When Walls Build Bridges

A Commentary & Review of A NEW COLOR
A film by Mo Morris • Documentary •  57 min.

By John Bennison, Mountain Shadow Director
Note: This film was the selection for June, 2016

“For the mural to turn out beautiful, we all need to get along.” - Edythe Boone

Over a half century ago, when I was a boy growing up in a provincial and fairly conservative Midwest town, graffiti was considered nothing more than a graphic form of vandalism. Proper parents taught their children the cautionary maxim, “Fool’s names and fool’s faces, always appear in public places.”  Artistic expression was reserved for gallery exhibitions; and by those with a pedigree of obvious talent.  Even so-called “folk art” required the credentialed critic’s approval and the test of time, before posthumous recognition was even a possibility.

Another enduring maxim and truth, however, is that the creative process often emerges out of trial and hardship. So when Edy Boone found the gumption within herself to demand that the city’s public housing authority in Harlem clean up the squalid conditions in which she was trying to live a life, she was given some paint, and left to her own imagination and devices. As a result, she found herself and her vocation in a term she’d never known before: muralist.

Edy Boone can take a wall and build a bridge with a paintbrush and a way of living that creates genuine community.  But can art empower those who seem most powerless to press on, when human conflict or racial strife relentlessly presses in, and literally takes someone’s breath away? As Eric Garner’s daughter puts it, “This thing isn’t just a black and white issue. Our humanity is on the line.”

Iconography is typically considered a fairly ancient art form; where images and symbols, often painted on walls, portray a subject, movement or ideal. Religious iconography is probably the most well known example. Take a wall and some paint. Take some elderly poor in a senior housing facility in Richmond, or some inner-city school children in West Oakland, and what have you got? The story of Edy Boone is a triptych of the streets; it’s a little faith, hope and love. 

Early in the film, Edy tells how, as a child without a mother capable of caring for her, she was taken in by a Jewish woman for six years. “It was just lovin’,” she says. “I remember being in her lap in a rocking chair, being read to. And I didn’t see any color, any difference.”

The film concludes with one last chuckle from Edy, and the line

“Nothing is impossible. I really do believe that. I always thought that I actually could do it. I tried for years. I mean, I still try when I’m mixing paint and stuff, lookin’ for that new color.”