Murals, Paintings from Iraqi and American Art Exchange Adorn Northampton

By Emma Kolchin-Miller
Hampshire Gazette, 8/28/2015

NORTHAMPTON — A mural of Northampton painted by young people in the Valley went up at Serio’s Market Wednesday as part of a project displaying art by Iraqi and American youth.

The mural was painted in 2009 by 16 youths ages 14 through 18, under the guidance of two local artists and a visiting Iraqi artist. It features the Connecticut River, City Hall, a book — to represent the intellectual nature of the community — protesters with signs, and the Smith College campus bridge.

The mural is part of “How Will They Know Us? An Iraqi/American Mural Project,” which consists of 16 murals painted by American and Iraqi youths to reflect their homes and communities. Organized by the Iraqi Children’s Art Exchange, the project aims to encourage dialogue between youths from the United States and Iraq in the midst of conflict between the two countries.

“Kids were invited to represent their community: to tell us, who are they?” said Claudia Lefko, the organization’s founding director.

Murals and smaller paintings by Iraqi and American youths will also hang in U.S. Rep. James McGovern’s office on Pleasant Street, and two murals — one painted by Iraqi refugees in Amman, Jordan, and one painted in New York — will go up at the downtown shop Essentials in the next couple of weeks, according to store owner Colette Kastikas.

Before coming to Serio’s, the Northampton mural was on display alongside the rest of the murals at the Center for the Arts in 2011, according to Lefko, who emphasized the importance of displaying the murals simultaneously.

“The idea is that by putting these up together somehow, in the same space or around the city, people start to understand. They see the kids’ culture who made it, but it’s also the idea to posit them next to each other so it provokes you to think, what do we have to say to each other? What does a youth in Baghdad have to say to kids in Northampton?” she said.

Serio’s manager Jaimie Golec, who helped hang the mural, said she was excited to showcase local art in addition to participating in the broader project.

“I’m all about showcasing art, especially local artists, high school kids,” Golec said. “Definitely just supporting the art and supporting the community in general.”

Golec added that now is a good time to put the mural up, as the area is bustling with students returning to school.

“I was like, why don’t we plan to hang it right around the time that the kids are coming back to school? Because there’s a lot of foot traffic and their parents are here and everybody’s walking around downtown, and it’ll get some good viewage,” she said.

Lefko echoed that now is an ideal time to hang the murals.

“It’s a great welcome back, it’s a great, ‘This is our city, this is who we are,’” she said.