If you drive around the city of Detroit these days, you might notice some new artwork around town. The Duggan administration’s City Walls program was created in 2017 to enhance public spaces. Now, it has reached a big milestone. The project just put up its 100th mural in the city — and it’s a striking piece of public art.
“Black people are not used to being represented in such a big way like that.” —Waleed Johnson, Detroit-based painter
“The Spirit” is a six-story mural that depicts a Black woman holding the gold sun and spires of the famous “Spirit of Detroit” statue with the city’s flag worn as a headwrap.
Listen: Muralist Waleed Johnson talks about ‘The Spirit” and the power of public art in a city like Detroit.
Waleed Johnson is a Detroit-based painter specializing in portraiture. His new six-story mural “The Spirit” is the 100th city-commissioned mural in Detroit as part of the City Walls project. Johnson has been commissioned to create oil paintings and murals in galleries and on walls in places including Chicago, Lansing and Detroit.
“The development [of ‘The Spirit’] was the course of a couple of years. I actually took this picture of my friend back in 2017,” he explains. “I was going to use it for something; I just didn’t know what it was going to be at the time.”
Johnson says that people have asked him whether the subject of the mural is Rosa Parks or another famous person. He says that’s a reflection of the power of a piece like this — that a depiction of an everyday Black American can be larger than life.
“I was raised by a single Black woman. And I’ve seen many Black women in this city really keeping it alive,” he says. “Black people are not used to being represented in such a big way like that.”