Pollak Building mural celebrates diversity, education and community

By Jayla McNeill

Sudanese street artist Assil Diab’s latest project brought volunteers and VCUarts students together to shine a light on education and community.

Diab graduated with a B.F.A from the Department of Graphic Design in 2011. Soon after graduating, she interned with French-Tunisian street artist El Seed. This work inspired Diab to pursue a career in street art. Last year, she received VCU’s 10 Under 10 award for her activism work in Sudan and is credited with being the country’s first street artist.

After she was commissioned for this project, Diab began thinking of ways she could represent VCU and VCUarts students through her work.  

“I came up with the idea of doing a collage of typography – choosing different fonts for graphic design and lettering – but in different languages to represent the diversity of students that are at VCU.”

The typography is set against a large and eye-catching background that utilizes CMYK colors to match the graphic design theme of the mural. 

‘I wanted to add a lot of color there,” said Diab. “ With the background, I really just did what I felt I wanted to do with it, it wasn’t something that was really planned.”

The finished mural by Diab outside the entrance of the Pollak Building.

Diab was initially planning to finish the mural in two weeks, however, with the help of students and volunteers, it was completed in less than a week. 

“It really was a community project…there were a lot of people who worked on this mural,” said Diab. “I don’t think I’ve ever done anything like that where so many people were working on the same mural I was doing.”

“The more I worked on it, the more volunteers wanted to join,” she continued. “By the end of the project, there was no more room to put students in because it was fully signed up for and that was great.”

Involving VCUarts students in this project was a goal from the very beginning. Students were tasked with selecting the typography and painting most of the fonts, with Diab selecting the placements and adding finishing touches.

“I didn’t feel like this is something that I should just come in and do myself. [The Pollak Building is] an open space and graffiti shouldn’t just be for street artists, it should be something that’s really community work,” said Diab. “Since these are arts students, they should really have hands-on experience learning how to do this.”

This experience was not only valuable for students, but for Diab as well. 

“I was really able to relate to all of [the students] and them to me. It wasn’t just a painting, we really talked about everything. … I graduated 11 years ago, [but] I really felt like I was one of them, not just somebody who came in to do a workshop.”

Diab said responses to the mural so far have been positive. 

“To me a mural is never done. I always feel like there’s more to do,” said Diab. “I’m just happy with the responses in general. People really love it I feel.”

Lead image: Assil Diab. (Photo by Diana Laurel Caramat)