Thursday, May 13, 2010
Eulogy for the Fatou & Fama Lion Mural
Fatou & Fama Mural, April 24, 2010
Philadelphia is renowned as a city for public art, in particular for its murals. I am saddened by the recent loss of one such mural: the painted façade of the former Fatou & Fama restaurant at 40th and Chestnut streets in University City. I confess that I had never eaten at the restaurant before it shuttered sometime in late 2008 or early 2009. Its specialty was Senegalese cuisine. But I passed by the block frequently, both by car and on foot, and I always felt a soft spot for this locale.
Fatou & Fama site, May 13, 2010
Allow me to explain about the mural: it was not a work by the Mural Arts Program, but obviously a commission by the owners of the restaurant. Therefore, it had no protection after they closed their doors. So the site sat vacant for over a year, but recently I saw construction activity going on inside, followed by two men surveying the exterior. I knew then that the clock was on, and it would only be a matter of time before the mural would disappear. Sure enough, this Tuesday morning on the commute into the city, I saw a worker chiseling the plaster off the front of the building, stripping away the painted image with it.
Was the mural an especially exceptional work of art? Well, no. But it possessed a certain quality absent from all of the municipally-authorized murals which dot Philadelphia. It is almost as if this was outsider art to the more institutionalized status of works produced by the Mural Arts Program. This is not a knock on the Mural Arts Program, whose mission and accomplishments I admire very much. Whereas these city-sanctioned murals make a point of representing the neighborhoods where they are painted, as well as engaging the collaborative efforts from the residents a community, the Fatou & Fama mural projected a unique sense of dignified individualism about the restaurant and its owners. I would ask, is there a more apt embodiment of the American spirit? It takes guts to adorn the face of one’s business with a painting as bold as this. Every aspect, from the noble lions, to the craggy baobab tree, to the technicolor sunset, exuded pride for their work and their heritage. University City will be a bit dimmer without this wonderful mural.