For the first Art Matters Q&A, we focus on Julia Bottoms, one of the four dynamic Buffalo artists selected for the Albright Knox public art project The Freedom Wall, a vivid 28 panel mural with larger than life portraits of local and national Civil Rights leaders/activists that sits at the gateway of the AA Heritage Corridor on East Ferry and Michigan. Julia was the only female artist in the group and she was also the artist who painted the portrait of Martin Luther King Jr. for the Wall. That image graces our front page this week in celebration of the MLK National Holiday.
In the Q&A below, Julia shares some of her thoughts and experiences on painting Dr. King for The Freedom Wall.
Q.What does Dr. King’s message mean to you?
A.I think as a youth I underestimated the power of MLK’s method and the degree to which he sacrificed to actualize his vision. As an Adult I’ve gained more appreciation for him and realize that nothing is one-size-fits-all for anything including activism. History needed Angela, Malcolm and Martin and each of their differing ideologies and approaches to activism for the progress that has been made then and now.
Q. How did you feel when you saw Dr. King on your list of portraits to paint for the wall?
A. I was instantly nervous and felt intimidated by the weight and magnitude of painting him, but he was one of my top choices I’d hoped to get.
Q. What was the most important detail for you when painting the MLK portrait?
A. Public art curator Aaron Ott and I had a conversation about the MLK portrait because he felt the inclusion of the hands was a really important detail. I was reluctant at first, but I can’t imagine not having them in it now because they are so key to the composition.
Q. What MLK quote Inspires you and how does that relate to your mission as an artist and as a resident of Buffalo where we still struggle for balance between all communities?
A. A quote that really inspires me is “A man dies when he refuses to stand up for that which is right. A man dies when he refuses to stand up for justice. A man dies when he refuses to take a stand for that which is true.”–MLK This quote Is inspiring, but also challenging in that it requires us to consider the weight of our choices, in this case the seemingly benign choice of “silence.” This quote urges us to see silence in the face of wrongdoing, not as passive, but just as harmful as the injustice itself. I think this quote is incredibly applicable to Buffalo (and everywhere else) in that we have to be aware and vocal not only for the issues that directly affect us, but for those that affect others as well. It’s also relevant to Buffalo’s current growth in that it highlights a need to speak out against issues such as gentrification even if you don’t think it will directly affect you.
Follow Julia Bottoms on Facebook @ArtbyJuliaBottoms
Art Matters is a Weekly Column by Leah Hamilton of @happisplace