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Baltimore Artist Paints Mural To Honor Late Novelist Toni Morrison

By Danielle Dorsey

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Baltimore artist and educator Ernest Shaw Jr. wasted no time creating a mural to honor esteemed novelist Toni Morrison in the wake of her passing last week.

Morrison lived 88 long years, during which she authored several award-winning novels that spoke directly to the evolution of the Black experience in America, with Black women front and center. The success of Morrison’s creative career proved that one need not cater to the white gaze to achieve mainstream success and encouraged an entire generation of Black artists to fearlessly pursue their passions.

Shaw identifies as a muralist, but it was important to him to paint his Toni Morrison portrait on the popular Graffiti Alley in the Baltimore neighborhood where he was raised. He took on the project on a whim the day after Morrison’s passing and on the occasion of his 50th birthday. The entire process was documented on his Instagram and completed in less than three hours. Shaw told CBS Local that, “She’s one of the artists who deliberately had an impact on my creative process.”

The mural is located behind Motor House, an arts space in Baltimore where Shaw is the senior artist in residence. His recent exhibition Testify! explores Blackness as an entity detached from whiteness and weaves themes of Black masculinity with systemic violence and generational trauma. Some of his portraits include James Baldwin in a pastoral white robe with a sun rising behind his head and a stoic George Stinney Jr., the youngest person ever executed in the United States, in a striped prison jumpsuit. Shaw remarked in an interview with the Baltimore Sun that Morrison’s work often dealt in similar topics. 

In Morrison’s famous Nobel Prize winning speech, she affirmed that “We die. That may be the meaning of life.” 

Shaw draws inspiration from these words and commenting on Morrison’s death, said, “I don’t consider this a loss. We’re not losing an artist or person, we’re gaining an ancestor.”

To learn more about Shaw’s work, visit his website here.

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