Black History Month: Indy's Mari Evans is larger than life

mari evans mural.png
Posted at 12:00 PM, Feb 17, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-03 13:28:44-05

INDIANAPOLIS — Standing at 30 feet tall, it's hard to miss the strong gaze and pink cardigan that make up the mural of Mari Evans on Mass Ave near the Murat Theater.

The mural honors Evans' contributions to Indianapolis — the city she called home — and the era known as the Black Arts Movement.

Evans was a poet, educator and activist who was a prominent voice in the Black Arts Movement in the 1960s and 70.

Michael "Alkemi" Jordan created the mural of a woman he says loved to create and help others be creative. Jordan has been an artist for five decades.

"She was an artist and she believed in art being the power to make changes," Jordan said. "You have to read her poetry. She had a lot of wisdom and she influenced a lot of people."

Jordan was one of those people. Decades before he would be commissioned to paint the portrait, Jordan served time in prison, where he learned how to use oil paints to express himself. During his time in prison, he also read the works of Mari Evans.

Evans' books, poems and essays are now available at the Indianapolis Public Library, where she often volunteered.

"Poets that were part of the Black Arts Movement spoke to what we were going through in the community and really, kind of, distilled our feelings in a literary format," Nichelle M. Hayes said.

Hayes is the founding director of the Center for Black Literature and Culture. She says Evans was also a songwriter, playwright and civil rights activist.

"She's a woman of the people. She was not set apart. She was among us. She was with us. She was one of us," Hayes said.

Hayes' favorite piece from Evans is 'I Am a Black Woman.' It says in part:

I am a black woman. tall as a cypress..strong

beyond all definition. still defying place and time. and circumstance. assailed impervious indestructible. Look on me and be renewed.

Months before her death, Evans got to look up and see Alkemi painting part of the mural.

"She was standing right there and looking up at me. They said 'Miss Evans is down here.' And I looked down and I said 'OH I gotta come down.' The guys whispered in my ear and said 'Man, today's her birthday.' And it brought me tears," Alkemi said.

Evans' legacy continues with the Zora-Neal Hurston/Mari Evans Scholarship for IUPUI students.