On September 16, 2023, we had the honor and privilege to attend the Forward Warrior Mural event for the first time since the start of the Krog Codex Project. We watched as many vendors and staff set up their kiosks. Conversations were buzzing among artists and residents with excitement for the day. We toured the site and saw several murals in the early stages.
After about 2 hours of walking around, a slight drizzle began coming down, which turned into a hard downpour. We found shelter in the local dive bar, 97 Estoria, which is a local meeting place for local artists. We grabbed a small bite to pass the time. The rain persisted and was possibly even stronger by this time. Vendors and artists realized the rain would not stop any time soon and sought shelter about 15 minutes after we had come in. Artists began filling in tables at the once silent bar and gave it life with light conversations about their work and talks of shop. Others sat alone and sketched away, testing and mapping out their murals in their sketchbook.
Benches at Estoria 97
By around 1 p.m., the rain had cleared, allowing the festivities to resume. As we left Estoria 97, we noticed a bench outside of the bar that had been tagged by several visitors. It reminded us of the walls of the Krog Street Tunnel since we recognized many tags of frequent artists we encountered during our visits to the tunnel. While this came as no surprise to us considering the bar is located directly across from the tunnel, it did show us the patterns of space usage of tunnel habitues. It also emphasizes the unspoken rules of not painting on houses and cars but everything is fair game.
We proceeded to the check-in table to obtain our press passes, and from there began to start up our interview process with artists, vendors, and any Forward Warrior staff or festival attendees. We started on Carroll Street to check out the Stacks Squares and eventually worked our way up Wylie Street.
The usage of colors and levels of detail in every mural evoked a sense of inspiration and awe. We approached several artists and asked them what they were painting, their inspirations for each piece, and how they felt about being part of Foward Warrior.
Liz Webb, one of the muralists at Forward Warrior, felt the need to honor the town of Cabbagetown and all its history and the community itself.
Her piece, also a collaboration with an artist named Nicholas Benson, employs a swampy theme and is surrounded by animals that represent Cabbagetown and exist in a bayou ecosystem. She explained,
“We definitely just wanted to make sure that the wall was dedicated to the community and the people that lived here and the people that matter the most because a lot of these are memorials of people that have passed away, like memories. And so that’s what I like to think of it, is like memories of artists that came through, memories of a historical sort of hallway that nobody really thinks of. It’s always changing.”
Jonny Warren, another Forward Warrior muralist, described his excitement to be at the event and what it meant for him to be creating art before the Cabbagetown community.
“… It’s just a really cool experience, getting to interact with people that will end up seeing it…it’s just nice having.. a wider audience.. for my work.”
Vendor stands were lined up and ran all the way down Wylie Street; they were also a major attraction at this event. While some vendors sold handmade jewelry and vintage clothing, others sold more distinctive pieces like uranium glassware and vinyl records. Many sold their art pieces. One booth did tarot card readings. Some vendors shared similar motivations for working at this event: They are aspiring artists, or they are art lovers or they have friends who are muralists and wanted to support them and watch them paint.
Madison Silva, a hairstylist and gypsy artist who was selling hair products and her own personal art, explained her aspirations to be a muralist for Forward Warrior.
“.. I’m hoping that next year I get a wall so that I can paint on the walls. Probably a big fungi, and it’s literal, so like a mushroom with a big eye, probably. But I’ve been thinking about that a lot, but I’d probably start there.”
Asia-Lyn James, the owner of the tarot card reading booth was more than supportive of the Forward Warrior event.
“I think it’s an awesome idea to showcase different art out here obviously because so many people are running past here and there’s a lot of different cute neighborhoods in the area. It gives them more exposure, which I think artists definitely need especially in Atlanta there needs to be more spaces for artists to be showcased. I think this is a great idea for them to be able to do that on a big scale.”
By now, more groups of people began to explore the festival as 80’s dance floor classics blasted out the PA system and into the air. We returned to an exhibit called Mini Krog which we had encountered when we first began our initial walkthrough of the festival. The exhibit is a miniature facsimile of the Krog Street Tunnel made of plywood panels.
Children were encouraged to use water-based aerosol cans to paint the panels to their liking. Parents and guardians stood nearby supervising their children and we once again bumped into the co-creator of the exhibit, Lisa Myers.
On the Mini-Krog exhibit, she explained that it can:
“..Inspire the next artist to come enjoy our tunnel, to get a feel of what it’s like to do some spray work.”
As a resident of Cabbagetown, she expressed her thoughts and feelings about Forward Warrior.
“… you know, [The muralists are professionals] and it’s amazing and I just want an opportunity for…the smaller creatives to be able to express themselves, as well… It was sort of a perfect fit to be like, “Let the pros go there and we’re going to have our little fun show here.”
Myers also explained that the child-painted plywood panels are then repurposed to be exhibited at future Cabbagetown shows. Lisa was kind enough to introduce us to some of her friends who were painting in Forward Warrior, and other event organizers.
After conducting several interviews, we got the sense that neighborliness and affability are common traits of the Cabbagetown neighborhood and its arts community.
TheKillamari collaborated with Drew Borders using his Asian-American roots and Drew Border’s African-American roots as their inspiration. When we asked what he wished people would take away from his art, he stated,
“..I mean everybody says community but I really want people to see that because some people hear that and say “Oh, well everybody says that.” But you know like, me and [Drew Borders] working together, coming from two different backgrounds, it’s just like the perfect way to show that we can come together through art and do something beautiful for the community…. the people in these neighborhoods get involved, they donate money, they donate paint for us to be here to paint, so like they’re all about it… so it really is a community effort at Forward Warrior.”
Everyone seemed to know everyone and their stories. Every artist and vendor was approachable to anyone who came by to talk to them whether it was to compliment their work or ask about the details of their mural.
Aziza Andre, a second-year Forward Warrior muralist described the freedom, diversity, and artistic liberty this mural project provides its artists.
“I have done a few murals around Atlanta. I want to say the piece I did last year was my favorite mostly because I had complete artistic control. I think a lot of different government projects I’ve worked on; they very closely control what you are designing or how you are designing it or implementing changes, and it was my first time that I got to do my concept solely from my own heart and just kind of keep it that way. That was another kind of inspiring and really cool aspect about it. I really like being a part of projects where I’m able to have my ideas the way I’ve thought about them.”
By 4 p.m., we had walked the entire length of the Wylie festival numerous times, endured the elements, and made many new connections. Before we left, we stopped at Vice Taco, a local food truck to grab al pastor tacos after a productive day. The tacos were enveloped in three blue corn, neatly folded tortillas, and the well-seasoned meat sizzled with flavor. Overall, Forward Warrior is a beautiful experience and I recommend it to anyone interested in art, music, festivals, or Cabbagetown itself. There is something for everyone and it is open to the public. This event demonstrates how Cabbagetown is built around visual arts. The mix of Cabbagetown residents and the artistic community makes this a memorable event for all who come for a visit. If anyone missed out this year, no worries, there is always next year!
Thank you Cabbagetown and Forward Warrior for this experience and I’ll see you next September!