Paint Memphis: So Much More Than Zombies

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Regardless of what we all may think about Memphis' big silly zombie murals, I think we can all agree on one thing:  The Memphis City Council doesn't really get public art, who makes it, or how. Hopefully most of us can also agree that it's in nobody's best interest to induce Satanic panic or base policy on superstition. 

Right Councilman Joe Brown?
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For better context you can follow the links above, and I promise to write more informatively on this topic later. Right now I just want to share a bunch of pictures and think out loud about my drive South down Willett, beyond all the stately Midtown homes and mansions, into the increasingly dilapidated and largely vacant zone where it hits Lamar. Here there be monsters.
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Murals like the ones currently causing a fuss are designed to have a relatively short shelf life. They are destined to become sun-faded or overwritten by fresh coats of paint. In a perfect world the empty buildings are filled, and freshened up accordingly. That's not a free pass on criticism — far from it. There are good reasons to question things like access, community input, how much may or may not have been done to include neighborhood artists and whether or not it's a good idea to paint a big reanimated corpse on a major thoroughfare. It may also be helpful to look at the entire result and not reduce an enormous project like this one to a single beastie.

Contextually, none of the art — not even the most extreme — seems all that out of place on a stretch of Lamar where skateboarders work out their tricks, graffiti-covered boxcars are parked along the elevated railroad tracks, and abandoned properties have been tagged for decades. Most of the work is positive, celebrating the music and moods of a moody, musical town. Some of it's quirky. Some of it's really lovely.
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As this conversation continues, pay attention to the whole street, and to street-life on a corner dominated by empty properties, a gas station, and a skateboarder's hideaway — just around the corner from a public school for the arts. There are lots of good conversations we can have about access, public input, and so on. But those conversations do need to acknowledge that projects like these are infinitely amendable, and undertaken in the absence of industry. Unlike Memphis' Confederate statues, there's no entrenched zombie agenda working to keep buildings vacant and spookily decorated. As one friend put it, "art's messy." And in this kind of temporary, low-stakes arena there's probably room for mistakes, poor judgment and even bad art. Because — barring some regrettable and reactionary policy — there's going to be a next time, and ample opportunity to listen, learn and do better. 



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