Kzoo artist paints mural depicting the faces of injustice

Kalamazoo and Battle Creek

KALAMAZOO, Mich. (WOOD) — Artist and activist Maya James of Kalamazoo is painting a mural that will soon be a permanent art installation for all to see.

She says her latest masterpiece maps out the faces of injustice.

“This piece is about marginalized people and their advocates,” James said.

James said each of the 72 portraits she is painting represents a victim, whether it’s a victim of a hate crime, police brutality or an activist who died fighting for marginalized people’s rights.

“Every single person on here looks like somebody that we know,” James said.

The mural, using a key of symbols, maps out the ways she says each person died.

“The check mark means that their death was caught on camera,” James said while pointing to her portrait of Anthony Hill, who was shot and killed by a police officer in 2015. “The heart means that they were unarmed.”

But the symbols tell more than just the end of their stories.

“It’s not just about how they died, but it’s about how they lived,” James said.

“The pentagram means they could be an EMT or a U.S. military veteran,” she said, pointing to that same vignette with Hill’s face.

For James, this is as much a research project as it is an art project.

“Some of them were scholars. Some of them were necessary EMT workers that we needed in the pandemic. Some of them were military veterans that we’re supposed to be respecting,” she said.

In many of the faces, she sees a part of herself or those she loves.

“I don’t think I know somebody who doesn’t look like somebody on these boards and that terrifies me,” James said.

Once finished and displayed for all to see, James hopes others will feel a connection of their own, as she looks to humanize a movement one masterpiece at a time.

James plans to unveil the permanent outdoor art installation outside the Vine Neighborhood Association building in Kalamazoo by early next month.

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