Philadelphia unveiled its first mural celebrating transgender and gender non-conforming people last week.
The mural, “We Are Universal,” was created by artist Kah Yangni in collaboration with residents of Morris Home, the only residential recovery program in the country that offers services specifically for trans people, according to its website.
The 2,200 square foot mural features vibrant colors, flowers, a butterfly and the faces of two Morris Home residents.
Yangni, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said they were inspired by a photoshoot they took with residents and photographer Angel Shanel Edwards at Bartram’s Garden, a public garden and national historic monument in Philadelphia, and d ‘interviews with residents.
Some of the quotes from the residents are included on the mural, which reads “we are trans”, “we are survivors”, “we are happy”, “we feel rage” and “we are universal!” “
“I chose words that describe the people of Morris Home, but also the broader trans community and people in recovery,” Yangni said. “I tried to choose things that I felt a lot of people could relate to.”
Yangni said they also wanted to create something positive that instills a sense of warmth and coziness in trans people.
“I think it’s really great to be trans,” they said. “I’m really proud of who I am, but I know we live in this world where not everyone thinks that, and people in our community are going through a lot. So I wanted to do something that would feel like a huge hug and recognize some of the things that are difficult in our lives, but ultimately be really loving and really warm and say, “We are here and we exist. “
They said that during the design process someone suggested taking a well-known quote from novelist and activist James Baldwin and using the phrase, “To be black and trans is to be in. a constant state of rage ”on the fresco.
But Yangni said they wanted to balance the tough parts of being trans with joy.
“It’s really hard to see death and destruction all the time and we are more than that,” Yangni said. “I wanted there to be a story as well about how great we are.”
“We Are Universal” is a joint project of Mural Arts Philadelphia and the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, which supports Morris Home.
The mural dedication, which took place last week, also kicked off Wall Arts Month, which will run in Philadelphia throughout October and features wall dedications, roundtables, spotlights, and wall art. ‘artists and guided tours of murals, among other activities. The theme for this year’s Wall Arts Month is Resilience.
General manager of murals, Jane Golden, said at the dedication of “We Are Universal” that murals, in addition to being beautiful, are intended to solve social problems.
“I think the mural masks the power behind it,” she said, according to WHYY, a Philadelphia public radio station. “For every project that people see, like the one we are faced with, it takes two years of working with Morris. These are workshops, these are programs, these are very deep, meaningful and difficult conversations that were truly both painful and incredibly triumphant.
Yangni said they hope there will be a wave of queer murals in other cities to help queer and trans people feel seen.
Trans people are often ‘in the background’, they said, ‘or maybe on the internet, and it would be nice if we were in real life too’.
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