"Freedom" mural unveiled: designed to create hope, conversation as it neighbors Confederate Monument
On Sunday the community will be celebrating the completion of Little Rock-based artist Perrion Hurd's "Freedom" mural located in downtown Hot Springs. The mural, commissioned by the Hot Springs Area Cultural Alliance*, depicts American Abolitionist Harriet Tubman leading the way to freedom. It is located on Market Street, across from Hot Springs's Confederate Monument that stands on now-privately-owned land where the lynchings of two Black men occurred in the early 1900's. Hurd said he hopes his mural will give people "pause" and start conversation.
"The basic premise of the mural is, in my opinion, we all get to freedom together," he said. "And I hope that by me doing this mural in the community of Hot Springs, right across the street where there is a Confederate Statue, I hope it gives people an opportunity to talk.
"Talk about what freedom means, and talk about what Harriett Tubman did** for her people and what that means. What freedom actually means, and the sacrifices we make for each other to guide ourselves toward a better and more free-er and just society. But we gotta do it together, though."
"The Confederate Statue there is a symbol of time gone by," Hurd continued. "To my understanding ... the spot where the statue currently is use to be a lynching tree in the community there***. And it use to be a lynching tree, and where Black people were lynched****, and I can’t speak on the motivations on why someone would want to memorialize that spot, but to me it’s a very obvious sign, one of those subconscious signs and symbols of reminding people of the way things use to be.
"I’m trying to be fair with my assumption here, with my words here. It’s a reminder of how some people in some communities and spaces use propaganda to remind people of the way things use to be, and how they, to my understanding, how some people believe that those times should be, and part of my job producing this mural is to counter that with a different viewpoint. A different way of seeing those times.
"So it’s basically a soft war. It’s an art war of which art do you want to support and … where do you want to give your attention, you know? So yeah, it’s like a nice, silent — not so silent — statement of, 'OK cool, so you’ve got your propaganda and I’ve got mine. And mine’s more modern and it’s better and pretty. … Mine’s better.'"
All-in-all, Hurd said "it's a total honor to do it," and as he's been working on the piece there have been several visitors approach him, both in cars and on foot.
"Always a joy, of course," he said. "A lot of the Black people in town are just absolutely happy and ecstatic about it. ... It’s just my hope that my mural gives people a sense of, I want to say hope; a sense of upliftment. And it’s not just for the Black community itself, it’s for the entire community to view and appreciate and to talk about."
"I’ve had more compliments on the work than any type of heckling or negative criticisms," Hurd continued, "so I guess I’m doing a good job. And even if people do feel some kind of negative way about it I’m just grateful for the opportunity to be able to open that door for people to talk about it.
"Let’s think about what it means and let’s be honest with our feelings about it and hopefully come to some sort of resolution and/or understanding behind the symbolism of that particular statue."
Approached by the alliance in Spring of 2020, Hurd began working on the mural's wall in August. He had some help from about 23 students who came from Hot Springs World Class High School to add the silhouettes seen at the base of the mural. Now that the mural is complete, Hurd describes what exactly it is passerby's are looking at.
"The left side is supposed to be Harriet Tubman is coming down from the plantation," he said. "She’s praying to the stars as she comes down to where the door is to where that figure is on the door, and she starts to lead ... a line of people up the stairs to the star — to freedom, to the north star. So she’s guiding people to freedom."
There will be a free celebration of the mural's completion beginning at 2 p.m. tomorrow (Sunday), at the Central Theatre.
According to a Facebook post made by the alliance, there will be a screening of the film "Harriet" and a "Stand Up" performance that is a multi-artistic presentation incorporating music, song, dance and spoken word to celebrate "the legacies of women and men who have paved the way before us." The presentation includes members of Philander Smith College’s renowned choir under the direction of Dr. Stephen Hayes and LaLeata Westbrook, and The PSC Creatives, an interdisciplinary group of poets, actors, dancers and singers under the Artistic Direction of Dr. Carla F. Carter. There will also be a performance by Hot Springs World Class High School symphonic ensemble under the direction of Marsalis Weatherspoon and artwork inspired by Harriet Tubman created HSWCHS art students.
About the artist
Starting in Bentonville, Hurd moved to Little Rock in 2011 to begin painting Central Arkansas. His first public artworks are in North Little Rock, and include six murals he was commissioned to do by John Gaudin with the Argenta Arts Council. He also has eight hand-painted banners hanging in the Mosaic Templars Cultural Center, and two sidewalk murals; all in Little Rock. "Freedom" is his first public mural in Hot Springs.
"My themes usually are afro-futuristic themes with a lot of my other private works," Hurd said. "I do print making and paintings and my themes are usually portraiture-based themes. … A lot of my artworks are generally, not so much happy art, but pretty happy art.
"My personal works are designed to make people happy, and with my public artwork they’re designed to make people think, and I would hope that if anything with this Freedom mural, that it gives people pause, and it gives them an opportunity to think and again talk about social issues and how can we make this world better for not just ourselves, but for the babies in the future. We don’t have to be at each other to live good lives."
*The alliance has worked with other artists in the past to decorate the town. Its mission is to "celebrate, advocate and promote the arts and culture of Hot Springs."
** According to WomensHistory.org, known as the “Moses of her people,” Harriet Tubman was enslaved, escaped, and helped others gain their freedom as a “conductor" of the Underground Railroad. Read more about Tubman, here.
***The structure of downtown Hot Springs was much different from present-day in the early 1900's, but it's widely believed that the location of the statue is the same as a telephone pole that once stood where at least one of the two men lynched were hung. If not the exact location, it was at least very close.
****There were two African American men known to have been lynched at the spot. Their names were Will Norman, 21, on June 19, 1913, and Gilbert Harris, age unknown, on Aug. 1, 1922.