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Waleed Johnson Emphasizes Visibility Of People Of Color In Art | 2021 Lansing ArtPath Profiles

Waleed Johnson paints the hand of the main figure of his mural, a Black woman surrounded by light
Sophia Saliby/ WKAR
Johnson is a Detroit artist who primarily does portraiture.

Detroit artist Waleed Johnson has painted a huge mural that spans half of one of the walls under the Kalamazoo Street bridge in Lansing.

His piece is one of this year’s installations curated by the Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center for its ArtPath exhibition along the River Trail.

Dark storm clouds line the mural’s edges, but in the center is a woman radiating light in bright oranges and yellows. Her eyes are closed, and her head is tilted up as she puts on sunglasses. She looks at peace.

“The expression on her face seems to be like she's not really concerned about what's going on around her,” Johnson said.

The idea behind it is to be unbothered, I guess, despite any negativity or despite bad circumstances around you.

The piece is called “Unbothered.”

“The idea behind it is to be unbothered, I guess, despite any negativity or despite bad circumstances around you.”

Johnson says usually he seeks out the subjects for his pieces, then works from photos he took of them to make his art. But this time, the inspiration came to him on Instagram.

“This is a picture of my friend,” he said. “When I saw it, I was like, I really could use this. So, I tweaked it a bit, and then came up with this theme.”

Johnson says all of his work deals with people of color. 

Johnson works on the bottom left corner of the mural painting yellow around the woman at the center. He face is painted in but around her are red marks sketching out the unfinished part of the mural
Credit Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center
Johnson based the mural on the photo of a friend he saw on Instagram.

"That's my subject matter and trying to represent them in a positive way or just have them visible. Visibility, I feel like, it's not always there in art.” 

Johnson says when he usually sees people of color depicted in public art, it’s as a memorial like paintings commemorating George Floyd. He says while that type of work is important, he wants more representation.

“I would just like to show some people of color who aren't suffering or just being normal or you know, just enjoying their life and existing outside of oppression,” he said.

I would just like to show some people of color who aren't suffering or just being normal.

As an artist coming from out of town, Johnson calls this work, in a way, a cultural exchange.

"I am coming here as a guest. And I feel like I'm trying to share something with this community and to have it accepted and to have people enjoy it, is like a great feeling."

He says public art can also brighten up a space, such as under a busy bridge near downtown.

"I just love being in a spot where it's, anyone can see it, there's no barriers to access. Like, you don't have to go to a fancy gallery or anything,” Johnson said. “You can just come by and yeah, really, I just like the idea of it. I feel like it changes the space.”

You can check out Johnson’s mural, “Unbothered” under the Kalamazoo Street bridge in Lansing. It's next to a floral mural that was part of last year’s ArtPath exhibition.

mural on wall under bridge, dark storm clouds line the edges of the piece, a Black woman in a brown coat in the center. She's putting on sunglasses. Orange and yellow light radiates from her
Credit Lansing Art Gallery & Education Center
Find Johnson's piece under the Kalamazoo St. bridge on the Lansing River Trail.

Sophia Saliby is the local producer and host of All Things Considered, airing 4pm-7pm weekdays on 90.5 FM WKAR.
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