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SALT LAKE CITY — In recognition of the murals that spread across Salt Lake City in 2020 documenting the global pandemic and racial injustice, the Utah Museum of Fine Arts invited the Roots Art Kollective to design a museum-based mural exhibition.
That exhibit, "2020: From here on out," opens Saturday featuring murals inspired by the literal voices of Utahns.
"The museum was so inspired by community responses around the events of 2020, specifically muralists here in Salt Lake City. They really inspired us in such a way that we essentially decided to turn our great hall gallery over to these Utah-based mural artists to continue responding to 2020, but also to express their hopes for the future," said Meggie Troili, UMFA coordinator of adult and university programs.
Among those artists was the Roots Art Kollective, a group formed in 2019 by three local artists. The group describes its mission as expanding "public art to create a vibrant environment that allows people to learn about the cultures that enrich our communities." With that mission in mind, Roots and UMFA asked local muralists and community members to consider the year 2020.
The year was marked by the COVID-19 pandemic and global protests amid racial injustice, topics featured in murals that began to pop up across Utah.
"An institution like this backing that up is really important for the whole movement that's happening here in Salt Lake and around the world. This is kind of like a megaphone to open up and send the messages out even farther," said Miguel Galaz, Roots Art Kollective artist.
The partnership between the two organizations represented the shift from the curatorial model generally practiced by art institutions like the UMFA. The project utilized a call for artists, selected by a committee, who then designed murals to reflect the perspectives and interests of many Utah communities.
Some of those perspectives were shaped by the voices of Utahns. Muralists were able to listen to a collection of audio recordings of Utahns who called a hotline to share their thoughts about the year 2020 and their hopes for the future.
Reflected in those thoughts were questions surrounding how to move forward as a nation as political divides grow, adjusting cultural practices of touch like hugs, handshakes and high fives during a pandemic, what individuals have survived throughout their life and how to move forward.
UMFA's shift from the typical model was noted by members of the Roots Art Kollective who said the partnership demonstrated the possibility of bringing public works into notable art spaces.
"Very few museums have done something like this, bringing something that has lived on the streets or was created on the streets and then bringing it into a museum," said Alan Ochoa, another Roots Art Kollective artist. The group noted that public art has been utilized throughout time to document history and the exhibit provided an accessible opportunity for the public to reflect and heal.
"It was important to us to hand over the space to them. And now they're alongside ancient works from Mesoamerica in our Mesoamerican gallery to our Japanese gallery to contemporary artists, and having these Utah-based local artists in our gallery is critical, important for all of us," Troili said.
The mural painted by the Roots Art Kollective depicts a man holding the earth and whites roses encircled by yellow on both sides. In calligraphy "find strength and love to heal" is written in English on one side and the same phrase is written in Spanish on the other side.
The white roses and phrases are symbolic of a sense of renewal but also loss.
"When someone looks at an art piece, things can be interpreted differently from the person's perspective and that's included even in this design. We have different perspectives," Ochoa said. "But for me, it was almost like holding the earth and showing the value of life and how precious it is and how delicate like our society is like and just that realization that we had from the pandemic."
The exhibit features pieces from Roots Art Kollective, Ella Rises, Bill Louis and Vaimoana Niumeitolu.
To include your perspective on 2020, you can call UMFA's hotline at 801-581-8336 to submit an audio recording. The exhibit will be open to the public on Saturday, Sept. 25. For more information, visit umfa.utah.edu.