Featured photo: Raman Bhardwaj stands in front of his Lupita Nyong’o mural All photos by Carolyn de Berry.
“Where are you going to find a husband? How are you going to find someone darker than you?”
Those were the words Oscar-winning actor Lupita Nyong’o heard from her second-grade teacher. Hatred for her dark skin continued until she viewed The Color Purple, a film based on the novel of the same name about a woman married off to an abusive man by her father. She endures years of abuse using reunification with her sister as motivation to survive. It was seeing the representation by a dark-skinned actress in the starring role that made Nyong’o realize she could be successful with her dark skin, too. Throughout her career, she has made it a point to be a role model for young Black girls, teaching them that lighter skin does not make them more beautiful. Inspired by Nyong’o, Greensboro artist Raman Bhardwaj chose her as his muse in one of his latest murals.
One of Greensboro developer Marty Kotis’ latest projects is his street gallery located just off N. Church Street in Greensboro next to Food Lion. The gallery is ongoing, consisting of some complete projects and some blank walls. Paths were created to make walking through the gallery easier. String lights hang above the area, illuminating the area at night and making the colors in the art really pop.
Bhardwaj has participated in street projects led by developer Marty Kotis before. This new gallery is a collective of graffiti, anime inspired fan art, and abstract pieces created by artists from all over, but the mural of Nyong’o, with her voluminous afro and piercing gaze immediately captures viewers’ attention. The mural took about 20 hours to complete and consists only of spray paint, according to Bhardwaj. Bhardwaj chose Nyong’o due to her outspokenness on the beauty of dark skin and her unique, intense face.
“I wanted to dedicate this to Black beauty and the beauty of Black people and appreciate it,” he says, “not just on the surface.”
He also wanted to raise awareness to issues plaguing the Black community, such as systemic racism and police brutality.
“I felt like this was a good opportunity to say something about it,” he says.
In the background behind Nyong’o’s portrait, Bhardwaj painted a link of broken chains to pay homage to the actor’s role as Patsey in 12 Years a Slave for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress . The chains are symbolic of the end of slavery, but the third eye on Nyong’o’s forehead raises a question about the accuracy of that.
“It’s like a double play,” he says, “a hint to her movie, and also, the slavery chains have been broken so many years ago but the mental slavery of the race in invisible form, that’s the question. Are they still broken?”
The third eye was also a reference to his own culture, representing inner consciousness. He ultimately wants people to open their eyes and become more aware of what is happening around them.
Bhardwaj is from Chandigarh, India but has been in the United States on an artist visa since 2018. He realized he was artistic around six years old, but it wasn’t until seventh grade that his father convinced him to attend art school. That same year, he began illustrating books, officially starting his art career. His dad was a writer with publisher friends, and a young Bhardwaj took advantage of the opportunity to build connections. Those publisher friends purchased his art, which boosted his confidence. He continued to do illustrations throughout college and his final year, something big happened.
“I got a good break into a leading English newspaper in my city as a cartoonist,” he says.
He would continue to work for the newspaper for a decade before quitting to be a full-time freelancer, which eventually brought him to Greensboro. He settled in Greensboro due to its close proximity to a lot of his clients, and he loved the equal mix of busy and quiet areas around the city.
He painted the front of the building at Food Lion on Lees Chapel Rd., and he is currently working on a painting at the outdoor seating area of Burger Warfare — both of which are properties owned by Kotis. He is also scheduled to paint a mural at Fairview Elementary School in High Point. When it comes to art, Bhardwaj says he is consumed by it, stating that art is his life.
“I’m either creating art, reading about it, or watching someone else’s,” he says.
His media of choice include acrylic paint, oil paint and charcoal. He finds joy in watching himself improve as he continues and creating the Lupita mural was Bhardwaj’s way of speaking truth to power.
“I just want people to open up their eyes and appreciate Black and brown people,” he says. “That’s about it.”
Learn more about Raman Bhardwaj by following him on Instagram at @artistraman and at artistraman.com. The art exhibit is located at 1316 Lees Chapel Rd.