If you pass by the building at 1400 Greenmount Ave., a wall of faces greets you.
They hold various expressions, gazing out from the brick in black and white. But what is particularly eye-catching is the rod iron fencing that’s shadowed across their faces and bodies.
The fencing is meant to “symbolize the barriers African-Americans encounter in everyday life,” said Christopher Metzger, a Morgan State University professor who organized the piece. The theme of this public art is “Black Lives Matter,” and when his students chose it last spring, they had no idea just how relevant it would become.
This piece is a part of the Inside Out project, a global initiative that allows people to share their portraits and make a statement for what they stand for. Metzger had the idea for a few years, but it came to fruition when he enlisted the help of students in his computer graphics and computers in art design classes, who picked the theme.
They were working on the details when the city swirled into turmoil after the death of Freddie Gray.
“That made everyone realize how important the concept really was,” said Kelli Williams, the project’s lead artist, who has graduated and is off to graduate school in Ohio. “And it was great that we were talking as a group of artists, not just students or teachers.”
The students shot portraits of themselves and others in a studio, then created large-format prints.
Installation began last week, with Metzger and the students pasting the prints onto the building, the future home of creative hub Open Works. Tragically, the group started work the day a gunman killed nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston.
The piece has gotten plenty of attention—cars have slowed, people have snapped cell phone photos.
“You would see people stop, then come back with their family and friends,” said incoming senior Kristian Robertson. “It’s amazing.”
The piece will likely remain until construction starts on Open Works later this year.