VMF Sneak Peak: Local Artists put the Final Touches on Strathcona Murals!

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Local neighbourhoods are about to get even brighter this month as the Vancouver Mural Festival brings together talented local artists to create beautiful works of art! The festival runs from August 4th to 22nd and features over 60 new murals in 11 neighbourhoods. Since we can actually do things this year, there are also over 40 live shows featured as part of the event.

Tucked behind the shops and restaurants in Chinatown, an otherwise ordinary Vancouver alleyway has been transformed into a colourful tapestry worth visiting. As part of the Vancouver Mural Festival, local artists have been working hard, day and night, to create beautiful art pieces for us to enjoy. Around the corner from what was once a bustling black community know as Hogan’s Alley, artists of the ‘Black Strathcona Resurgence Project’ (BSRP), have created pieces of art with the intention of representing the diverse faces of Vancouver. 

These talented artists are just a few of the many who are working hard to complete their murals ahead of the festival next week.  In speaking to them, the artists exude the tireless passion they have poured into these murals which are free for the public to enjoy for most of August.

Odera Igbokwe (pictured) describes his piece as an “ancestral oasis, kind of like a family tree going back and forth from the past and future.”

The talented painter had to adjust his ideas to fit the large canvas, a textured wall with a partially fenced off section, “most of my work is very detailed oriented and lots of fine lines to create blending moments. But that’s kind of been thrown out the window in exchange for something a little bit flatter, more of a dry brush pastel look, putting colour, light, and shape as primary.” 

Despite the challenges, Igbokwe realizes the impact these public displays have on a neighbourhood.  “It instantly transforms a space. I remember walking past here a couple days ago and I was trying to figure out if I had made the wrong turn. Instantly, I saw in my periphery a bright splash of this colour and I was like this is definitely where I have to turn. So that alone just the physical power of art of this scale can really shift a space or the way we interact with the space.”

Paige Jung’s mural is titled ‘A Resilient Chinatown’, in honour of the proud legacy of Vancouver’s Chinese community. “Especially with this project we’re really aiming to highlight the solidarity aspect between the Chinatown community the Indigenous community and also the Black Strathcona community. I think at the end of the day solidarity is what we’re all achieving and we’re all hoping to achieve.”

The aim is not merely lip service as there is a real feeling of collaboration and community amongst the BSRP artists.

However, those unwilling to search out these hidden gems, may just miss out on some amazing works of art, “I think it’s a really amazing way to express that through art and just seeing all the murals here in the alleyways, it’s pretty cool. It’s a little hidden but it’s there if you walk around!” Jung said.

“I wanted people to feel seen and represented, maybe they see themselves and maybe they see their grandparents or siblings. The oranges are for good luck and perseverance. Our Chinatown has been through a lot historically and it’s a way of showing how we’re fighting back.” - Paige Jung

It’s paint strokes until the stroke of midnight as Rachel Achus embraces the challenge of completing her mural, “A lot of us work 9 to 5’s and do this on top. I wake up in the morning I work my 9-5, and I come here and I paint till like midnight and I do it all over again, and I don’t regret anything this is such a great experience, almost a once in a lifetime thing.”

Achus aims to spread a message of empowerment with her artwork, “My piece embodies belonging to yourself before belonging to others. I want to convey that you need to stay focused on what is important and you need to put yourself first and belong to yourself before to you belong to a community before you belong to an identity or anything else you need to belong to yourself.”

She also has some sage advice for patrons of VMF, “Buy your tickets bring your friends, get lit, and show black art some love!”

Spray painting isn’t always welcome in a neighbourhood that has seen it’s fair share of vandalism. However, MEDIAH hopes his art will help people take a second to look a little deeper. There’s an oppression, a spiritual oppression on the people (here) whether it’s addiction or mental health issues, the neighbourhood has a feeling of it. Artwork like this is intended to send a prayer in the opposite light to shine light into the darkness in a way. It should bring some sort of positive spark, positive energy into the neighbourhood.”

“I’ve put everything I have into it. I go full tilt and I do the absolute best I can. To bring it to a place of satisfaction and a place where it breathes and speaks to me… I’ve put everything into it and I’m still putting everything into it with the final sidekick details that I’m working on right now”

Although we may only take a few minutes to admire each piece of artwork, there has been countless hours of patient practice put into each mural.

The feeling of community is especially apparent in this Strathcona neighbourhood. Residents and businesses in the area have welcomed the artists, often stopping their day to admire the works in progress.  

“It brings togetherness and culture, more of a real-life human connection with one another. Even just being here for two weeks I feel so a part of this community. A lot of restaurant owners here, building owners, people who walk by everyday, people (who are) unfortunately without homes, I’ve gotten to know them around this area.” COMOHOMBRE proudly recalled as she put the finishing touches on her mural.

Staff from restaurants that back onto the alley at 251 Union St. appreciate the new colourful backdrop that accompanies their kitchen breaks. Artists were even treated to some local fare, including Cambodian/Vietnamese restaurant, Phnom Penh’s famous chicken wings.   

COMOHOMBRE grew up in the area, and the significance of her family’s roots and the history of the neighbourhood inspire her to achieve more. “Just knowing all the other families and artists that would’ve been here if Hogan’s Alley was alive and well, it’s an honour to have any part of re-building our old community. It was such a lively place to be and I feel so honoured and I feel like I’m doing them justice by doing this”

The young artist sees the opportunity as a dream come true, but also a lesson in what she’s capable of. 

“I am making a mural. I am used to using low-quality paint and low-quality brushes. I am from Hogan’s Alley, like I am literally no one and I have a mural now, so anything you say out loud you put out to the universe and you work for, you can do, you just have to move with love and presence and you can achieve it.”