New Dizzy Gillespie Mural Brings Attention to Baha’i Plight
Annika HarrisSep 20, 2017
Education Is Not a Crime mural
Think of Dizzy Gillespie. Jazz comes to mind. So do a trumpet and his distended cheeks. But we’re willing to bet Gillespie’s religion didn’t even enter your thoughts, but it should.
As a celebrated artist, Gillespie is known for incredible trumpet playing and being one of the founding fathers of the Afro-Cuban and/or Latin jazz tradition. But he was also known for being an outspoken member of the Baha’i Faith, a religion that grew out of the Middle East in the late-1800s and embraces the essential worth of the world’s dominant religions. Baha’i also teaches that all people are one and equal.
It was born in Iran, and members of the Baha’i Faith have faced persecution in the Islamic republic since the 1979 Islamic Revolution, despite being the largest religious minority in the country. An aspect of that persecution is the illegality of educating Baha’i people in Iran to this day. The government literally bans Baha’i from teaching and studying in Iranian universities, but these resourceful people have developed ways to educate and study — in secret of course.
#PaintTheChange, an organization that meshes street art with social justice around the world, is bringing global awareness to the plight of the Baha’i. As part of the Education Is Not a Crime movement, #PaintTheChange tapped artists Brandan “B-mike” Odums and Marthalicia “M2” Matarrita to paint a “diptych” mural of Gillespie in Harlem (229 W. 135th), across the street from Gillespie’s plaque on the Harlem Walk of Fame.
“We thought that street art would be an interesting way of talking about this issue of discrimination because it’s public, because it gets attention, because it’s positive and artistic, and it allows for a lot of different artistic expression all on the same issue,” said Saleem Vaillancourt, coordinator of Education Is Not a Crime.
Artist Brandan “B-mike” Odums
Odums’s side of the mural features a rare glimpse of Gillespie, his lips aren’t pursed and his cheeks aren’t distended, forcing air into his trumpet. At the bottom, Odums painted graffiti and street art images taken from one of Gillespie’s albums.
“The choice of painting Dizzy in this way was more about Dizzy and Harlem, and less about Dizzy and his trumpet,” explained Odums. “I wanted to paint the energy and attitude of Harlem in Dizzy’s pose and style, so that not only musicians can say ‘that’s me,’ but anyone walking the streets that claim Harlem as home.”
Artist Marthalicia “M2” Matarrita
Matarrita, whose pseudonym is pronounced M-squared, painted Gillespie in a way that is familiar to us all — him playing the trumpet — but she also hearkened back to the purpose of the mural by highlighting children, education, and elements of nature.
“I like to story-tell, so overall, I had to have constant dialogue of what education means to me personally,” explained Matarrita about how she tied music and education into her piece. “Just the idea that to learn something, you have to keep going, and that mirrors somehow nature to me … In order for nature to survive, it has to be nurtured often. The water from the rain, and the sun gives it proper energy. If you’re cultivating a garden, you definitely need other elements of care-taking. And in my opinion, that kind of tied into that whatever you put in your mind, you have to continue nurturing, whatever abilities you have or the idea that you want to be a better you.
“And when it comes to being a musician like he [Gillespie] is, I know the constant practice has to be nurtured … A daily consistency of nurturing himself via all the elements, providing his feelings to how he engages with his instrument,” she continued. “It’s almost the same way we provide a type of education with the children. The children need constant nourishment, constant support, just like the structure of a tree.”
Nobel Peace Laureates Bishop Desmond Tutu and Dr. Shirin Ebadi, along with Hollywood insiders Mark Ruffalo, Rainn Wilson, Nazanin Boniadi, Justin Baldoni, and Omid Djalili are supporters of Education Is Not a Crime. In addition to Harlem, Education Is Not a Crime has produced more than 40 murals in other parts of New York City, Atlanta, Rio de Janeiro, Salvador, Americana, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Sydney, London, and Delhi, using the skill of top street artists.
Education Is Not a Crime mural
Not only do these murals bring awareness of the Iranian government’s treatment of the Baha’i to the rest of humanity, but they also bring pride to the neighborhoods in which they’re painted. Many passersby stopped to snap pictures of the Gillespie mural, before it was even completed. They seemed appreciative of the free art highlighting one of Harlem’s greats.
“I believe street art has a responsibility to reinforce the value and identity of neighborhoods in the face of systematic changes that at its worse are happening at the expense of erasure,” said Odums. “Layering this painting with not only the theme of Education Is Not a Crime, but also about the love of Harlem as a Black mecca for artistic genius, thats what the colors, the outfit, the attitude on Dizzy’s body and the text represent. I pray when people see this mural they see the value of Harlem as it always was, and is not just the value of what it could be.”
[Images: Education Is Not a Crime]