New mural honors the past, makes room for the future in Little Five Points

Councilmember Amir Farokhi, members of the Little Five Points Alliance, neighbors, and members of the Georgia Department of Transportation join artist Totem for a ribbon cutting in Little Five Points. (Photo courtesy Little Five Points Alliance)

In Little Five Points, the wall at the end of a strip of storefronts facing Seminole Avenue has new life with a new, vibrant mural.

Completed by Mr. Totem, a world-renowned graffiti artist who has been a regular fixture in the community since the 80s, this piece ties in the history of the community and its legacy as a home for the art of graffiti while confronting modern issues.

It all started with an idea: a new mural on an old wall. 

“Before the Little Five Points Alliance did anything to the wall on Seminole, I wanted to get a sense of its existing conditions, which is when I noticed that there were two large-ish sections of graffiti that had obviously been there a long time and were more or less untouched by tags,” explained Saskia Benjamin, Board President and the Chair of the Arts & Culture Committee for the Little Five Points Alliance. 

“That piqued my interest because I know that within the graffiti community there’s an unwritten rule about not defacing the work of respected artists. As I looked at the works more closely, I located a couple of signatures, one being Totem’s. He’s a well-known graffiti artist so I recognized his name immediately. I knew right then that we couldn’t scrub the wall without first asking for Totem’s permission.”

And so, the Little Five Points Alliace stopped their plans and reassessed, reaching out to Totem directly and coordinating with him about being part of the wall’s artful evolution once more. 

Atlanta DOT Commissioner Solomon Caviness, Little Five Points Alliance Executive Director Lauren Welsh, and Councilmember Amir Farokhi pose during the ribbon cutting ceremony. (Photo provided by Little Five Points Alliance)

“The last thing the Little Five Points Alliance wants to do with a community improvement project is to upset the community,” said Benjamin. “We feel very fortunate that not only was he interested in working with us on a new mural, but he was also interested in engaging with the Peace Mural by David Fichter that had once adorned that wall. It was really a lovely full circle moment and I think Peace Mural Redux is an amazing asset for the community.”

Lauren Welsh, Executive Director of the Little Five Points Alliance, mentioned that while much of current efforts underway in the community are focused on the “micromobility aspect of the new Davis Plaza Bikeway and a new scooter corral,” the mural in question is “critical” to the space. 

The new mural by Totem, called Peace Wall Redux, is focused on the history of the area as a hub of political activism and graffiti writing, while also touching on issues of parenthood, intellectualism, social awareness – all seen through a lens of peace, love, and unity. 

“The creation of this mural has been a very special project for the Alliance because it truly represents the way we want to move forward – honoring and respecting those who built the community while also allowing space for change and growth that comes our way,” explained Welsh. 

I had the chance to speak with Totem about this mural, his love for the art of graffiti writing, and his feelings about the Little Five Points community as a whole. 

“Graffiti, the medium of working with the can, is the first American art form,” said Totem. “That’s true Americana, and Little Five Points is one of the places where it was a birthing zone for that in the Atlanta area. It has permeated directly from that spot and others like it into other parts of Atlanta. It’s basically a birthing bed where this modern art was able to thrive.” 

Harkening back to his days as a young man who frequented Little Five Points and became part of the local art scene in the 80s and 90s, Totem still has a love and devotion for the neighborhood. And as he has watched the city change over the years, he has nothing but positive words to share about the Little Five Points Alliance, who he describes as being “boots on the ground” people that are authentic supporters of the community working towards improvements without losing the history of place.

“They are custodians and guardians of Little Five,” said Totem. “Little Five Points is really vintage, old Atlanta. It’s old school cool. It’s literally one of the first art districts, one of the first places where us freaks and geeks could be ourselves.”

The original Peace Mural painted by David Fichter in 1985 touched on nonviolent resistance to nuclear weapons, but over the years it had become damaged and defaced. Totem used this opportunity to imagine a Peace Mural Redux that would tie in to the history of this wall, creating what he calls a “time portal” between the modern day and the past. 

Tying the mural in with the 50th anniversary of Hip-Hop, Totem’s design incorporates James Brown lyrics, colors that represent the diversity of Little Five Points, and his thoughts on humanity.

Peace Wall Redux (Photo provided by Little Five Points Alliance)

His signature, for example, is created in classic graffiti writing style that camouflages images of fatherhood into the design.

“The only hood I represent now is fatherhood,” Totem wrote in a statement. He opined that one of the biggest struggles in modern day American society is absentee fathers and the allure of reckless life on the streets, so he wanted to address the issue with his art. “My letters depict fathers of different ethnic backgrounds being in their children’s lives and supporting, loving, and teaching their children.”

Peace Wall Redux offers an interesting insight into the process that the Little Five Points Alliance employs as they bring in curated art experiences while still honoring the past. Little Five Points is one of the most unique and artful communities in Atlanta, so it is truly reassuring to know that those in the Alliance are continuing a legacy of good stewardship for both the businesses, neighbors, and artists who call Little Five Points home. 

Next on the docket for the Little Five Points Alliance are an arts and culture assessment completed in partnership with the Atlanta Regional Commission and the L5P Community Improvement District as part of ARC’s Community Development Assistance Program (CDAP). The Alliance is also currently in the planning stage for a mural project along the Moreland Avenue underpass. Learn more about Peace Wall Redux, the Little Five Points Alliance itself, and their efforts here.

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