Student View

Mural Connection

An artist partners with students in Maine and Iraq to paint two murals honoring cross-cultural relationships    

Pat Perry (b. 1991), Opening Lines, Biddeford, USA, 2019 (top). Opening Lines, Slemani, Iraq, 2019 (bottom). Water-based emulsion paint on concrete, approximately 12x10 meters. Photography: Emad Rashidi.

How do Perry and the students in Maine and Iraq use symbols in the murals?

Today, people have more opportunities to connect with one another than ever before. The internet, paired with today’s smart devices, allows us to engage with people around the globe through instant messages, social media, video chats, and more. Pat Perry celebrates this in his project Opening Lines. “All different types of people are colliding constantly, almost everywhere; this is the world now . . .,” the artist says. The Detroit artist partnered with students living 5,649 miles apart to paint murals in Maine, above, and in Iraq, below.

Students and teachers from fifth-grade classes in Slemani, Iraq, and Biddeford, Maine, collaborated with Perry to create a public mural in each region. First, the students video chatted to learn about one another’s cultures. Perry worked with them to design doodles representative of their lives that he would include in the murals.

The kids painted doodles representing friendship, like a sun and friends holding hands. They also wrote messages to their new friends across the world for Perry to incorporate into the murals. These messages include: “friendship can even go through seas” and “life is better with friends.” Perry included the messages—in Arabic and English—on both murals. The artist says, “It’s not just hyperbole to really emphasize how similar the kids were in both places: thoughtful, sweet, engaged, curious, and willing to express themselves and communicate with us.” Kate Gerwig, the Maine class’s teacher, says, “It’s part of my job as an art teacher that students have art opportunities in the community and beyond. This was an amazing opportunity to do that.”

Perry began the mural design process by making small sketches. But unlike many artists, he didn’t use a typical square grid made up of straight lines to accurately render scale. When Perry started mapping out his compositions on the walls, he painted more than 50 doodles for points of reference instead of using a grid. In doing so, he intends to emphasize the significance of the children’s doodles in the work.

Pat Perry (b. 1991), Opening Lines, Biddeford, USA, 2019 (top). Opening Lines, Slemani, Iraq, 2019 (bottom). Water-based emulsion paint on concrete, approximately 12x10 meters. Photography: Emad Rashidi.

Perry uses culturally traditional symbols in each mural. In Maine, he paints a boy sporting a baseball cap, an iconic American accessory. For the mural in Iraq, he renders a girl sitting among traditional Iraqi rugs, which are recognized all over the world for their bold patterns, striking colors, and interwoven narratives. Both subjects face a torn chain-link fence and hold a red phone to their ear, symbolizing human connection across cultural boundaries.

Gerwig says her students learned how “people are more similar than we think.” One of the Iraqi student artists says, “You shouldn’t think of yourself [as] different from other people. Just because you live in a different country doesn’t mean you’re not connected.” 

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