Avery Williamson | AADL Black Lives Matter Muralist


Avery Williamson | AADL BLM mural

Avery Williamson (b. 1990)
Cleo, Tidal and Delores 1948
Instagram: @aisforavery

Following the Ann Arbor District Library's Call for Artists in 2020, AADL installed a Black Lives Matter mural on the south side of Library Lane on Friday, May 21 featuring the works of eight artists.

Below is our interview with muralist and AADL Black Lives Matter Mural Artistic Coordinator Avery Williamson.

Avery Williamson

Q: Tell us about yourself.
A: I was born and raised in Philadelphia, and currently live in Ann Arbor. I am an artist and designer.

Q: What's your earliest memory of making art and your earliest memory of being affected by art?
A: Growing up I spent a lot of time in my backyard learning about plants and vegetables, so before I was using paints or pencils I was thinking about the ways in which nature, and also the city, has its own rhythms and patterns. This outdoor play taught me about composition and color, and what excites and intrigues the eye. Nature continues to inform my material practice, and I am so grateful to have grown up in a place where it was safe to explore and adventure independently. I view creating as a form of self-soothing. It was and continues to be a way for me to carve out time for myself and to process my own emotions and the world around me. 

Cleo Owens, Tidal Delco, and Delores McCants, 1948, Dunbar Dance Center, Ann Arbor

Q: Tell us about your mural and your art.
A: This piece is inspired by a photograph I found in the Ann Arbor District Library archives. The source photograph is of three young Black women performing at the Dunbar Community Center in 1948 as part of the Song and Dance festival. Misses Cleo Owens, Tidal Delco, and Delores McCants pose mid-performance (left to right). I was drawn to this image because of the joy, excitement, focus, and celebration of the performers. I spent many hours sifting through the archive and I couldn’t stop thinking about this photograph. I have been drawn to archival material from a young age. My paintings and collages have their origins in the family archive—photographs, scrapbooks, the little notes tucked inside of a book, or a memory written on the back of a polaroid. It’s the archive, and often the photograph, that sparks my curiosity and helps me get a sense of a specific place and time period. I did not grow up in Ann Arbor or Michigan, and when I was offered the opportunity to participate in this mural project, I wanted to honor the Black folks who have shaped this city. 

Black joy and pleasure are central to my work, so I wanted to work with a source image that captured a certain kind of lightness and happiness. I think about what life might have been like for Cleo, Tidal, and Delores in Ann Arbor in 1948. I wonder if they sewed their own performance attire—or if a parent, sibling, or grandparent helped—how many hours they spent rehearsing, if they enjoyed the performance, which of their friends attended, and how they celebrated at the end of the festival. This picture is from May and I am curious to know what they had planned for the summer of 1948 and what had been their favorite places to hang out in Ann Arbor. I smile to myself and wonder if a tree under which they might have laughed and gossiped still exists today somewhere in the city.

I used pinks, greens, and gold glitter in this piece as a reference to the lushness of spring and summer, the rich pinks of blooming flowers, and the excitement that those seasons bring. Over the past year, I have worked to center Black life and Blackness as more than death and pain. The exercise of searching the AADL archive for Black celebration was a reminder that we as Black people have always found ways to love and create, and that joy and pleasure are essential to survival.

AADL Black Lives Matter muralist interviews:

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