Drew Borders murals talk about race, anime, and the power of black women

a: Race had a lot to do with my career development. I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood. I also went to predominantly white schools. I talked about race with my family all the time; It was a regular dinner table discussion. It was strange for me to go to school and realize that most of my friends or classmates shunned the subject, and yet I still had to pretend as if the everyday microaggressions, prejudice, and general ignorance didn’t bother me.

I fell in love with drawing very early on. It was a good escape for me and it also gave people something to associate with me other than the color of my skin. It wasn’t until my teenage years that I began to make more public statements about my work. I stopped thinking about what made my fellow whites comfortable and began doing work important to my identity and my background. As I got older, my group of friends diversified and my voice got louder.

s: What drew you to animation?

a: I used to watch cartoons all the time with my brothers when we were little. Every day after school, we would finish our homework and then draw for hours while watching cartoons. Most of the anime we watched were anime. I loved the big, sparkling eyes, the long, flowing hair, and the funky outfits they wore. A lot of that seeped into my work today.

Animation was an escape. These characters lived in fantasy worlds and did whatever they wanted. This kind of freedom was unknown to me. Even though I had never moved anything before, I knew that was exactly what I wanted to do once I got off to college.

s: What prompted you to add muralism to your skill set?

a: He was actually a family member. One of my aunts asked me if I would paint orchids in her bathroom. I had just graduated from college a few months earlier, at the beginning of the pandemic. I was frustrated because it was difficult to find work in my field. Hardly anyone was hiring. I thought if I started accepting jobs that didn’t quite fit my degree, it would just be a huge waste of time and money. I thought he made me a failure. I accepted her job anyway and ended up really enjoying the process. After that, I became more open to the new opportunities that came my way.

s: How is your style of murals different from your style of cartoons and illustrations?

a: For murals, I plan them in a logistical sense rather than just what looks cool. For animation and illustration, all I have to worry about are my basic principles. But with murals, there are many variables that affect functionality. I often push my body to its physical limits with murals while still having to think critically about the overall design. So, for that reason, I try to make the implementation as easy as possible. Wall paintings are always an educational experience and that’s why I love them.

s: Tell me about the dramatic mural you created as part of the Stacks Squares Murals Festival in Cabbagetown.

a: The article is less about a story and more about the feeling it evokes. The woman in the piece gives off a strong sense of power but still wears a solemn expression on her face, as if she knows there is more work to be done. Interpretation is largely left to the audience. For me, it’s a reminder of my ambition and that of other women of color as we try to make our mark in a world full of adversity.

s: Why was it important to represent the Three Fates (from Greek mythology) as black women in the recent Ormewood Avenue Bridge mural?

a: A lot of times when you see work about black women or black women in general, it’s about “beauty in struggle.” But I don’t like it. I feel that just focusing on the pain and trauma we and our ancestors experienced normalizes it in our society today. It’s as if we’re expected to struggle and there’s something heroic about it rather than it being a commentary on the flaws in our society. This bridge mural was specifically about placing power and control in the hands of a marginalized group of people.

s: Do you have any advice for young people who are considering art as a career?

a: I understand more and more that life is unpredictable. If I hadn’t had such a hard time finding work after graduation, I might never have turned to murals as another alternative. I probably wouldn’t have made the same friends I have today in this community. I would miss a lot of opportunities. So, take a leap of faith! You never know where it will lead you.


Arthur Roddick created the Atlanta Street Art Map in 2017 after retiring from a successful career as an engineer at Eastman Kodak and The Coca-Cola Company. His first experience with art was seeing Alexander Calder as a child at the Pittsburgh airport. Roddick is ArtsATL’s street art expert and regular contributor.

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ArtsATLwww.artsatl.org), is a nonprofit organization that plays a critical role in educating and informing the public about the arts and culture of metro Atlanta. Founded in 2009, ArtsATL aims to help build a sustainable arts community that contributes to the economic and cultural health of the city.

If you have any questions about this or other partnerships, please contact Senior Director of Partnerships Nicole Williams at nicole.williams@ajc.com.

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