HAMTRAMCK, Mich. (AP) — An old farmer in a turban, memories of his homeland carried in his head. A young girl with a veiled face, everything but her eyes cloaked in sky. A woman wearing a hijab, hopeful eyes looking toward her future.
Ismael Duran is none of these things. But that doesn’t stop him from seeing himself in the new mural gracing Sheeba Restaurant’s building in Hamtramck, according to The Detroit News.
“No matter how far you go from your homeland, you have to bring your homeland with you,” said Duran, the director of the Cultural Garage in southwest Detroit. “They are transporting themselves.”
The mural, which stretches 90 feet by 30 feet and features the three images of Yemeni Americans, was commissioned by the Arab American and Chaldean Council and OneHamtramck, a coalition in the city that seeks to bring together residents representing dozens of cultural groups in the city.
To create the mural which honors Arab Americans and was unveiled Dec. 7, OneHamtramck turned to a Chilean artist, Dasic Fernandez, a renowned muralist and grafitti artist who has studied Arab art and design.
“We figured it would be most appropriate for a Yemeni artist to do a Yemeni mural,” said Bill Meyer, executive director of OneHamtramck. “With Dasic, we knew from his art work and what he has done in the past that he would be the perfect artist for this project.”
Fernandez’s depiction includes the three figures, representing all of humanity’s life stages. He included landmarks unique to cities in Yemen as well as a re-occurring motif using the dragon’s blood tree, a unique tree resembling an umbrella that is only found on an island off Yemen. In the eyes of each of the people depicted, the artist included small figures in a landscape.
“I included the landscape and the figures in the eyes because when you are looking at one of (the painted people) you can see yourself,” said Fernandez.
Hamtramck is a diverse city with residents representing many different ethnic and cultural groups. Originally settled by Germans, it became predominantly Polish in 1910s as immigrants moved in to work in the auto industry. Later waves of immigrants including those of Middle Eastern and South Asian descent — many Yemeni and Bengali.
Of Hamtramck’s population, nearly 43 percent are foreign born, according to recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau. More than 60 percent speak a language other than English at home.
The mural was already doing its job of uniting people during a ceremony at the People’s Community Services center down the street from Sheeba Restaurant.
“I saw the buildings and I thought of uprooting our whole families when we migrate and then traveling forward,” said Hasan Newash, a Palestinian-American who served on the mural committee. “It goes from all the pain in the eyes of the old man to the eyes of that woman, the hope, the purpose.”
Added Ahmed Al-Ammari, who serves on the OneHamtramck board of advisers, “The eyes of that young woman looking to the future gives us hope. Not just for Yemeni Americans but all.”
Fernandez said the response to the mural has been nearly all positive. While he was working on the middle figure in the mural, the young girl with her entire face covered except for her eyes, some people questioned the message in his depiction, wondering if he meant to say she is oppressed.
“The child whose face is covered, look what she is wearing,” said Fernandez. “She is wearing the sky, which represents freedom.”