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The Mural Speaks, and we should listen

SIZE AND SCALE: The Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural is a big deal. Photo by Nikki Talotta

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Spring warmth still in the air, people began to gather in the parking lot of the Labor Temple on the corner of Capitol Way and State Avenue in downtown Olympia. Children and bicycles took the place of cars, and DJ and information booths welcomed the crowd. Musicians, dancers and spoken word artists performed - sharing uplifting, engaging and diverse messages.

A project of The Rachel Corrie Foundation and Break the Silence Mural & Arts, The Olympia-Rafah Solidarity Mural project was celebrated Saturday night with "The Mural Speaks", a multi-media event honoring the completion of the two-year mural project - designed to nurture cross-movement partnerships and support efforts for global justice.

Inspired by the memory of Rachel Corrie, The Evergreen State College student killed by a bulldozer while defending a Palestinian family in 2003, the mural also speaks for numerous individuals and organizations across the globe and underscores the importance of transcending oppression and suffering through cultural understanding and awareness.

The project also includes a mural in sister city Rafah, Palestine - in the southern end of the Gaza Strip - and an accompanying documentary.

The 4000-square-foot mural, which adorns the side of the Labor Temple, is an intense display - an olive tree, its bulbous roots ground into a basin of water, splashing the knots that push through chunks of concrete. The concrete has been decorated with graffiti representing contributing artists and organizations; the thick trunk rises into the air and sturdy limbs branch out - holding the leaves that tell the stories of a thousand sufferers, their grief and triumphs forever captured in a single leaf. More than 150 of these leaves canopy the water, the roots and the concrete. Saturday, during "The Mural Speaks" celebration, the dancers and musicians and freedom fighters gathered where there to remember and look forward.

The symbolism is evident and the outcome beautiful.

One unique element to the project is the use of cell phones to provide interactive communication between artist and viewer. Viewers of the mural can call and hear an introduction by the artist, and any accompanying music or stories as well. The technology is also available online.

Another unique feature is the way the leaves "pop" from the mural. Josh Elliot, installation coordinator, explains how the leaves were installed four different ways to provide the pop that brings them to life. Elliot says special paint was used to ensure brightness, and digital images were included by transferring them onto paintable surfaces.

Elliot, along with hundreds of others nationally and internationally, who spent exhausting hours pouring their sweat and soul bringing this mural to fruition are to thank, as it's this type of use of public space that allows the community a healthy outlet for issues that resonate deep within them.

"Art can be a powerful way to communicate as it touches people on  multiple levels, intellectually and emotionally," says Susan Greene,  project director.

Some local contributors to the impressive mural include: Garden Raised Bounty (GRuB), Olympia Movement for Justice and Peace (OMJP), Books to Prisoners and Stonewall Youth. National contributors include: Common Ground in New Orleans and Queers Undermining Israeli Terrorism from San Francisco. And international contributors include: The Bogside Muralists from Derry, Ireland, Middle East Children's Alliance; and many artists from Palestine and Israel, including work by Israeli-Jews.

The cover of the Rachel Corrie Foundation brochure reads: "The international media and our government are not going to tell us that we are effective, important, justified in our work, courageous, intelligent, valuable. We have to do that for each other, and one way we can do that is by continuing our work, visibly."

My mind grabs hold of that quote and wanders back to Saturday night, the smiles, the hope - and I remember why I write and why Josh Elliot paints and why people like Rachel Corrie do the things they do.

Because there is always the bigger picture.

But you don't have to take my word for it. The mural speaks for itself.

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