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Joan Bambery paints fighting fish that battle with love | Lansing ArtPath Profiles

Joan Bambery's Fish Fighters Lansing Mural with painted text that reads: "Select your Fish Fighter." There are 24 boxes which each has a cartoony fish representing a different hobby or pastime.
Courtesy
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Joan Bambery
"Fish Fighters Lansing" is modeled after character selection menus found in fighting games like Super Smash Bros.

A new set of public art pieces, ranging from murals to sculptures, has been installed along the Lansing River Trail as part of the Lansing Art Gallery and Education Center’s 5th annual ArtPath exhibition this summer.

One of those murals takes inspiration from both video games and popular activities in the city.

Joan Bambery kneels and spraypaints a black wall red
Sophia Saliby
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WKAR-MSU

Artist Joan Bambery painted Fish Fighters Lansing which depicts two dozen colorful fish painted in an abstract-cartoony style.

"Fish Fighters is just really a collection of friends. They're a bunch of fish who want to play, want to have fun. They want to fight. They want to enjoy life," she said.

"They're all very different. They're all very personalized in their own niches, very aware of themselves and happy to be themselves."

Each represents a hobby or popular pastime in Lansing. There’s a theater fish painted in purple who holds a skull, evoking Shakespeare’s Hamlet. A pink one rides a bike with square wheels. While another symbolizing artists paints on an easel.

All these fish are kind of itty bitty pieces of people I've met, even in passing or roommates here or there or someone I fell in love with for two seconds on the street.

"All these fish are kind of itty bitty pieces of people I've met, even in passing, or roommates here or there or someone I fell in love with for two seconds on the street."

But why fish?

"We’re by the river. I personally have always been drawn to the water," she explained. "I love what fish represent metaphorically, they stand as symbols for creativity and for imagination."

The mural is modeled after character selection menus typically found in fighting games like Mortal Kombat or Super Smash Bros. Bambery says video games have been a passion of hers since she was young.

"I think maybe it stems from the idea of having your own world and being able to maneuver freely in a safe space."

She says public art has a lot of similarities with those games as a medium.

"I love combining those two because they're both excellent platforms for getting a message out widespread," she said.

She hopes people who see the mural will engage with it and maybe find a favorite fish.

I think it is beyond necessary, and it is important that we have a backbone, and we are willing to fight for who we are.

"I would love it if friends or family or groups came, and they had a group discussion about which fish would win or who's on who’s team or why are they fighting."

But Bambery doesn't want these hypothetical battles to be seen as a bad or violent thing.

"I don't believe that confrontation is necessarily negative," she said." I think it is beyond necessary, and it is important that we have a backbone, and we are willing to fight for who we are."

In that vein, some of the fish carry a deeper meaning like one representing families.

"Family Fish is a single parent with two children, and they are a complete family because all levels of representation matter."

Bambery says she wants her message of both love and fun to resonate with those that see her mural.

"I really hope when people look upon this piece, they can identify with a fish, maybe see themselves somewhere, get a little bit of validation that something they love is worth loving," she said.

You can see Bambery’s Fish Fighters Lansing mural under the Shiawassee Bridge on the west side of the Grand River.

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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