On a recent trip to Los Angeles, I was walking through the downtown area when a utility box caught my eye. Usually, utility boxes are plain and uninspiring – one might even say they’re an eyesore – but this one was different. Each of the four sides of the box were colorfully stenciled with artworks that made religious references.
One side was a portrait of Audrey Hepburn wearing what seemed to be a multi-colored hijab. Another side of the box featured a portrait of the Virgin Mary holding paintbrushes and a can of spray paint. A third side featured red, blue, and green letters that spelled out, “The Miracle is not to walk on water but to Walk on the Green Earth.” The last side was a picture of a hand holding a lotus flower with a diamond growing out of it.
I’m not sure quite what to make of this utility box, but it’s certainly got me thinking about world religions and American culture. Hepburn was not only an actress and American icon, she was a generous philanthropist and an advocate for peace. Showing an American sweetheart in a hijab distorts some of the assumptions about Muslims and violence that have been increasingly prevalent post-9/11.
In a sense, seeing a heroine of the Christian faith portrayed as a street artist reminded me that Christianity was once a subversive peace movement. Maybe it’s suggesting that creating street art is the new way of prophesying peace?
The quote appears to reference Jesus’s miracle of walking on water. Walking on the earth would certainly have been the norm for people in Jesus’s day. But what about for us? I started to think about the last time I walked on something that wasn’t pavement or an indoor floor. I’m sorry to say that it’s been a while.
In Buddhist ideologies, the lotus flower commonly represents purity and enlightenment. But what does it mean when it’s paired with a diamond, a symbol of luxury?
After some googling, I discovered that the utility box was painted by the prominent Los Angeles street artist known as Free Humanity. He has many other artworks throughout LA and each one critiques or promotes different issues in American society. On his website, Free Humanity states that the mission behind his art is “Taking back the Humanity stolen from our minds by social manipulation and planting seeds of positivity through art and consciousness.”Although it’s a bit dogmatic, the activist art on the utility box struck a chord with me – and I suspect I’m not the only one.
Click here to learn more about Free Humanity.