Anthony Joseph's mural Hope Through Ashes: a Requiem for Hogans Alley, appears along the edge of Vancouvers Georgia Viaduct bridge Photo: Gabriel Martins
As the artist Anthony Joseph paints his 45-foot-long mural, Hope Through Ashes: a Requiem for Hogans Alley, along the edge of Vancouvers Georgia Viaduct bridge, there is a purple haze in the air. But it is not a tribute to the legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who spent many summers here with his grandmother Nora before the citys only historic black neighbourhoodwas demolished in 1971 to make room for a proposed freeway. Instead, the haze in the air today is smoke from the Californian wildfires reaching the sky in Canada.
But the spirit of Nora, a former vaudevillian entertainer who came to Vancouver via Chicago and Seattle and helped found the areas now-100-year-old African Methodist Episcopal Church, lives on as a prominent figure in Josephs mural— bearing a shield for defence—among other stalwarts of the citys black community. Her purple hues and flaming attire are a nod to her grandson Jimi. “I may make the flames and purple colour swirl off of her,” says Joseph, adding that he was inspired by the psychedelic art found on Jimi Hendrix album covers. A makeshift shrine to the musician can also be found across the street, on the former site of the speakeasy where Nora worked as a cook, Vies Chicken and Steak House, where stars like Louis Armstrong and Nat King Cole performed before real estate development edged it out.
The painting was commissioned by the Vancouver Mural Festival, “to reclaim space by visually projecting a historical narrative of the black community in Vancouver,” and to celebrate the former entertainment hub as well as document its destruction. The citys small black community grew out of African Americans escaping a Gold Rush era law that made it difficult for them to settle in California, and around 1,000 moved from San Francisco to British Columbia.
The proposed freeway that destroyed the heart of the citys black community in the name of “urban renewal” never materialised in the end, thanks in part to the local Chinese community who mobilised to save the nearby historic Chinatown. Its only vestige now is the Georgia Viaduct, a bridge that connects Downtown Vancouver with the residential neighbourhood of Strathcona that once housed Hogans Alley.
“I put the majority of the mural within clouds of smoke from which historical faces of Hogans Alley arise”, Joseph says Photo: Gabriel Martins
“It was hard for me not to think about the fact that I was adding art to the very instrument that led to the destruction of Hogans Alley,” says Joseph, who worked in animation and gaming before returning to painting. As a nod to the demolition, “I put the majority of the mural within clouds of smoke from which historical faces of Hogans Alley arise.”
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