Artist Ezi Underwood sometimes likes to splash bold colors on his murals that often make bold statements.
Two of his latest works, now on display in downtown Columbus, highlight bold Black women as two local home owners salute Black Lives Matter.
Residents Alisha Gaddis and Lucky Diaz, who have featured a succession of murals for about two years on their fence along the alleyway between Franklin and Lafayette streets off Seventh Street, agreed to have Underwood paint the late Afeni Shakur, an activist and businesswoman — and also the mother of 1990s late rapper and actor Tupac Shakur.
That portrait, highlighted in a bright blue hue, hangs from the couple’s back fence, right near their Black Lives Matter flags — and near their multiple security cameras since a flag was stolen weeks ago.
“It’s a beautiful image and a not-so-subtle message,” said Gaddis, who has long been outspoken about racial and ethnic equality. “To us, all this is simply about is human rights and love.”
Josh and Kathleen Inman have the same perspective. They saw Underwood painting for Gaddis and Diaz recently and quickly commissioned him for their own mural. They opted for his suggestion of Brittany Howard, lead singer for the blues-rock, Grammy-winning group Alabama Shakes. Though Howard is largely considered Black, she technically is biracial.
All agreed that the outspoken Howard was an excellent choice to highlight, especially because of her 2012 song “Hold On” advocating determination in the face of adversity. That portrait, done with a bright, yellow-green background, shows Howard with a warm smile and hangs in the alleyway off Seventh Street between Washington and Franklin streets.
“We’re all going through a lot of uncertainty with things such as the pandemic,” Kathleen Inman said. “We wanted an image to inspire a sense of hope, hanging in there, perseverance and encouragement — that there are better times ahead and God still has a plan for you.”
Days after Underwood completed the work, the Inmans found themselves in a coffee shop in Nashville, Tennessee — standing in line behind none other than Howard herself, who has done recent recording there. So they quickly introduced themselves and showed her their cellphone shots of the painting that impressed her.
“She said, ‘Wow — that’s really neat,’ ” Inman said. “But she was kind of in a hurry.”
The Inmans especially like the idea of artistic hope considering they live near facilities that shelter those needing help, and surmise that those clients need a visual reminder that life can improve. And both couples immediately were impressed with Underwood, both as a professional, budding artist and as a passionate, warm individual yearning to make a difference.
“He’s really a humble, selfless guy,” Josh Inman said.
Gaddis, a Grammy-winning children’s singer and actress with her husband, mentioned that the arts and more can serve as a tool to show support for others amid times in which many people might feel helpless. She believes such feelings can be channeled in a healthy, proactive way.
“Whenever you’re outraged,” Gaddis said, “you can begin to engage.”