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Anthropology class creates community mural project “Brushes Beyond Oppression” 

Mercer students participate in an Art and Activism mural painting event on Cruz Plaza on Nov. 18.
Mercer students participate in an Art and Activism mural painting event on Cruz Plaza on Nov. 18.

Mercer’s Public Anthropology and Activism class is in the process of finalizing a mural created by Mercer students. The project aims to spark conversations about diversity on campus.  

The Public Anthropology and Activism class, taught by Natalie Bourdon, Ph.D., culminates in a final project that connects visual art with an activist message. 

“The class focuses on public anthropology and social advocacy to help us better understand how we can use anthropological methods to influence social change,” said group member Bree Withrow ‘25.

Throughout the semester, the class has been preparing to create a mural that has significance for the Mercer and Macon community and will be presented around campus once completed. Their idea was to create a painting that would be outlined by two Mercer art students and then filled in by any Mercer students who would like to contribute. 

On Oct. 26, the group hosted an open panel in Willet Hall to present their plans to create a mural on Mercer’s campus and to receive feedback from the community. At the meeting, students asked the audience for input on the location of the mural and what should be included in the art.

At first, Black history was going to be the central focus, but feedback from the crowd led the group to shift the focus of the mural to encompass a broader idea of diversity.

Inspiration for the mural was taken from various murals, such as one which used to overlook Coleman Avenue near Mercer Village and the image which was projected onto a statue of Robert E. Lee in Richmond, Virginia during Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.

The two students charged with making the preliminary drawings for the mural were Ashley Pemberton ‘23 and Tamaya Morrison ‘26. They were chosen by the group because both are known among the Anthropology students to have artistic talent, making them the perfect fit for the project.

Pemberton said that their design incorporates many of the marginalized celebrations of diversity which are gaining more acknowledgment each year, such as Pride Week and Indigenous Peoples Day. She hopes the mural will encourage conversations centered around diversity among its viewers. She wanted students to step outside their comfort zones while still feeling safe to voice their opinions openly.

“I definitely wanted to make it less scary and more accessible to have those kinds of conversations,” said Pemberton.

The group hosted their mural painting event, titled “Brushes Beyond Oppression” on Nov. 18 by the entrance to Cruz Plaza between Penfield Hall and Tarver Library. A steady stream of students passed by, and many stopped to help paint the background on the large canvas.

“It’s a pretty cool project that has a lot of meaning behind it, so it’s really cool to interact with,” said Isabella Phillips, a student who contributed to the event.

The end product will be displayed around campus as a reminder of what Mercer University stands for. One area that Withrow mentioned they could display the canvas mural was near the steps between Cruz Plaza and the University Center.

Withrow said that the plan for the future of the mural is to house it in the Tubman Museum as part of an exhibit that also displays the plywood which surrounded the Confederate statue that used to be in place on Cotton Avenue in downtown Macon.

Withrow wants the next group of students who attend the class to continue the project. She said she hopes the mural they created won’t be just a “one-hit wonder.”

"I want people to continue talking about this," Withrow said.

The group plans to hang up the mural in December when students are still on campus, though a date for the event is still yet to be determined.

Gabriel Kopp

Gabriel Kopp '26 is majoring in Journalism and Law and Public Policy at Mercer University. He has written for The Cluster since he started at Mercer, and currently works as the Sports Editor. When he isn't studying, he enjoys going for runs and reading the New York Times.

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