CHAPEL HILL, N.C. – New art banners are now on display at Peace & Justice Plaza in downtown Chapel Hill. Created by Carrboro artist Charlie Dupee, the banners display a series of raised fists in a colorful marbled texture. This is the second set of banners to be hung between the columns of the historic Post Office building, energizing the space with mural style art. Chapel Hill Community Arts & Culture coordinated the project and encourages the community to come downtown to see the art.
The project was envisioned in 2020, in the weeks after the death of George Floyd. UNC student Emile Charles approached Community Arts & Culture with an interest to raise awareness of the struggles for racial and social justice. “I thought a community art piece was a fantastic way to engage with the cultural side of the Black Lives Matter movement,” says Charles. After considering what was possible at the historic building, staff landed on the idea of mural art banners. The inaugural set of banners, New Voices by Victoria Primicias, went up in the spring of 2021 and featured a montage of local elements and widely recognized icons that represent the struggle for social justice.
Earlier this year, Community Arts & Culture issued a call to local artists for the second iteration of the banners. Charlie Dupee’s concept proposal was selected for several reasons, including the vibrant aesthetics and the powerful symbolism that accompanies the raised fist. “The raised fist has a rich, global history as an icon for resistance, revolution, and solidarity which extends beyond the Black Lives Matter movement, ” says Dupee in his artist statement. “My piece, Radical Futures, is an attempt to visualize a future for this symbol and continue its lineage as an emblem of abolition.”
Nearly two decades ago, Peace & Justice Plaza was dedicated by Chapel Hill Town Council to honor individuals, no longer living, who committed their lives to peace and justice in Chapel Hill. There are currently seventeen names inscribed on the plaza, including Charlotte Adams, founder of the local branch of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1935, Hank Anderson, the first black Parks and Recreation Director in North Carolina in 1969, and Rebecca Clark, the first Licensed Practical Nurse to work in the UNC campus infirmary in 1953. The Plaza has also been the space of many historic protests for peace and justice. Knowing this place has played such a critical role in the local struggle for civil rights, the site was the top pick for art on the theme of racial and social justice.
Local historian and activist Danita Mason-Hogans was on the banner selection team and she hopes that people see beyond the art while visiting the plaza. “I would offer not to just view this as a “Black Lives Matter” banner. It is my hope that we can think of it as an assertion of resistance to inequity. For us in Chapel Hill, Peace & Justice plaza gained prominence when the town heard that call from the Black community. Historically, it was during a time in which that resistance was represented by what is now a universal sign and call for justice – a clenched, raised fist,” says Mason-Hogans.
The community is invited to visit the plaza to see the new art and to learn and remember about the ongoing fight for justice in our community. Learn more about the plaza and the people honored there by listening to Chapel Hill’s very own history podcast, Re/Collecting Chapel Hill, and exploring the website at chapelhilhistory.org. For more information on Community Arts & Culture, visit chapelhillarts.org.