Voices of Dubuque: A community

Calasandra Spray (TheLorian)

This week in our final Voices of Dubuque Mural Project discussion, we will be looking at “Ascending,” a piece done by the talented students of Clarke University, under the supervision of Associate Professor of Art, Jessie Rebik; and “Solidarity,” a commemorative mural designed by local artist Shelby Fry, which was painted by 75+ community members. 

“Ascending” is a 60-foot by 15-foot mural located at 1671 Central Ave in Dubuque. This painting was done by Clarke students who took the Voices of Dubuque Mural Workshop in the summer of 2018. It features a sunrise behind a series of geometrical mountains. Atop the mountains climbs a series of people, painted in pinks, blues, and yellows. These base people are shown as helping each other to ascend the steep slopes and deep valleys of the rugged terrain. 

Following traditional color schemes, the mural can be viewed as a series of female, male, and non-binary people. Pink is traditionally a feminine color, blue has often represented masculinity, and more recently, yellow has entered the playing field as a representation of a non-masculine and non-feminine gender. In this way, the mural makes a statement about people of all genders assisting each other so that everyone can succeed. By making the background a sunrise, the Clarke students are cleverly suggesting that only in ascending together will life become brighter.

As college students, I believe many of us can relate to this work of art. I know that there have been times when I would not have succeeded in my post-secondary education if it had not been for the support of my fellow students. Whether it be in sharing notes from a class that someone missed, studying for a test together, pulling your weight on a group project, or offering emotional and moral support during the strenuous period before midterms or finals, each of us can support and encourage one another to the effect of success. The emotional impact of this mural is two-fold. Not only does it speak of assisting each other in a learning environment, but it is a message about life overall. It says that together we can succeed. 

Another mural in Dubuque that speaks to viewers about camaraderie is “Solidarity.” Recent years have seen a rise in turmoil regarding racism, classism, sexism, ableism, and many other isms. The nation as a whole has issued a call for a revision of the views and treatment of its citizens of every, race, color, nationality, ability, and sex. In response, Shelby Fry designed “Solidarity.”

This 105-foot by 25-foot mural is painted on the East side of the Five Flags Center in downtown Dubuque. It was painted in a remarkable six days with the assistance of 75+ volunteers. The camaraderie established to achieve such a feat shows how much Dubuque residents value the message it shares: a connected, inclusive community. 

“Solidarity” is a visual work depicting ten fists of varying skin tones, including one with albinism, raised in the air. The effect given is that of representation by all people, no matter racial background. The fists themselves are representative of the Black Lives Matter movement, which has grown rapidly in recent years. Historically, a raised fist has shown solidarity in a plethora of movements, including Industrial Workers of the World, the Spanish Civil War, and the Women’s March. 

Tattooed across the wrists, the word “solidarity” is spelled out. While many of the letters are simply decorative, some are not. A wheelchair’s wheel creates the “o” and represents physical disabilities. The diversity of college programs in Dubuque are represented in the font of the “L,” a standard varsity font that is used on letterman jackets. Mental wellness is given representation in the mural with a semicolon standing in as the first “i.” A semicolon, particularly one located on the wrist, establishes a community wherein people stand in solidarity in awareness and prevention of suicide, depression, addiction, and other brain health issues. LGBTQIA+ is represented within the mural through the use of a rainbow turned on its side to become the “d.” As many of us did in grade school, the second “i” is dotted with a heart. The heart is a universal symbol of love and compassion, something every diverse community needs. Rounding off the mural, the “y” is a combination of the symbols for male, female, and transgender, in honor of all identifications on the gender spectrum. 

Both “Ascending” and “Solidarity” demonstrate the positivity that the murals are intended to bring to the community. All of the murals that have been brought up are vibrant works of creative expression that reinvigorate the first city in Iowa. There are nineteen artists and over fifty murals hiding in downtown Dubuque. I implore everyone to go and discover some for themselves. Perhaps one will be able to use my analysis to jump-start their own thoughts about the wonderful art around our city. If the murals are intriguing, maybe the next time there is a call for painters, one can add their voice to the chorus of artists in Dubuque. 

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