16 letters in the mural were open to 16 artists to paint a letter with their own interpretation of which social justice issues mattered the most to them.
“We are doing the art, but it’s opening the doors to communication,” said Rolling, who also worked on the Halsey Street “Black Lives Matter” mural in Newark. “This project has allowed us all to bond, talk and create things that we normally wouldn’t have.”
Kneeling down on a piece of cardboard along the asphalt, Suliman hunched over his letter “K” to bring his message of overcoming discord in Black history and returning to a sense of normalcy in hectic times.
“This is not something that’s just any old mural. This mural will be seen by everyone across the world and to be a part of it is a dream come true,” he said. “As an artist, I want to continue to be able to do things that are going to be springboards to other things.”
In addition to his contribution to the East Orange mural, the Central Ward artist has worked on other pieces in the city and surrounding areas.
In 2020, he completed the collaborative "Phoenix Rise" mural located in the main entrance of University High School and worked on the "ABOLISH WHITE SUPREMACY" street mural.
He also paid homage to the late Marsha P. Johnson with a mural in Elizabeth, created art for the "Hope Box" project events in Newark, worked on the UNITY mural in the city, and completed a four-mural installation at the Turning Point Community Services shelter in Irvington with his mother, Yvonne.
Working alongside Suliman about 12 feet away, brother Samad, a former Central Ward resident, painted the letter “B” with an array of red, white, blue and black colors. A current resident of Baltimore, Samad explained that as soon as he found out about the project, he made the nearly 185-mile trek north to bring his voice to the piece.
Wanting to showcase the impact of powerful women of color and how they pushed the narrative in the most recent 2020 presidential election, he said it was a privilege to work on the project.
“I wanted to be able to give these women their just due,” he said. “These are troubling times in our nation, and many people feel like they don’t have a voice, so we want to find ways to make their voices be heard. We as artists have a gift and ability to be able to express our views and feelings with the world. We want people to share in our feelings and to be able to connect, so that was one of the reasons I wanted to be a part of this.”