How artist Ephraim Gebre came ‘full-circle’ to create ‘I Am Speaking’ | Art

Rochester’s latest mural looms large on the north-struggling with wall of 49 Condition St. and speaks volumes. The three,000-square-foot portray, titled “I Am Talking,” depicts a young John Lewis, the late civil rights leader and U.S. Congress member whose activism was pivotal in the combat for racial equity. His legacy continues to be an inspiration in recent battles more than systemic racism and social injustice.

The mural’s spot — across the avenue from Corinthian Corridor, where abolitionist Frederick Douglass gave his groundbreaking 1852 speech, “What to the Slave Is the Fourth of July?” — can make its message all the far more poignant.

“I want it to quit people today in their tracks,” states Ephraim Gebre, the 21-12 months-previous artist and Rochester native who led a smaller crew of muralists to full the substantial oil enamel portray in less than a 7 days in November.

Gebre was joined by fellow artists Darius Dennis, Jared Diaz, and Dan Harrington, all of whom work total-time for Colossal Media, a distinguished, Brooklyn-centered promoting organization specializing in hand-painted outdoor murals. But “I Am Speaking” is far more of a nonprofit labor of appreciate than a capitalist industrial.


The portray is the 3rd in an ongoing collection of pictures — signing up for “I Am a Man” in Chicago and “I Am Singing” in Louisville — all made to document Black Americans’ struggle for equal rights and to celebrate righteous defiance from forces that would dehumanize people today of colour.

About the final ten many years or so, Rochester has come to be a metropolis of murals — a general public artwork exhibition writ large more than the partitions of thriving firms, deserted industrial buildings, and buildings of group significance. In 2011, the “art and group intervention project” that would come to be the once-a-year summer mural installation WALLTHERAPY was kickstarted. In 2015, equally Shawn Dunwoody’s Fruit Belt Challenge — intended to assist revitalize and instill pride in the JOSANA community — and the Metropolis of Rochester’s Roc Paint Division had been released to empower young artists to generate expert and commissioned murals below the tutelage of recognized regional artists and mentors.

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  • Photograph BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI News
  • Rochester native Ephraim Gebre led a team of painters to full the mural “I Am Talking,” honoring the legacy of the late John Lewis.

Ephraim Gebre, then fifteen and a scholar at Globe of Inquiry University No. fifty eight, was a single of the pupils employed for the Fruit Belt Challenge.

He had been going for walks the school’s halls when he passed a classroom in which a guy dressed in a brightly coloured accommodate was leaping on top rated of a desk as he spoke to a team of seniors. Struck by this oratory screen, Gebre slipped into a seat at the back of the class as the speaker talked about the Fruit Belt Challenge and its value in gentle of JOSANA’s standing as a meals desert and a criminal offense-ridden community. The guy was Dunwoody.

Gebre immediately launched himself to Dunwoody and stayed in contact, pursuing a spot on the undertaking. That persistence inevitably paid off, and the Fruit Belt Challenge turned his to start with task.

“Shawn is the dude that begun it and lit the fireplace,” Gebre states of his job as an artist and the guy he considers a mentor.

Gebre worked with Dunwoody in the summer of 2015 and even went with him to full a undertaking in Brazil, right before using a task doing work on houses with College Professional Painters at the age of sixteen and swiftly getting a task site manager. Gebre recollects earning the commute to work in Pittsford from the downtown bus station, which also provided a 30 to 40-moment walk. At occasions immediately after work, he would walk property two hours to St. Simon’s Terrace, in close proximity to Genesee Brewery.

Getting graduated significant university early, he would later on work with Dunwoody once again involving the ages of seventeen and 18, supporting to full a multi-surface area Frederick Douglass mural at J.P. Duffy University No. 12 on South Avenue. It was that working experience, Gebre states, that instilled a passion for group engagement and encouraging a “sense of ownership” in the pupils who helped with the undertaking — much like he did with the Fruit Belt Challenge.

But Gebre realized that he wasn’t heading to remain in Rochester, and that he wished to vacation.

“I in no way acquired a round-journey ticket, ever,” he states. “I constantly obtain a single-way. One-way tickets — who appreciates if I want to remain or I want to go?”

At the age of seventeen, his travels took him to Paris, France, the island of Malta, and the United Kingdom. He later on moved to Los Angeles, where he pursued a job in genuine estate and leased flats downtown.

At some point, he uncovered a task listing as an artist at Colossal Media, but he had no working experience in figurative portray still. “Even however I felt like an impostor,” he states, “I realized I would get it if I kept on trying.”

Just after rigorously hunting cellphone listings for the company’s upper management and developing get in touch with immediately after several incorrect quantities, his tenacity and sheer will to thrive landed him a task as the youngest personnel in the organization, at the age of twenty.

“One of the [motives] that I begun to do general public artwork was I wished people today to see a human being like myself generate the artwork, and I wished to be what I wished to see at fifteen,” Dunwoody states. “So to see that occur back total-circle with Ephraim and his crew — 3 black gentlemen partaking and generating black pictures in the group — is highly effective, and it is required.”

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Rochester native and painter Ephraim Gebre. - PHOTO BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI NEWS

  • Photograph BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI News
  • Rochester native and painter Ephraim Gebre.

Gebre was born into a household of refugees that to start with arrived to America in 1983 to escape war in their native Eritrea — an East African state then battling for its independence from Ethiopia.

As the eldest of four small children lifted by a single mother, he realized in center university that in purchase to get what he wished in lifestyle, he would have to work for it.

“I’m the only human being I can count on for the matters that I want, the matters that I need,” he states. “I cannot hold out for anybody to give me an possibility. I also wished to be my very best.”

In spite of his assertive and impartial character, Gebre credits Dunwoody — who refers to Gebre as “my son” — for delivering him with direction.

“Shawn Dunwoody is my blueprint for who I am, who I am currently,” Gebre states. “I analyzed him like a frozen caveman.”

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Painters depict a young John Lewis in the mural

  • Photograph BY MAX SCHULTE / WXXI News
  • Painters depict a young John Lewis in the mural “I Am Talking,” at 49 Condition St. in downtown Rochester.

Dunwoody, who helped with the development of “I Am Talking,” explained the undertaking on Condition Avenue brought his romance with Gebre back to where it begun.

“To have that mission and drive in just him to occur back to the group — I signify he’s traveled all more than the state, all more than the world, portray — and for him to occur back to Rochester, it is a worthwhile experience, and so it is wonderful to be the scholar,” he states.

“He is now my trainer, and I contemplate him my mentor.”

Daniel J. Kushner is CITY’s music editor. He can be reached at [email protected] 

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