As part of our digital storytelling project with the Moseley Exchange I had the pleasure of speaking with the graffiti artist Mohammed Ali (http://www.aerosolarabic.com/) who gave up some of his time to contribute a story for us. He has worked throughout the world in a variety of settings and cities, but his home is Birmingham and he lives just up the road from Moseley in neighbouring Kings Heath. Earlier this year he accepted a commission from local community groups to produce a mural in Moseley, on the plain boards running alongside a disused site which Tesco had bought but which was now to be sold on. After a protest by local residents the supermarket chain had decided not to proceed with its plans to build a store, and the uninspiring boarded up site was an area which Mohammed passed on a daily basis as he drove to his studio in the city centre. As such he was both enthusiastic about accepting the commission and passionate about being able to contribute creatively to the local community. The resulting piece expressed the journey of a tree through the four seasons.
The mural was to undergo a further, unexpected, transformation. The newly created piece was defaced less than 24 hours later by a somewhat ill- informed person writing ‘Tesco’ all over it. There is a certain irony, of course, in making a stand against what was thought to be a mural that had been put up by Tesco whilst only succeeding in scrawling graffiti over the locally commissioned work of an internationally acclaimed artist. What resulted was a drive by local residents to rectify the situation. Twitter and old fashioned word of mouth were used to galvanise people, and residents, local businesses and organisations such as Moseley in Bloom ensured the mural was cleaned up, enabling Mohammed to restore it to its previous state. Tweets from the time express not only people’s anger and disbelief at the vandalism, but also their support and in some cases their physical movement to activity, to come and help clean up the mural.
There were three interlinking actions that defined the Moseley mural. The first was the initial creative act (the creation of the mural). The second might be dismissed as vandalism, or more generously classed as a mistaken/ misplaced act of protest. The third was an act of active citizenship and community to rectify the damage to the mural. These became stages through which a creative act transformed itself via an unexpected (or uninvited) intervention into a communal experience. The first two actions (and the visual manifestations of these) created a further reaction (of engagement) that was both embodied (the physical cleaning up of the mural) and also to some extent imaginative (a change in perception in terms of the meaning/ significance to the community of the mural). Creativity, citizenship- and community itself- are to differing degrees always in flux. Initial actions, resulting reactions, and future reassessments are stages of growth and renewal much like the tree undergoes in Mohammed’s mural.