One day after a judge accused of sexual assault ascended to the nation’s highest court, a local painter unveiled a mural depicting 17 actual and imaginary New Haven women, all standing proud and strong and committed to a more equitable future.
That was the result of Wednesday morning’s joy-filled, sun-dappled press event on the Farmington Canal trail near the New Haven-Hamden border, where artist Kwadwo Adae joined over 100 supporters, community activists, and Newhallville neighbors to celebrate his recently finished Women’s Empowerment Mural.
Adae wanted to bring to his art some of the strength, diversity, resilience, and unity of today’s women’s rights movement after attending the first women’s march in New York City nearly two years ago.
“We can’t continue with the status quo if half our population doesn’t feel safe,” Adae said. “Me as a man, I’m trying to set an example of intersectionality. You don’t need to be a woman to fight for women’s rights. You don’t need to be a person of color to fight against racism.”
The mural, which Adae started painting on June 4 with the help of assistant Toni Giammona, stretches across an 18-by-106-foot brick wall on the side of Tri-Con Construction Managers LLC’s offices at 400 Goodrich St.
Adae, who has run the Adae Fine Arts Academy on Chapel Street for 13 years, created another public mural on the Farmington Canal trail two years ago. Over 150 community volunteers wound up contributing to the painting of the mural over the course of the past five months.
The mural itself depicts 17 women and girls, all of different race, age, nationality, dress, profession, and body type, All stand with confidence and authority as they stare out at the pedestrian and bike path and hold high a flaming torch a la the Statue of Liberty.
Some of the female representations are inspired by New Havener community icons such as Stetson Branch librarian Diane Brown and Newhallville parent-teacher organization (PTO) stalwart Flo Caldwell. Some are inspired by women who have had a profound impact on Adae’s own life, such as his sister Nana and his hematologist Joanna.
And some are products of his imagination, a blue-bobbed transgender woman and an elderly Latina abuela who leans with her right hand on a cane, propelling her torch-bearing left-hand all the higher.
The mural was funded by a $12,000 grant from the Connecticut Office of the Arts with additional financial support from the outdoor apparel store REI, the Graustein Memorial Fund, the Newhallville Safe Neighborhood Initiative, Neighborhood Housing Services, the Yale Office of New Haven and State Affairs, and the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association.
“We want you to be able to walk into art,” said Lisa Fernandez, the president of the Farmington Canal Rail-to-Trail Association. “To bike into art. To blade into art. To jog into art. The vision here is to create an arts corridor in the New Haven section of the trail.”
She said that her organization estimates that 100,000 people will cross the section of the trail that the mural looks out on this year, and that that number may only increase now that the pedestrian-bike path is continuous for 25 miles between New Haven and Southington.
A cavalry of local politicians came out to herald the unveiling of the mural, to praise Adae for his artistry and community engagement, and to celebrate the women’s empowerment message.
“I like to think about women as the first civilizers,” Mayor Toni Harp said. “The men went out. They hunted. They gathered. But the women stayed home, took care of the children, and built community.”
Newhallville State Rep. Robyn Porter, Newhallville Alder Delphine Clyburn, and Hamden City Councilman Justin Farmer all thanked Adae for bringing such a bright, positive, and inspiring message to the neighborhood.
“This community and so many others need healing right now,” Porter said. “We need to get back to being a village. This wall represents to me the village” the love, the healing, the restoration that we need in order to get ahead.”
“Thank you for bringing this river of life to us and this neighborhood,” Clyburn added.
Adae said that the unveiling of the mural on the heels of the Brett Kavanaugh confirmation hearings is a testament to how the fight for women’s rights is far from over, and doesn’t always move in a straight line of progress. After all, the mural idea was born nearly two years ago during a nationwide protest against the election of President Donald Trump, who has been accused of sexual assault by over a dozen women.
“When we see injustices happen,” Adae said, “when we see oppression happening, we can change things, just like we changed this wall. It’s the same process.”
The brick wall facing the canal trail used to be painted blue, covered in graffiti, and hidden behind overgrown weeds. All that was needed to transform that public canvas into the women’s empowerment mural, Adae said, were 17 gallons of primers, thousands of dollars of paint, and the patient and attentive support of 150 community volunteers who took time out of their days and nights to create something beautiful together.
“This is an example of unity and what unity can do,” he said. “This mural is for you. This mural is for me. This is our artwork.”
Click on the Facebook Live video below to watch the full press conference and unveiling of the Women’s Empowerment Mural.