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ICYMI: London-based Artist Paints Mural to Alain LeRoy Locke in The Gayborhood

April 6, 2019

Welcome to a long needed series to this blog: ICYMI (“In Case You Missed It”). Long story not-so-short, as many of you know this blog is run and managed by me, Conrad Benner, one human person. And while over the last year I have been trying to hire Eric Dale as much as I can to help me photograph and blog about more art, as well as to create our Philly Street Art Interviews series, my resources are generally speaking pretty slim. Notice there’s very few ads on this blog and on my Instagram. So, I have to pick and choose what I want to document and when. This blog is curated after all, so that’s fine. BUT more and more I’ve been noticing that there’s even more work around Philly that I love and just haven’t gotten the time to document as (or soon after) they are created. And because this blog namely works as a news-blog talking about new (or newer) installations that have gone up, once something is more than a few months old I have felt like I missed my opportunity to blog about it. But today and moving forward, I’m saying fuck that mindset, haha. When I have the free time, and especially now that it’s nice out again, I’m just going to run around and start to photograph and blog about things I’ve missed when they were new. And I’m just going to call this series ICYMI! (P.s. If you’re an advertiser or individual who likes the work we’re trying to do here and would like to support, please feel free to reach out, my contact info is at the top righthand side of this blog.) 

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For today’s post we’re looking at some photos I took in January of a mural finished in October, 2018. (I actually Instagrammed about this mural in January as well, but never got around to building a blog post around it; alas, priorities shifted to focus on other work.) This mural was created by a London-based artist Ben Slow, who was visiting Philly, and it was paid for and supported by Mural Arts Philadelphia.

A tribute to Alain LeRoy Locke (1885-1954), the mural is located at Juniper and Cypress streets in the Gayborhood. The artist wrote the following on his Instagram about the mural: “Alain LeRoy Locke, a leading black intellectual during the early twentieth century and an important supporter of the Harlem Renaissance, was born in Philadelphia on September 13, 1885. Locke has been widely regarded as the originator of the New Negro Movement and the Harlem Renaissance. His main contribution to both movements was the promotion and emphasis on values, diversity, and race relations.”

Here’s some more about Alain LeRoy Locke from Wikipedia: “Locke’s philosophy of the New Negro was grounded in the concept of race-building. Its most important component is overall awareness of the potential black equality; no longer would blacks allow themselves to adjust themselves or comply with unreasonable white requests. This idea was based on self-confidence and political awareness. Although in the past the laws regarding equality had been ignored without consequence, Locke’s philosophical idea of The New Negro allowed for fair treatment. Because this was an idea and not a law, its power was held in the people. If they wanted this idea to flourish, they were the ones who would need to ‘enforce’ it through their actions and overall points of view.”

The location of this mural in the Gayborhood holds some particular significance as well, as Alain LeRoy Locke was a gay man. “Locke was gay, and may have encouraged and supported other gay African-Americans who were part of the Harlem Renaissance,” his bio on Wikipedia continues. “However, he was not fully public in his orientation and referred to it as his point of ‘vulnerable/invulnerability,’ taken to mean an area of risk and strength in his view.”

Aside from honoring Alain LeRoy Locke and subsequently encouraging curious passersby to learn more about his life and his work, another thing I love about this mural is the artist’s, let’s say, organic mural making style. Ben Slow doesn’t fill every inch of this wall with paint, which makes the portrait pop even more than it might otherwise. That and the way the paint drips almost makes it look like a good summer rain washed away part of this wall to reveal a figure, a history. One that, when you know or learn about the subject of the mural, is so perfect to have in the Gayborhood. And particularly right now, as in recent years Philly’s Gayborhood has finally begun to face a history of racism and discrimination, which has been widely reported. Now, who knows if this out of town artist knew that, but it seems fitting nonetheless.

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