Riverside unveiled a new mosaic yesterday with the faces of 32 prominent African Americans depicted in its tiles.
It is installed on the Market Street public utilities parking structure and was designed by a 25-person team of artists and installation crewmembers. Figures from several eras are featured, like Zora Neale Hurston, Ruby Bridges, George Floyd and Ahmaud Arbery. The art piece took a year to complete after its conception in June 2020, when Rochelle Kanatzar was contacted by a friend after she posted a vulnerable experience on her social media account.
Kanatzar, Riverside native and instructional services specialist at Riverside Unified School District, had received her daughter from school one afternoon and learned another student made her cry when they spoke racial slurs about black people in particular.
After Kanatzar, who is African American, consoled her daughter, she took her grief to a social post.
“What I’ve learned is that when you’re in the margins, you will face discrimination in some form or fashion and Riverside is not exempt from that pattern,” Kanatzar said yesterday. “We knew it would happen at some time as parents, but you’re never prepared for it.”
When Kanatzar’s friend, Erin Maroufkhani, read about what had happened, she sprung to action. “She said to me that she had to do something, that she couldn’t let that happen to me or my daughter without doing something about it,” Kanatzar said.
Maroufkhani then became the catalyst who organized the support that brought Riverside’s newest mural to fruition. Kanatzar’s daughter Edison, 11, had a pivotal role in choosing who would be represented in the mosaic.
“There were so many people of color, so many black people we could list, but we could only put so many on there and we couldn’t fit them all, and that was a beautiful thing,” Kanatzar said. “I wish we could have had the whole building to put all the people we originally had, but we had to narrow it down.”
When they approached city officials about the project idea, it was former mayor Rusty Bailey who gave initial support. When the conversation was handed to Mayor Patricia Lock Dawson, the answer and support were no different.
“The city is continuing to beautify that area so that patrons are drawn to it and can appreciate it. It truly is an art piece,” Kanatzar said.
At yesterday’s unveiling ceremony, Edison was given the opportunity to read the poem she chose as inspiration for the mural, Still I Rise by Maya Angelou.
Kanatzar said the mural is a gift to the city’s community and their children as a point of education. She explained there will soon be a way onlookers can interact with the art– a QR code linked to a website that teaches about the people displayed on the wall and how they made their impact on the world.