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Black muralists reclaim walls of Vancouver's Strathcona neighbourhood

·3 min read
Three of the Black Stratchona Resurgence Project artists, Paige Jung, Rachel Achus and Enia Sitole stand beside Sitole's completed mural near Main and Keefer in Vancouver. (Jennifer Wilson/CBC News - image credit)
Three of the Black Stratchona Resurgence Project artists, Paige Jung, Rachel Achus and Enia Sitole stand beside Sitole's completed mural near Main and Keefer in Vancouver. (Jennifer Wilson/CBC News - image credit)

Krystal Paraboo says each of the artists she approached to create a mural for the Black Strathcona Resurgence Project responded with either tears, shock or disbelief.

"That just goes to show you the lack of opportunity that Black artists get in this city... . It makes me so happy to sit back and watch them fulfilled. I feel like a proud mamma curator," she said.

The BSRP is part of this year's Vancouver Mural Festival.

As the project curator, Paraboo says her goal is to use public murals to push back against the erasure of the Black community in Strathcona, many members of which were displaced when Hogan's Alley was razed during the construction of the Georgia viaduct in the 1960s and 70s.

Under the banner of the BSRP, Paraboo said she saw scope to give opportunities to new and emerging Black artists in Vancouver, alongside more seasoned muralists.

So, what's on the walls?

Several of the murals can be found on the edge of Vancouver's Chinatown in the laneway behind 251 Union St.

This is where artists have been painting large scale pieces for weeks, enduring all the sounds, smells and scorching heat of a downtown alleyway in July.

Here is what inspired some of their work.

Joslyn Reid, 43

Jennifer Wilson/CBC News
Jennifer Wilson/CBC News

Reid was born in Jamaica. In his mural, he wanted to celebrate the side of his culture that is rooted in Africa.

When seen as a whole, his piece depicts Pitchy Patchy, a character from the Jonkonnu parade who represents strength.

The figure also refers to Queen Nanny of the Maroons — a Jamaican national hero — who fought British colonial forces and led her community's uprising against enslavement.

Paige Jung, 25

Jennifer Wilson/CBC News
Jennifer Wilson/CBC News

Not all the artists taking part in the BSRP are Black, a decision Paraboo says reflects the historical interconnection between Black, Indigenous and Chinese communities in the neighbourhood.

Paige Jung, a first time muralist, painted lanterns, oranges and plum blossoms to symbolize hope, good fortune and endurance through hard times.

"It's really important that we shed light on the ways in which Chinatown has a history of community together and fighting back against racism and exclusion," she said.

Odera Igbokwe, 30

Jennifer Wilson/CBC News
Jennifer Wilson/CBC News

Igbokwe painted their piece as an ode to migration, to the history of Hogan's Alley, and also as a reminder to rest.

"It's just a moment of spiritual and mental care and oasis," they said.

Igbokwe chose the colour palette to create a ray of sunshine to illuminate the grey of a Vancouver winter.

Enia Sitole, 22

Submitted Enia Sitole
Submitted Enia Sitole

Another first time muralist, Enia Sitole came to Vancouver from Mozambique as an 18-year-old student. She says she struggled to find the experience of immigrant, African women represented in the city, and so she painted what she wanted to see.

Paraboo calls this project a win for Black artists in Strathcona, but also for community building in the wider city.

"It's just the start of what's next, to transform neighbourhoods to be better suited for Black, Indigenous and racialized community members living in Vancouver," she said.

Listen to the segment here:

For more stories about the experiences of Black Canadians — from anti-Black racism to success stories within the Black community — check out Being Black in Canada, a CBC project Black Canadians can be proud of. You can read more stories here.

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