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‘When you uplift Black women... you uplift most of society:’ New large-scale mural in Providence celebrates Afrofuturism

Georgie Nakima, who also goes by “Garden of Journey,” was commissioned by The Avenue Concept to replace the city’s iconic “Adventure Time” mural.

"Garden of Journey" a nationally-renowned muralist based in North Carolina. Her new mural in Providence, "Salt Water," fits into her style of Afrofuturism, a cultural aesthetic and philosophy that explores the African American experience and African diaspora through a science-fiction and fantasy lens.
"Garden of Journey" a nationally-renowned muralist based in North Carolina. Her new mural in Providence, "Salt Water," fits into her style of Afrofuturism, a cultural aesthetic and philosophy that explores the African American experience and African diaspora through a science-fiction and fantasy lens.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

PROVIDENCE — Since 2015, Polish artist Natalia Rak’s “Adventure Time” mural stood tall behind the old George C. Arnold building on Washington Street., facing a parking lot. The multi-story mural showed a young girl peeking through a doorway into surreal, psychedelic world, and featured hallmarks of Rak’s style: bright colors and exaggerated scale.

The "Adventure Time" mural by Polish artist Natalia Rak, which has since been decommissioned.
The "Adventure Time" mural by Polish artist Natalia Rak, which has since been decommissioned. David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

But New England weather is not kind to public art, and the brick surfaces of early 20th-century buildings crumble over time, making it more difficult to display the art the way the artist originally intended it. The Avenue Concept, the privately funded public art program founded more than a decade that had commissioned “Adventure Time,” decided it was time to decommission it.

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The group brought in a new artist who would bring a new voice and energy to the space. And now a new mural by North Carolina-based Georgie Nakima -- better known as “Garden of Journey” -- is ready to take its place.

The mural "Salt Water" in downtown Providence by Georgie Nakima, also known as "Garden of Journey."
The mural "Salt Water" in downtown Providence by Georgie Nakima, also known as "Garden of Journey."Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

The new mural is more than 35-feet by 110-feet -- more than twice the size of “Adventure Time” -- and is nearly complete. She told the Globe that she’s calling it “Salt Water,” because her intention is for the work to be healing.

Her design features two women’s faces, saturated with bright colors and patterns. Two small planes circle in the dark sky behind them, shooting missiles. Nakima said she wanted to tell a narrative of “creative versus destructive energy,” even where “light and creative energy clearly prevails.”

Artist Georgie Nakima, also known as "Garden of Journey."
Artist Georgie Nakima, also known as "Garden of Journey."Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

“I wanted there to be yin and yang vibes. Not just a pretty face,” said Nakima, who is a portrait artist. “There’s already a lot of selfie-like murals out there. While I like that, too, I like to create a landscape for these faces to breathe on. We live in a destructive, war-torn world. I think art should represent the space and times that we’re in. Not hide from it.”

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While “Salt Water” is her largest mural to date, the imagery and style are in line with her other works of Afrofuturism, which is a “cultural aesthetic and philosophy that explores the African-American experience and African diaspora through science-fiction and fantasy.”

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Prior to this project, Nakima collaborated with video game publisher 2K and XBOX in Charlotte during the 2019 All-Star Weekend to turn a YMVA basketball court into a bright work of art. She’s splashed her brightly-colored paint on a community garden and a shopping center, and reconfigured a neglected lot on the West Side of Charlotte (her hometown).

She was featured in Ford’s “Born to Roll” ad campaign, which celebrated creative women of color. After she created a Black Lives Matter street mural in collaboration with the City of Charlotte on the 12th day of protests following the death of George Floyd last summer, she told Elle magazine, “While I don’t run away from the errors of law that have been used to oppress our humanity, it’s so important that I use art as a reminder that we remain uplifted, resilient, and divinely intrinsic to this life.”

She said with “Salt Water,” she wanted to give visual representation to Black women and women of color.

Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

“When you uplift Black women in society, ultimately you uplift most of society,” she said. “I like to do that in my art. It’s a mirror for me, but it’s also a mirror for people that are here. When people see it, they see a piece of themselves.”

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She said that while the surrounding buildings are historic, neutral, and are mostly various shades of brown, she wanted this mural to give off “color therapy vibes” by combining harsh, opposite colors fluidly.

“I wanted this to just pop off the architecture,” she said.

While she designed the basics of the mural in advance, Nakima said she decided on many of the colors choices and some of the imagery as she was painting. It’s taken her about two weeks to create the mural.

When asked what she hopes viewers take from the mural, Nakima said, “I want them to take whatever they need. To heal. To get lost. Maybe to dream.”

Georgie Nakima, also known as "Garden of Journey" painting "Salt Water" in downtown Providence.
Georgie Nakima, also known as "Garden of Journey" painting "Salt Water" in downtown Providence.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff

Alexa Gagosz can be reached at alexa.gagosz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @alexagagosz.