Mat Tomezsko believes art is meant to serve as an exercise of investigation, not self expression, so he has always been passionate about creating art that gives others a voice.
“I try to make art that reflects society, and tries to understand the things that are going on,” said Tomezsko, a 2009 painting alumnus. “I always try to engage with other people, and I think that informs my approach to reducing inequalities.”
Tomeszko led students from local high schools like Benjamin Franklin High School in creating “Revolutionary Philadelphia,” a mural about reducing global inequality, which was unveiled at Gladfelter Hall on Nov. 9. The project was part of the Global Philadelphia Association’s effort to honor the United Nations’ 17 Sustainable Development Goals, an initiative aimed at eliminating global issues like hunger, poverty and gender inequality by 2030.
Tomezsko worked on the mural with nine students in the University Community Collaborative, a College of Liberal Arts program that helps high school students develop leadership skills to combat social injustices, during a summer class from July 12 through Aug. 15.
The mural is a collage featuring local figures who have made contributions to social justice causes like civil rights and social justice. Each student created their own individual artwork exploring the overall theme of reducing inequalities, and their work intersects in the middle of the canvas.
The Global Philadelphia Association, a nonprofit organization promoting international activities in the city, began partnering with local organizations to create murals commemorating the 17 SDGs in October 2019.
Temple University is a perfect fit for the 10th SDG, which addresses reducing inequality, said Hai-Lung Dai, the vice president of the Office of International Affairs and a member of Global Philadelphia’s Board of Directors.
“The role of higher education, a university, is to empower our students with the ability, knowledge and skills to go out and improve their own lives and the lives of other people in society,” Dai said.
Temple Institutional Diversity, Equity, Advocacy and Leadership and Global Temple oversaw the university’s work for making the “Revolutionary Philadelphia” mural.
A committee featuring representatives from the Tyler School of Art, the Office of International Affairs, IDEAL, Strategic Marketing and Communication, Facilities Management and Global Philadelphia Association selected Tomezsko’s proposal for the project.
Tomezsko felt creating the mural was a good opportunity to teach the public and those involved about inequalities while also providing students a platform.
Their work explored groups like the Black Lives Matter movement and the Black Panthers, who fought for a more inclusive society by challenging police brutality against the Black community in the 1960s, according to The U.S. National Archives and Records Administration. Rebecca Lee Crumpler and Rebecca J. Cole, two pioneering African American female physicians, are also featured in the mural.
Samir Ross, a 2021 graduate of Benjamin Franklin High School, worked on the mural during the summer and hopes future generations will live in a society free of inequality.
“Like, some of the things that we’re still dealing with, it’s like, they won’t have to experience it, they will see it, and they’ll just like, see it as simply just history,” Ross said.
Barbara Ferman, a political science professor and executive director of UCC, feels the mural is representative of those without a voice in society.
“I think it’s a good representation of contemporary and historical figures in Philadelphia who’ve worked on racial justice, LGBTQ+ issues, etc.,” Ferman said. “These are groups that have been marginalized by the larger society, their voices are not heard, their faces are not seen, so I think this is giving them a voice.”
Zenaya Mason, a freshman health professions major, appreciated that Tomezsko incorporated student voices into the creation of the mural, and that the work was an individualized process, she said.
“It’s really students with all types of backgrounds from across Philadelphia that really put their mindset into a piece of art that is important to them,” Mason said. “It’s our ideas about what we believe the future should be, or what the future and the present should know about Philadelphia itself.”