A WALMART in Arkansas has unveiled a new mural that celebrates Marshallese and Mexican cultures.
Freelance illustrator Jacqui C. Smith, through NOW Art in Los Angeles, spent a larger part of this year drawing her way across the country, portraying underrepresented diverse communities in various U.S. towns, including the Marshallese and Mexican communities in Springdale, Arkansas.
“This is so cool because it never happens. I didn’t realize that there was this huge community there until I started doing research. That’s one of the things I love most about doing these murals: learning about random little towns all over the country and really get to discover what they’re comprised of, learn about these amazing cultures, and have something that showcases all of that in a Walmart,” said Smith in a virtual interview with Variety.
The mural infuses elements of the Marshallese and Mexican identities, highlighting their contemporary dance cultures, while incorporating other crowning cultural pieces, such as an intricately handwoven traditional Marshallese handicraft and a vibrant floral headpiece traditionally worn by Pacific Islanders.
“I really liked that both cultures had images of women dancing, and I knew that — in my mind — I could marry those two things into one cohesive piece, because a big part of the process is making sure that everything flows well,” said Smith.
“For the background, I wanted to add some other cultural elements. On the Marshallese side, I added a pattern of a piece that I saw a woman weave at a marketplace. Then, on the Mexican side, I wanted to include the Mexican flag and some other imagery into a pattern that goes into that. As far as the colors, I tried to keep it very traditional and true to the reference pictures, so I didn’t change too many of the colors. I just wanted to make sure that it all matched at the end of the day.”
Smith posted her progress on social media, and garnered lots of attention, including from Pacific Islanders and Mexicans around the world.
According to the 2020 U.S. census, less than 1% of the Arkansas population — of whom 7.9% are in Springdale — identify as “Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander.”
“I want to make sure that I’m representing any other culture other than my own to the best of my abilities, and I want to make sure that it’s done respectfully and beautifully, so the fact that people were reaching out to me and messaging me about it was really very touching,” she said.
Asked what diversity and representation means to her, Smith said, “I think diversity and representation means that across all forms, we get to see people that make up our communities and the world that we live in. Typically, in movies, films, and television, it’s always been very ‘white-washed,’ and that is not what the people making up the world look like, so being able to represent various people in an artistic form is very rewarding for me.”
To the other artists across the country who are also working on Walmart murals, Smith encourages them to also think about diversity in their projects.
“I’m very happy and I hope that I get to do more of these and include more representation across the country,” she said.