The moment I learned about The Inside Out Project I knew I wanted to participate. The program, developed over a decade ago by the French artist JR, provides a platform and sometimes funding for independent organizations to create photographic murals with a social justice theme. In the midst of the pandemic, a friend and I created the South Jersey Artist Collective, a nonprofit with the goal of highlighting the artists and art communities of towns in the shadow of Philadelphia. Our first two projects as an organization were an exhibition of artwork created during the pandemic, and a submission to create a mural with the Inside Out Project.
Our submission was a mural themed “Youth In Support Of Black Lives Matter,” inspired by the protests against racial injustice that happened nationwide, including our small hometown of Woodbury, NJ. Our town came together and took to the streets, I had the honor of marching side by side with friends, family, and students, some of whom I hadn’t seen in months outside of Zoom. The youth involvement in the movement was inspiring and we wanted to elevate their voices with this project. Through a series of photo opportunities set up at community events we photographed 100 local youth ranging in age from 6 months to 18 years old. We photographed children from a diverse range of backgrounds; racially and ethnically, LGBTQ+, and youth with special needs. The thing these kids all had in common was that their households spent the time to have hard conversations and they were all willing to outwardly declare that BLACK LIVES MATTER.
The next steps in the process were to have our photos printed and find a public location to install the larger than life portraits. After months of planning, various discussions and meetings with organizations, and fundraising for materials, we had a date and location. Over a hot weekend in June, SJAC and a team of volunteers spent hours rolling wallpaper paste onto the brick facade of the Woodbury Public Library and applying our photos. Once was all said and done, our 100 photos were on display, a silent representation of the voices of these youths but no less powerful. The community response was amazing, and worth the work involved. Our town of 10,000 people now had a mural connected to an artist whose work has been displayed all over the world, whose work was on the cover of Time magazine. Woodbury, NJ was now a part of the GLOBAL art project.
The mural is meant to be temporary, and being made of paper, the exposure to the elements has taken a toll on the photos. Rain has dissolved the glue, which returns to its tacky form when dried by the heat. The wind has folded some of the print over onto themselves and glued them in place, and the paper has because brittle around the edges. We’ve also experienced our worst nightmare with someone vandalizing the work, not by tearing like we had expected, but by setting several of the photos on fire. Despite the few issues, the mural is holding strong and continues to inspire and and bring attention to the message behind it. We don’t know how much longer it will last, but we couldn’t be happier with the outcome of the entire project. For more information on the project as a whole, visit InsideOutProject.net and to view our specific mural search “Woodbury, NJ.”
Aaron Weber is an artist and educator from Woodbury, NJ. He teaches art at the three elementary schools in Woodbury, and promotes public art and programming as one of the Executive Directors of the South Jersey Artist Collective. For more information, check out sjartistcollective.com or follow @sjartistcollective and @aaronteachesart on Instagram.