Above & Beyond (Social Worker Mural) by EricOkdeh

Above and Beyond is my latest mural project which promotes and celebrates the tireless and important work done by our city's social workers with a concentration on child welfare. The project was funded by Philadelphia's Department of Human Services and proposed by DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose as a way to promote understanding and address the preconceived notions of what social work entails in Philadelphia's diverse communities.

I began my work at the end of 2012 by conducting group interviews with social workers, youths, and foster parents from several organizations including Delta Family Services, Wordsworth Academy, DHS, and Jewish Family and Children's Service of Philadelphia. In addition to these sessions I reached out through email blasts and social media to interview additional social workers in varying fields of practice. These sessions provided some important overarching themes and ideas for me to focus on as my design work began. Additionally, I paid close attention to direct quotes from the participants, knowing that they would feature prominently in the design in different ways. Three recurring words spoken throughout the sessions take place prominently in the design: advocacy, empathy, and resilience.

My design depicts the work done within communities, emphasizing the intimidating and often times unwelcoming atmospheres in which social workers can find themselves as they are trying to assess a family's needs. The elements within the circular layout of the design show the systems in place around each child that one must learn to work within and address. They feature vignettes illustrating: advocacy in the courts, the pressures of time while trying to make great strides with each case, outreach, immense amounts of paperwork and time spent at the desk, as well as the feeling of having to become everything for everybody. The design depicts a breakthrough in the relationship between the Social Worker and youth. Rays issue forth from the circles which carry the images of both Foster and Biological families and key community organizations which also play an important role in each child's continued well-being. The mural ends on a note that is hopeful, however I am careful to show that Social Work involves a large amount of heartbreak alongside the hope and victories. The mural features prominent portraits of many celebrated social workers and the families they serve. Many portraits were painstakingly fabricated in Stained glass and colored mirror. They remain highly representational and truly mark a personal high point for myself in the medium. These glass portraits fall within 3 3'x20' "windows" set inside of faux stonework taken from the architecture of the historic 100+ year old fire house the mural is attached to. The rightmost window features a portrait of "Julian" a young man who was a success story in the foster care system. He trained and became a professional boxer as an adult, a serendipitous coincidence as the mural faces the site of Joe Frazier's famous gym. The credits section of the mural includes 10 scannable QR codes, which can be read using a QR scanner app on any smartphone. The QR codes lead to audio files of Social Workers sharing their experiences. Over 200 volunteers helped paint the mural over the course of two months. Paint days were held in Mural Arts' tour office, DHS' office at 1515 Arch St, on the mural site and at a local rec center. Olivia Nutter, the Mayor's daughter, kicked off the painting by blocking in the very first panel of the mural. A portion of the project was painted by my mural class in Graterford Prison. The mural's installation took place over the course of the month of July, with the addition of small changes to the design at the request of the community and the firehouse.

Click to View Photo Gallery of the progress in studio, details of the glasswork, and installation. "...a mural about (Social) work"

From Above and Beyond, posted by Eric Okdeh on 5/15/2013 (68 items)

Maui Mural Residency 2012 "Na Wai 'Eha" by EricOkdeh

As an outsider, I was fortunate enough to have phone conversations with a wide cross section of the Maui Community leading into this project. These discussions lent insight into the island’s recent history, the struggles to preserve cultural practices, family, and the environment on an ever developing island mostly seen as a major tourist destination. The process brought about a profound shift in my thinking having once visited as a tourist. My overall design at this moment in time focused mainly on this dichotomy of viewpoints.

Once the project found a home in Wailuku, and upon my arrival, the design and the story evolved. I continued the conversations in person with local residents, and began my own personal exploration. The design as a result reflected more about Wailuku, the history of the town, and the importance of water, taro and the Na Wai ‘eha in the West Maui Mountains. The mural is an anachronism, featuring a pre contact Iao Valley and its surroundings with a mixture of figures from the past and modern day. One figure sits in field of Taro plants which exist in the place of Maui’s sugar plantation, next to the restored flowing river. I was introduced to a Kumu Hula, and in the spirit of true community art and collaboration, she helped direct the poses of the figures, infusing her own personal meaning through the figures’ gesture, actions and placement in the design. For me these figures highlight the importance preserving of Hawaiian Cultural practices and the restoration of the water to the land, free of ownership, and for the benefit of future generations.

Beyond the landscape lies a collage of images inspired by my earlier conversations, which work their way through the sky, intermingled with rays representing the Na Wai ‘eha and the sunlight. This imagery depicts a range of topics, from the burning of the sugarcane crops, the bombing of Kaho’olawe Island, introduction of invasive and endangered species, on island development and heavy industries threatening the ecology. Among this collage of imagery are appropriated photos taken from the Hui No’eau’s #mauieveryday Instagram campaign. For the Hui’s Campaign, residents posted photos in response to daily questions concerning on island life. This campaign was a way to utilize the immediacy of technology to crowdsource and breathe new life into the community art process.

I primarily create murals linked by a common theme of restorative justice. I was very interested in the Hawaiian practice of ho’oponopono and the commonalities it shares with restorative justice. I feel ho’oponopono’s theme of restoring balance, and making right, was the very basis of this residency from the start. To inform this design I spoke with people responsible for protecting the environment, protecting the water, land conservation, teaching cultural practices, supporting foster families, exposing injustices; people who work every day to restore the balance. It’s through their input and expertise that this mural exists.

Click the Thumbnails to View the Residency Gallery From Maui Mural Residency, posted by Eric Okdeh on 10/14/2012 (62 items)