A marginalised and forgotten urban area in Druids Heath has been brightened up with a large scale mural that promotes community spirit, hope and solidarity. 

Birmingham street artist and curator Mohammed Ali painted the epic mural as part of a community arts project.

A beautiful and striking new public mural has been painted in a public space that once looked ominous and brooding.

The stunning art, painted across the huge wall of a building with a grey tower block rising up in the background, depicts a powerful vista rich with poetical references to freedom, hope and the power of people to rally together in troubled times to help each other.

The first layer of paint sets the background for the artALPF
The first layer of paint sets the background for the art

The widescreen shape of the wall looks less like the traditional rectangle or square shape of a canvas and more like an outdoor drive-in cinema. The left side of the mural is dark and ominous and painted with a multitude of squares that resemble a mesh cage. The squares seem to suggest the claustrophobic state of modern life where people are fenced in and holed up in their tiny spaces.

However, despite the bleak outlook, a strong oak tree with deep roots rises out of the murk of modern existence. Despite man’s apocalyptic abuse of the earth the spirit of nature continues to abide and survive.

The central portion of the mural shows two arms reaching out to each other, with hands that clasp and grip in support. The arms evoke the power of community spirit in times of uncertainty and calamity.

As the painting moves towards the right the paint becomes brighter, with lush yellow and orange merging together to cast a vivid and warm spell, while to the top right the pulsating and bright sun hangs low in the sky.

The silhouettes of birds fly through the ochre landscape. Their dark shapes fly high over an urban landscape of ghostly tower blocks. The flight of birds poetically reference the indomitable spirit of freedom, and also of migrants and refugees who have travelled far to reach new lands to make a new start.

A majestic looking buzzard – a symbol of resourcefulness, patience, resilience, strength, rebirth and freedom – is perched on a branch like a proud and fearless monarch.

The physical design of the building upon which the mural is painted on also provides an uncanny visual metaphor for Ali’s remarkable painting. There is a barred door near the branch upon which the buzzard is perched. The bars upon the door eerily take on the shape and form of a door on a birdcage.

The mural poses the question about who dares to cage and contain the spirit of humanity, community and freedom.

The epic scale Druids Heath mural was painted using a cherry pickerALPF
The epic scale Druids Heath mural was painted using a cherry picker

An arts project called A Level Playing Field – which is dedicated to Druids Heath – worked with residents, asking them about the public places in the area and what would make them look better and brighter.

A spokesperson for the project told I Am Birmingham that local people asked for the urban landscape around their neighbourhood to be “brightened up” after fears and concerns about alienation as poorer families were forced out of the area as developers moved in to construct high rise tower blocks.

Locals informed the arts project that “we’re forgotten, they’ve only taken things away, never put anything in”.

One particular public space had a large and looming wall which was visible from the main road that runs through the estate.

Jayne Murray, director of A Level Playing Field, recognised the opportunity offered by the large urban space which had the potential to engage local people if it was painted with something inspirational.

“A mural would brighten the place up, it would be seen from the road, it would mean people weren’t forgotten,” said Murray.

The art references the theme of humanity and helping othersALPF
The art references the theme of humanity and helping others

The project director looked around at murals and artists in Birmingham with a view to finding the right painter for the project.

Murray came across the work of Birmingham artist Mohammed Ali who has previously painted public murals and street art around the city, including taking part in urban art festivals around the country.

Murray reached out to Ali after discovering that the artist had an interest in showcasing stories and themes that were close to the heart of the community and for giving voice to people whose stories are rarely told.

The artist agreed to the Druids Heath project and was keen to paint the large wall and inspire the local community through art.

Funding for the project was gained from crowdfunding, The Active Well Being Society and Creative City Programme which is a part of the Birmingham Commonwealth Games 2022.

The finished mural glows in the afternoon sunlight as tower blocks loom in the backgroundALPF
The finished mural glows in the afternoon sunlight as tower blocks loom in the background

Ali came to Druids Heath and met local people to better understand the culture and the situation that Druids Heath currently finds itself in.

The artist was deeply touched by the kindness of the Druids Heath community. Despite poverty and the cost of living crisis there was a network of support where local volunteers helped people less well off.

“That sense of care, kindness, and supporting each other was beautiful to behold,” Ali told I Am Birmingham.

Ali also found out that the community is currently threatened by a regeneration programme where tower blocks are being raised and residents are being dispersed which will erode what remains of the community spirit in the area.

Despite the logistical challenges Ali enjoyed working on the massive muralALPF
Despite the logistical challenges Ali enjoyed working on the massive mural

Ali spoke about the mural and how it relates to the community: “When I paint walls – I try to tell stories of the people that see those walls everyday.

“This mural in Druids Heath tells the story of community strength that I discovered after meeting residents and hearing stories from both young and old.

“Over a number of weeks I met with different community groups to learn about what it meant to be from Druids Heath. I always aim to make art that resonates with the local people so it was imperative that the art was informed by deeply rooted local narratives.

“Stories about kindness and helping each other in big and small ways.

“I felt there was a powerful presence of empathy, where people related to each other’s struggles. To ensure this community spirit doesn’t get lost over time, I feel there is a need to guard and preserve it, and that begins by placing a bold mural in the heart of the community.

“This splash of colour surrounded by concrete blocks speaks boldly of this solidarity.”

The huge mural makes reference to the spirit of freedom and breaking out of the cageALPF
The huge mural makes reference to the spirit of freedom and breaking out of the cage

“A Level Playing Field are delighted with the work,” said Murray after seeing the bright and colourful mural.

“The colour alone has made a massive contribution to the surrounding environment, but what we are really pleased about is that Ali picked up on the strength of the community as its main asset and how that is such a valuable thing and worth protecting.

“We believe art should be experienced as part of everyday life for everyone and this mural really helps make that happen.

“The mural has had an incredibly positive reception by local residents, who describe it as awesome and beautiful.

“Some thought they wouldn’t like it, but have watched it appear over time and they love it, and they love the craft of it.

“It’s a part of the landscape now and hopefully means Druids Heath won’t be forgotten.”

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