Work of Art: Our Window by AJA Louden with 2018 City of Calgary Street Art Program for Youth Participants

The mash-up of colours, styles, written language and new and traditional media are indicative of the genesis of intertwined stories and shared hope that came together in creating this public piece.

Photograph by City of Calgary.

Title: Our Window
Date: 2018
Artist: AJA Louden with participants of the 2018 City of Calgary Street Art Program for Youth
Augmented Reality artists: Augle app, digital animation by Jarrett Sitter and stop motion by The Bum Family
Media: mural: outdoor exterior latex paint and spray paint on cinderblock wall
Augmented reality: delivered through app, Augle
Size: 20.67’ (h) x 21.3’ (w)
Location: 1009 7 Ave. S.W., East Wall, Downtown Calgary Mosque
Note: This is a temporary mural in the City of Calgary Public Art Collection with the collaboration of the City of Calgary Street Art Program for Youth and support of the Downtown West Community Association.
Other projects in Calgary by AJA Louden with youth: Collide and View, 2017, in two tunnels at Confederation Park; Dagumisistiy wusa trok’a yasdar l, 2019, with Aj Starlight and youth of Tsuut’ina at Tsuut’ina Nation

 

Our Window, a diamond shaped mural on the exterior wall of the Downtown Calgary Mosque, is visible from the C-train on 7th Avenue S.W., but it’s best approached from the adjacent parking lot. There, an unusual label pays tribute to the remarkable, diverse community involved in the mural’s creation and welcomes viewers in three languages: English, Blackfoot and Arabic. Instructions link to an augmented reality smart phone app that animates the image 24/7.

From a painted second-storey window, slyly elevated from the grid of the actual windows of the mosque, light shines on a small green sprout. Crisply partitioned with white lines, monochromatic patterned fragments surround the plant. Airy patterns border it, suggesting the sky, and darker ones establish the ground from which the sprout grows. The kaleidoscopic, tilted surfaces relate to each other visually and seem to vibrate around the seedling like guests bringing good wishes at the celebration of a birth. Use the Augle app to see the spirited animation of Calgary artist Jarett Sitter and The Bum Family setting the lunar cycle in motion in the windowsill night sky as the wriggling sprout radiates energy.

The mash-up of colours, styles, written language and new and traditional media are indicative of the genesis of intertwined stories and shared hope that came together in creating this public piece.

Edmonton-based artist AJA Louden led the participants of the 2018 City of Calgary Street Art Program for Youth (Tahj, Lindsay, Izyan, Asher, Celina and Arabella) in a six-week workshop. They practiced techniques (sketching, painting and making maquettes), used new materials (acrylic paint markers and spray paint), and honed their design skills. They discussed the history of urban muralism and addressed the potential of their own project with an exploration of site, history and community.

Tomas Jonsson, co-ordinator of the program at the time, brought a stellar supporting cast for the project.

To help the youth with their questions about the nature of the mosque and Treaty Seven territory, he invited the president of the Islamic Information Society of Calgary, Abdulla Barahim, and Blackfoot Elder, Sheldon First Rider, to share their teachings. Together, they explored common values. As the young participants learned about mathematical patterns in Islamic architecture, many found them surprisingly beautiful and thoughtful. They saw a connection to the geometry of Indigenous beadwork and chose pattern as the visual language for the mural.

Workshop assistant Kayla Simpson envisioned the symmetrical system of roots and branches below and above ground in two of the lower partitions. The long histories of Muslim and Indigenous cultures were acknowledged in two sections: an intricate tile pattern in turquoise and blue, contributed by calligrapher and Islamic geometric designer Masarah Maisari, and a group of cowrie shells in orange based on those at Glenbow that served as trade goods long ago in many other countries. Water was represented in droplets and rivulets, an acknowledgement of the Bow River and the reverence for water in a desert culture.

Words appear in three sections. Decipher the word for “grow” in the lettering of four languages, find the overlapping letters that spell “TOGETHER,” and tease out “Open Window,” Louden’s positive rebuttal to the broken window theory in criminology.

To top off the image, the upper left slivers of red and blue are dotted with slices of pizza.

References to the rhythms of day and night and the seasons can be found in patterns of soft clouds, sparkling stars and stylized falling leaves.

An important aspect of the Street Art Program for Youth was to meet with guest artists such as Adrian Stimson, a member of the Siksika Nation who was a recipient of the 2018 Governor General’s Award in Visual and Media Arts. University of Calgary associate professor in Canadian Indigenous Studio Art, Judy Anderson, Nēhiyaw from George Gordon First Nation in Saskatchewan, spoke to the group about her own collaborative projects with graffiti and beadwork. On the left side of the mural, a triangular blue section shows a close-up of Anderson’s bead work painted by Louden.

Louden describes his own family roots as Caribbean and Canadian. As a youngster growing up between Calgary and Cochrane, train car graffiti and tags on Calgary light posts were his entry to hip hop culture. Although he started university in the sciences, he shifted to complete the graphic design and illustration program at Grant MacEwan University with a special interest in designing letter forms. He set up the Aerosol Academy a decade ago and the AJA Louden Studios in 2016 with a focus on arts workshops that can affect social transformation.

Looking back at the process of making Our Window, he is still grateful for the chance to learn and experiment alongside the youth. He considers the illumination on the plant as a good metaphor for the project. “The plant needs light to shine for it to grow,” he says.

We can all take heart in the afterglow.

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This article appears in the November 2020 issue of Avenue Calgary.

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