NoMa Mural

Rest in Peace An'Twan Gilmore

// content warning: police brutality

In Washington, DC there is a neighborhood called NoMa. Its name calls to mind the “acronym as name” trend that you encounter in New York: SoHo, LES, DUMBO to name a few. It stands for North of Massachusetts Avenue and in this neighborhood there is a mural:

Called “Mapping Experiment” it was painted in 2014 by Kyle Hughes-Odgers who describes his work as:

inspired by nature, the built environment, human behaviour, and how these subjects intersect

From a citizen standpoint there’s nothing particular special about the mural. Especially when you juxtapose it against its siblings across the city that are more localized and depict black life that is full of color and wonder. DC has a city sponsored mural Mural Project that you should check out to see what I mean.

From an artist standpoint I find this work inspiring. The use of Geometrics and Layout play together so well. The colors look good at all times of the day and the non-conformity in the size and color of the shapes creates an effect where my eye is drawn to a different part every time I look at it. It works on both a zoomed-out and zoomed-in level.

So I tried to recreated it.

The core of the design are these 2 tiles repeated with different colors, backgrounds, and rotations.

The Grid for the layout is generated at random using a Quadtree and by applying some of the thinking from Tiles and Mosaics we can ensure that each “Tile” randomly selects its characteristics from a list of possibilities. The only thing I didn’t implement was non-square cells in the Quadtree Grid and I might update it in the future to add this change in and bring it closer to the original work.

Generally, I try not to recreate Graphics whole-cloth. I typically will see a pattern or color and apply different aspects in my own Graphics. But this one is different. This mural has been on my mind a lot for the past 2 weeks and I wanted to recreate it as close as possible.

I’ve seen this mural many times since first visiting DC in 2015 and subsequently moving here the following year. It’s location is pretty central to getting across the city as is it right next to the intersection of New York Ave and Florida Ave. Long time fans of Mello will know that this is the same intersection that I gave a talk about and in general has come to mean something to me whether that be a failure of urban planning, source of irritation, or even a source of local tweets. But it’s been on my mind for another reason.

Two weeks ago An'Twan Gilmore was shot and killed by D.C. Police (MPD). Originally alerted to “a man ‘unconscious’ in a vehicle at a traffic light on Florida Avenue and New York Avenue” MPD decided to fire 10 shots into his vehicle and killed him.

Learning that, a mile from my house, a 27 year old black man was killed by the police the day before my own 27th birthday unsettled me. The loss of any black life is a tragedy and when it is in your own community you see first hand how the effects ripple out. Growing up in a predominantly white suburb I was shielded from seeing a lot of this upfront but, since moving to DC, I have seen so many members of my community stricken down simply for being black.

Learning about the NoMa Mural and the artist’s interests in the intersections of the built environment, nature and human behavior has reframed this mural for me. NoMa is a rapidly gentrifying area with about 6-8 condo buildings being built in just the time I have lived in the city. It is yet another area where black people used to live before being forced out by developers and newcomers. I include myself in the latter group. In their place, the city builds chain storefronts and murals that help new residents feel as though they are living in any other city. The built environment is optimized for them and erases any sign of its previous inhabitants.

The police were called because An'Twan Gilmore was “unconscious” but they were also called because this black man was existing in an environment that he didn’t “belong” in. While this may sound like a stretch, it is supported by the fact that the police were dispatched instead of EMTs or an ambulance, people suited to actually help an unconscious person going through distress. Further supported by the fact that MPD successfully deescalated and arrested a white man with a truck full of bombs the week before this killing. If a white man can threaten the Library of Congress and all of the staffers on Capitol Hill and walkaway unscathed then why is the same not possible for a black man that simply fell asleep at an intersection at 3am?

The selective ability to choose when to deescalate is not surprising, but it still hurts. It hurts to march with children and see them yelling the name of a loved one that they lost. It hurts to have another name to chant and remember in our community. It hurts that An'Twan won’t get to grow old.

I know you come here for software but this is what’s on my mind this week. This mural and this stolen life.


P.S. - #JusticeForAntwanGilmore