‘My life matters! Your life matters!’: Iowa artists unveil new mural overlooking Iowa City’s Northside

The Reciprocal of Humanity awaits its unveiling. — Genevieve Trainor/Little Village

A new mural from Iowa artists Robert Moore and Dana Harrison, titled “The Reciprocal of Humanity,” was formally unveiled Saturday night, July 4, on the side of the Market House on North Linn Street. Building project manager Ross Nusser recruited the artists, who have worked together frequently in the past, for the project.

“I love collaborating in public space through art, protest and anything drawing and provoking attention or conversation to disparities and murders of minorities in America by police, government agencies and civil servant agencies,” Moore told Little Village via Facebook Messenger Saturday ahead of the event.

Of his collaborations with Harrison, Moore said, “We’re both minorities and underrepresented so we elevate each other.”

That spirit of elevation carried throughout Saturday night’s event, and is core to Moore’s work, both in the content of the mural — two Black women placed physically above the city — and in his statements to the crowd.

In the lead-up to the unveiling, as the kinks were worked out of the technology, Moore addressed the crowd of about a dozen, describing his recent Harvesting Humanity project, which he pulled from for the night’s presentation. He said the recent and ongoing murders of Black Americans could be something of “a disconnect for rural Iowans.”

Robert Moore’s Harvesting Humanity project is superimposed on top of the mural he created with Dana Harrison, “The Reciprocal of Humanity.” — Genevieve Trainor/Little Village

“We projected Black Americans, past icons, civil rights activists … present African Americans, Blacks who have been killed by police brutality, and then also a representation of the future: Black children in Iowa,” Moore said. “And we projected them on grain silos, it was a recognizable landscape that was familiar to rural America.”

The organizers covered the mural, which has been visible since it was completed late last month, with some black material (which looked and sounded like plastic). The goal had initially been to project the Harvesting Humanity project images onto the covered wall prior to unveiling, but some 10 minutes after the announced 9 p.m. start time, they officially dropped the veil and projected instead against and above the mural itself, to far more powerful effect.

Around 20 minutes after 9 p.m., the Iowa Freedom Riders, who had promoted the unveiling on their Instagram, led their July 4 protest — their first in over a week — with some six or eight dozen marchers onto Market Street.

“The IFR have been asking for Black art towards the movement,” they wrote on Instagram earlier in the day, “and are eager to show support to Moore’s work.” For Moore, the feeling is, well, reciprocal. “I look forward to continued and more dedicated collaboration with other groups like IFR,” he told Little Village.

When the protest had gathered and settled, Moore continued his remarks about the unveiling.

“I’ve lived in Iowa City for seven years,” he said. “I have been brutalized by the police, personally. I see all y’all, young, old — brutalized by the police.” He called on the assembled crowd to “raise our voices, elevate our people … stand in unity against police brutality.”

“I’m not a leader in the sense of civil rights,” Moore continued. “But I use my voice differently. And tonight I want to use my voice in a silent tone.”

Speaking of the work itself, Moore said, “This mural, this painting … those two women who are raised and painted on this wall: They represent what I see in Iowa City, there’s a strong Sudanese and Ethiopian and Black presence … I’ve seen that, from University Heights all the way to City High … and I wanted to really put that as the highest mural in Iowa City right now. Two Black women.”

Artist Robert Moore speaks from on top of the Wild Culture Kombucha building on North Linn Street. — Genevieve Trainor/Little Village

Moore explained the mural’s title to the crowd, saying that it was “holding up the mirror, one-to-one, reciprocal: human to human.”

“Everybody raise your fist … Black Lives Matter!” he issued the call-and-response three times, before shifting the script to an impassioned “My life matters!” and “Your life matters!”

“On today, Independence Day, when we ain’t independent, when we ain’t free, when we are in cages, and we’re being killed — we ain’t celebrating shit. All we’re saying is, ‘Black Lives Matter!'”

Moore believes strongly in the value of art to convey meaning to those who may not yet understand. But he knows that understanding can’t be the end of the conversation.

“We need to be consistent and continue with pressure through our various protests,” he told Little Village. “All of it is important, and I see art as an alternative channel to push our narrative, our experience-based narrative, to those who have the privilege to never experience these atrocities and who also hold power through voice, position and or influence to receive and push the message outward. White people, ‘good cops’ — speak up!!! Be louder than us and you’ll notice we aren’t crying so loud after all.”

An impromptu dance party erupts at the unveiling. — Genevieve Trainor/Little Village

After a few comments from the Iowa Freedom Riders leadership, which were difficult to parse over the music, the event became something of a distanced disco to the music that Moore was playing through the speakers, a mix of classic and current rap and Black protest music. The marchers filled (without crowding) the closed-off section of North Linn Street just north of East Market. At one point, an IFR leader announced to the assembly, “We’re just going to stay here and feel this vibe for a while.”

The convivial atmosphere was somewhat oddly juxtaposed against the “silent protest” that Moore had been advocating, but it was an appropriate third factor in a night also marked by the sound of explosions as fireworks were set off both nearby and in the distance. As the uprising persists, sometimes there are explosions, sometimes there is silent witness — and sometimes, there is dancing.

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