• Mark White

From Traffic Cone to Liberation Key: Evolution of a Mural


May 12 (Above) -- --> July 31 (Below)


One of the beautiful transformations of Seattle in these less-than-beautiful times has been the resurrection of analog media. Paint, paper, ink, glue, wheat paste, chalk, and plywood are all back in glorious vogue. It's been the old-school muralists, wheat pasters and graffiti artists, more so than the UX teams, coders or designers, who have become the most visible chroniclers of choice during these tumultuous times.


In early May, muralists covered the plywood that was used to Covid-shuddered businesses with imagery and words of hope and encouragement. Stay Safe, Hang in There, We'll Be Back Soon, and many variations of those themes proliferated in the city's business districts from White Center to the University District.


Throughout June, the autonomous zone of the Capitol Hill Organized Protest, or CHOP, exploded with art on virtually every existing blank space -- publicly and privately owned. And as the Black Lives Matter protests continued into the summer, many of the Covid murals that gave us hope throughout the spring were replaced by messages of racial and social justice.


Case in Point: The anonymously created Subway shop mural at Yesler and First Avenue in Pioneer Square.

When it first appeared in early May, it turned a lot of heads. What does a battered traffic cone have to do with Covid?


I loved it for the very facts of its ambiguity, striking originality, loud colors, and realistic depiction of an everyday, utilitarian object that had no obvious relationship to the pandemic.


In retrospect, given how Covid has continued to rage out of control despite the rules and guardrails we created to keep it in its place (travel restrictions, social distancing, masks, shut businesses), this mural suddenly seems prescient.


"Look," it was warning us, "If you don't stay inside the traffic cones on your journey, you won't be safe." A warning we obviously did not heed.

On July 17, a BLK Paper collaboration between @tlynnfaz, @shepreebright, and @bigbowlofideas replaced the traffic cone with a Black Lives Matter collage of paper broadsides.


BLK Paper is a site, in the words of its organizers, that harnesses the "voices, expressions and depictions of rage and hope by black artists, photographers and graphic designers." (Check it out: BLK Paper group is organizing a "Nationwide Wheatpaste Weekend For Black Lives" on Aug 22-23. )


I'm genuinely bummed not to have the traffic cone to look at. Aesthetically, it was such a refreshing outlier in the city's mural scene.


But there's one brilliant touch on the BLK Paper mural that I want to point out that's worth the price of replacement.


In the mural's lower right corner is this pasted broadside. Notice how the woman's forehead is pierced by the bolts to the door that the plywood is covering. And on those bolts is the chain and lock keeping the Subway restaurant behind the plywood secure.


A closer look reveals that, of course, it's a Master Lock on the chain. It's a brilliant placement, messaging of liberation held in place by the Master Lock. It deserves to be pulled out of the larger context of the collage and appreciated on its own.


In other words, there is no Black Liberation without the key to that lock.



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© 2016-2020 MARK WHITE  |  mark@mjwhitephotos.com I 206.409.1247

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