DC Mural Guide: Celebrate the District's Black History Through Art

"These murals are really telling the local history, culture and the beauty of their community. "

From go-go music to the fight for racial justice to notable figures, murals in D.C. show the essence of the city on buildings and alleyways.

In the last 10 years, the murals have increased in number and broadened to include episodes, places and spaces in D.C. "that bring pride to the African-American history and culture," Bernie Demczuk, a D.C. historian, said.

Historically, murals primarily told the stories about famous African-American trailblazers such as Frederick Douglass or Mary Church Terrell.

Now, many new murals make statements about D.C. itself — highlighting a range of lived experiences.

Demczuk gave the example of murals on the corner of 7th Street and Florida Avenue that honor go-go music. These popped up after some tried to prevent go-go music from being played loudly on that corner.

Go-Go City Mural
Murals DC
Go-Go City Mural by Kaliq Crosby

Two years ago, the D.C. Council named go-go the official music of the District. The murals became a clear, loud and proud example of D.C. pride and culture that is here to stay.

"Murals have moved from personalities to flowers to beauty to making political statements. And this is all part of who we are," he said. "This is all part of why murals are so important in keeping our history and our culture alive."

MuralsDC, a division of the D.C. Department of Public Works, was created in 2007 to "replace illegal graffiti with artistic works." Since then, it has played a part in expanding murals in the city by paying local artists.

Cita Sadeli, also known as MISS CHELOVE, is one of the artists who works with the department, something she's been doing since 2011.

It's important that art is being created to reflect issues that are happening locally, MISS CHELOVE said.

There was an explosion of public art in D.C. during the fight for racial justice in summer 2020, she said.

"Lots of folks from grandmothers to teens were coming out and they were just expressing themselves in these spaces," she said of art that popped up at the time.

She said that artists coming into the streets to paint and create has demystified the way murals are created.

"They were enjoying the process and it was just a really rich and beautiful way of to see BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, and people of color] folks taking a very troubling time and doing what art does and transforming these emotions into something beautiful," she said.

MISS CHELOVE encourages visitors and residents to "share the love" when they pass by a mural and share the way it makes them feel on social media.

"I think it's important to expose young people to murals and graffiti in general, because they're the future, you know, and they're the folks that are going to be using this tool to create messages and express themselves," she said.

To experience these diverse murals, here are some works of art that highlight Black life in the District.

MuralsDC51 Project

Murals in DC
Murals DC

MuralsDC launched a project to install 51 works of art "in recognition of the District’s decades-long quest for statehood."

The 41 murals and eight photographs "celebrate love, racial harmony, social justice, human rights and District history."

Go here to take a virtual tour of all the murals that are part of the project.

"The Torch" by Aniekan Udofia with Mia Duval

The Touch Mural
Murals DC

Located on the side of Ben's Chili Bowl in Northwest D.C., "The Torch" is one of Aniekan Udofia's most recognized works.

"The Torch," which was donated by the restaurant, was named by MuralsDC as one of the city's most photographed murals.

Marvin Gaye Mural by Aniekan Udofia

Located at the corner of 7th and S streets in Northwest D.C., the mural showcases Udofia's signature bright colors. The artist has called this piece one of his favorite works.

Black Lives Matter Plaza

In the summer of 2020, during the racial reckoning sparked by the killing of George Floyd, "Black Lives Matter" was painted in 40-foot-tall letters over the 800 and 900 blocks of 16th Street NW. The words stretch the length of three and a half football fields.

The mural was designed by eight local artists who took less than eight hours to make their "mathematical calculations" and then outline and paint the letters, according to MuralsDC.

The department says "more than 50 municipalities around the world have painted similar murals."

(Photo by DANIEL SLIM/AFP via Getty Images)
Workers repaint the BLM letters at Black Lives Matter Plaza in Washington, DC, on January 15, 2021. (Photo by Daniel SLIM / AFP)

"The Resurrection" by Aniekan Udofia

The mural on 11th Street Northwest D.C. is on the side of Bohemian Caverns. It depicts Billie Holiday, John Coltrane, Duke Ellington and Miles Davis in shades of purple.

"Every Day I See Something New" by MISS CHELOVE

Every Day I See Something New

This mural is located on Kalorama Road in Adams Morgan across from Marie Reed Elementary School.

"I always like to think about the audience and who's going to be seeing the work," she said. "So I thought about these kids being out there every day in the playground."

The mural is packed with D.C. imagery such as New Balance sneakers, go-go and Adams Morgan culture. MISS CHELOVE says this is one of the most important pieces to her.

"She Smiles 100 Suns" by MISS CHELOVE

Painted in 2019, "She Smiles 100 Suns" is located at 104 Kennedy St. NW.

MISS CHELOVE has said on social media that she hopes "this piece lifts the spirits. That’s what it was designed to do!"

She has sold prints and puzzle pieces of the artwork.

"You Are Welcome" by MISS CHELOVE

You Are Welcome Mural

"You Are Welcome" is on 14th Street NW on the side of a Unity Health Care clinic.

MISS CHELOVE has spread the mural's message of inclusivity by also selling canvas prints of the artwork.

She wrote about the piece on her Instagram: "You will *always* be Welcome Here. No one is Illegal on Stolen Land."

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