Living Walls returned to Atlanta in 2017 with an extremely wonderful twist to its mission. In partnership with WeLoveBuHi, artists of color from all over the country helped create #LWBUHI2017, a program focused solely on Buford Highway.

The Buford Highway Corridor is a special part of Atlanta. Along its path, a multitude of ethnicities, from Asia to South America and back around again, have grown amazing communities, full of strength and vitality.

latex paint
20 x 34 ft. (front wall)
60 x 20 ft. (back wall)
2017
 
 

Here’s some background.

Artists conducted workshops, seminars, and Q&A discussions, with local residents, business owners, and community members, to inform the creation of site-specific work.

My piece started with interviews. Residents and business owners shared their stories and thoughts about Buford Highway, about what it means to them, how they’ve seen it change, and what might improve it.

From the various interviews, a few consistent themes began to emerge: home, community, resilience, and opportunity. The symbolism came quickly. The lotus flowers, which grow and bloom in challenging conditions, represent the lives of Buford Highway. The corridor itself is personified by the figure, who plants and nurtures the flowers. The nest, carried wherever the figures goes, quickly identifies as home. By chance, the walls belong to a car wash. I love the congruity of that, where both the business and the art incorporate water and mud.

Stylistically, inspiration was drawn from Plaza Fiesta (candles and stained glass at a religious icons shop, lotería cards at a gift shop) and China Town (fabric at a gift shop), two extremely important community hubs.

My wall was among a cluster of apartment complexes, away from the restaurants and stores that Buford Highway is generally known for, and faces the busy thoroughfare. Right by the wall is a bus stop. To the north is a grocery store. To the east, west, and south are apartments. Mothers with children, men with groceries, kids returning from school, they all walk up and down a well-trodden dirt path every day.

For me, it felt like home. It reminded me of Old Dixie Highway, of Carriage House Apartments, and of Forest Park, where I grew up. I already knew how to Frogger across those busy lanes. I already knew what candy to get from the gas station. I already knew those smiles, stretched wide across the faces of my neighbors.

As the son of a Laotian immigrant, I’ve spent more time on Buford Highway with family and friends (socializing, eating, shopping, *belonging*) than I could ever recall. I know that my experience isn’t reflective of other Atlantans’, so that meant that there was an opportunity to share the area’s richness in an open, engaging, and considered way. And, in a confluence of brilliance, that way was through art.

I am extremely grateful to have been a part of the conference. Beyond the opportunity to work with two great organizations, the purpose of the conference, to celebrate the vibrancy, diversity, and importance of Atlanta’s multicultural heart, holds a deep personal connection for me.