Meet the teen artist: BIPOC Celebration Mural

An overview of the dedication ceremony on November 23, 2021. Jennifer Longshore photo
September 14, 2022

Truth to Power Club created a mural celebrating BIPOC (Part 2 of 3)

“I’d like to say thank you for trusting a teenager, a Latine teenager, to put this up on the wall. I am so honored.”

Artist Isa Martinez Moore, at the mural dedication

By Peter Finkle for Ashland News

In Part 1, I described how students in the recently formed Ashland High School Truth to Power club decided to create a mural honoring Aidan Ellison, a Black teenager who was killed in Ashland on Nov. 23, 2020. The club wanted to choose an Artist of Color to paint the mural, and they found one in 2021: Ashland High graduate Isa Martinez Moore. (Note: I will use they and them pronouns to refer to Isa, which is Isa’s preference.)

Artist Isa Martinez Moore in their painting overalls. Peter Finkle photo

Isa grew up in an artistic family, then created lots of art throughout their years at Ashland High. But the concrete wall on the Mountain Avenue side of Ashland High was a next-level challenge. To begin, the proposed mural was 171 feet long; that’s more than half the length of a football field!

I asked Isa how much creative freedom they had in the design. Isa replied, “The people in the club told me they wanted it to be portraits of these people, and the rest of it I pretty much came up with by myself. I wanted the frames to be a good way to cleanly separate each person. I wanted to add little details that pertained to each of their lives inside the frames. Then I hit sort of a creative block. I didn’t know how to make this brighter and more fluid. That’s when I came up with the idea of the swoops and the swirls – something to tie them all together, while still recognizing they are each in their own frames.”

The Truth to Power club hoped to involve local residents with a community painting day. Their vision for the mural is to have it be an educational and motivating presence to reduce racism locally — both within the high school and the greater Ashland community. Involving as many locals as possible in the mural creation would contribute to their vision. My wife and I loved being a small part of it by adding some red and yellow color to the north end of the mural.

Community members only helped paint “the swoops and the swirls.” Isa painted all eight portraits on the mural. Anya Moore described how Truth to Power club members chose the mural subjects: “We looked for those individuals whose work and activism have helped our community to grow in its inclusivity, compassion and equity.”

The eight mural subjects are (from left to right) Winona LaDuke, Walidah Imarisha, Tehlor Kay Mejia, Agnes Baker Pilgrim (Grandma Aggie), Michelle Alexander, Gina DuQuenne, Lawson Inada and Aidan Ellison.

There was a good turnout for the mural community painting day on Sept. 26, 2021. Peter Finkle photo

In Part 3 of this series, I will introduce the life and work for justice of each person featured on the BIPOC Celebration Mural.

A very meaningful dedication for this new public artwork took place on Nov. 23, 2021, one year after the day Aidan was murdered. Aidan’s mother, Andrea Wofford, was there to cut the ribbon dedicating the mural. High school students provided music, dance, poetry and heart-felt words about their commitment to increase compassion and reduce racism in our community.

I will leave the final words to artist Isa Martinez Moore. When I asked Isa if there was anything they would like to say to people who would read my article, they replied: “Since part of this mural is honoring Aidan Ellison, one of my main goals was to make that part of it really distinct in memoriam for him, and to make it known that this terrible tragedy shouldn’t have happened. While doing the other portraits, what I really wanted to convey is that even after People of Color are, unfortunately, killed, what we have to do as a community is highlight and honor those People of Color who are still alive and making contributions to our community. Although it is in memoriam of Aidan and Aggie, I still wanted to use a lot of bright colors and a lot of happy portrayals of these people. I want it to be clear that People of Color’s lives aren’t meant to be tragedies, that it’s important to highlight their beauty and contributions without making it always seem like just a sad story.”

Ultimately, Isa hopes that Ashland High students and community members will be inspired by the people in these portraits and find motivation to help make the world a better place.

Note: Isa uses Latine as a gender-neutral term rather than either Latino or Latina.

Peter Finkle gives Ashland history and art walking tours. See WalkAshland.com for walking tour information, or to request a custom tour.

Winona LaDuke’s finished portrait in May 2022. Peter Finkle photo
Isa Martinez Moore painting Winona LaDuke’s portrait in October 2021. Peter Finkle photo

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Bert Etling

Bert Etling

Bert Etling is the executive editor of Ashland.news. Email him at betling@ashland.news.
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