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Identity & Community

Portraits Of Black Pittsburghers To Highlight Revised Riverfront Mural

black lives matter mural revision
Bill O'Driscoll
90.5 WESA
Camo Nesbit (left) and Harry Jones III continue prepping the mural site.

Starting this week, the big Black Lives Matter mural Downtown, along the Allegheny River beneath the Fort Duquesne Bridge, is getting a facelift. And it includes at least a few faces you might recognize.

Last weekend, artist Camerin “Camo” Nesbit and three assistants began what is expected to be the two-week process of revising the mural, which began life last year as a guerrilla art project in response to the police killing of George Floyd.

black lives matter mural detail
Bill O'Driscoll
A detail of the existing mural

Nesbit is the resident artist for Riverlife, the nonprofit organization working to enliven the Riverwalk there, which is frequented by bicyclists, runners and sightseers, and is plainly visible from the north bank of the river occupied by PNC Park.

Nesbit’s vision for the site doesn’t include the 12-foot-tall message “Black Lives Matter.” But he said that message will be implicit and even deepened with larger-than-life portraits of 12 present-day Black Pittsburghers.

Interviewed Monday, Nesbit declined to name all of the portrait subjects. But he said one was Emmy-, Tony-, and Grammy-winning actor, singer, activist and style icon Billy Porter, a Pittsburgh native.

“I thought that was important to just have positive representation of the LGBTQ community, and I think Billy Porter is a staple when it comes to just Black people in the community and Black people in Pittsburgh period,” said Nesbit. “The guy’s a genius.” (Porter is now based in New York City, but by coincidence he is in town this summer to shoot his feature-film debut as a director, “What If?”)

Others to be depicted in the mural include platinum-selling rapper Wiz Khalifa. Nesbit also named Ta’Mere Robinson, a top-ranked football prospect at Brashear High School, and Liberty Kinsel, the 4-year-old daughter of artist D.S. Kinsel and singer Anqwenique Kinsel.

The portraits will alternate along the 300-yard-long mural with images of flowers and monarch butterflies, said Nesbit, “just to give it a beautiful aspect of showing not just that Black lives matter, but Black lives are beautiful, Black lives are important, and they’re iconic and royal.”

The portraits will be done in a combination of aerosol and house paints. During the weekend, Nesbit and his three assistants began painting the square backdrops for the portraits, each a blend of orange, blue, red, aqua, yellow or purple.

Cameron "Camo" Nesbit
Bill O'Driscoll
Cameron "Camo" Nesbit poses last year while working on an earlier version of the mural.

“Camo has led this process with a very mindful approach toward honoring the moment and underscoring the importance of the site to elevate new voices and important messages for this region,” said Riverlife President and CEO Matthew Galluzzo.

The site already includes four portraits, of Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Antwon Rose II and Ahmaud Arbery, all Black Americans killed by police in recent years. Each occupies one of four bridge piers adjacent to the mural wall. They will remain and be reimagined. (A few of them have been defaced by vandals.)

Nesbit’s assistants are Tracce Hardaway, of Suitland, Md.; Harry Jones III, of North Carolina; and Kamara Townes, of Clairton. Nesbit said they expect to work eight- to 12-hour days to complete the mural.

Funding for Nesbit’s artist residency is provided by Riverlife and the city’s Office of Public Art.