Paul Robeson was one of the most multi-talented men of the last century. He was an All-American football player at Rutgers, a lawyer, actor, singer, and social and political activist. As a singer, he helped revive the traditional spirituals. He was an actor on both the screen and stage. His portrayal of the Moor in Othello was the longest run of any actor playing a single part on the stage. He became a civil rights activist after his travels to the Soviet Union and his opposition to the Cold War caused him to be blacklisted by the entertainment industry in the United States. We are only a few days away from a new work of art honoring Paul Robeson right here in DC: a massive mural right on U Street NW.
Located between 13th and 14th on the north side of U Street this mural is the collaborative work of Cory Stowers (Mural Designer and Project Manager) and Andrew Katz (Lead Illustrator) along with the help of other local artists: Zarina Z., Eric B. Ricks, Ernesto Zayala, Maria Miller and Nassar Jahbinah. Cory was awarded the grant by Public Arts Building Communities and brought his entire team along with him to plan and create this mural. The side of the building is about 30 feet high and 144 feet long with portraits of Paul stretching upwards of 25 feet high. Besides a couple massive portraits, there are eight different history pods (smaller pictures within the larger mural) that depict a different stage of his life. Each portrait and pod are exquisitely painted and you feel like you are right there with him at that particular stage. If this project were only these wonderful paintings it would still be more than worth your time to check it out; however, this mural is also a fully interactive exhibit about Paul Robeson featuring embedded image recognition technology. Visitors can download a free app and when they scan a particular image the associated media from Robeson’s life (like a clip of a movie he was in or a song he sung) is displayed along with the actual art. For example, when you look at the Rutgers football pod you’ll see the physical portrait of him along with a small video showing his playing days. I absolutely love this idea as it is a great way to mix art and education. In the museum world in general, there has been a massive push to incorporate technology into pre-existing exhibits as a way to enhance the visitor’s experience. This mural is a fully interactive experience that’s not to be missed.
The mural will be finished by this Saturday, June 27th and the interactive aspects described above will be live as well. A ribbon cutting ceremony is tentatively scheduled for 5pm that day as well. For more information, check out Art Bloc DC’s Facebook page or follow the project on Instagram or Twitter using @artblocdc #artbloc #livingtimeline #paulrobeson #dccah.