- The Washington Times - Monday, August 12, 2013

A bare brick wall alongside a store in Shaw drew little attention from passers-by Monday, but by the end of the week a larger-than-life woman wielding a pencil-shaped gun amid swirling colors will be watching over the Northwest neighborhood.

This summer’s first mural project under the city’s MuralsDC program began Monday under the guidance of D.C. artist Aniekan Udofia, who said his goal for his “Reloaded” project is to show “this neighborhood can be creative.”

“A lot of times in action movies you reload guns, but I’m using that as a metaphor,” Mr. Udofia said. “The pencil used as a weapon — the pen is mightier than the sword. Reloaded is the idea of the pencil being held as the weapon of choice.”

Mr. Udofia is the mind behind a massive mural at Ben’s Chili Bowl and the murals of George Washington and Duke Ellington, all on U Street Northwest. He has worked with the MuralsDC program since its start five years ago.

The MuralsDC program sponsors original creations in areas often targeted by vandals, said Nancee Lyons, spokeswoman for the District’s Department of Public Works, which oversees graffiti removal. The city sets aside about $406,000 annually to remove graffiti and an additional $100,000 for the mural program.

Numbers provided by the department show that in the past three years, the number of graffiti cleanups has quadrupled — from 1,780 in 2010 to 6,155 in 2011 and 8,571 last year. Ms. Lyons said workers responded to graffiti reports 3,923 times in the first six months of this year.

SEE ALSO: D.C. murals serving as an artful alternative to graffiti on walls

Another mural planned for this summer is along the side of a convenience store on Martin Luther King Jr. Avenue in Southeast that will feature an image of the March of Washington, which marks its 50th anniversary at the end of this month.

Mr. Udofia’s enormous wall at 312 Florida Ave. NW likely has been tagged before, Ms. Lyons said, but this particular spot “would not have been the worst.”

“We either choose a wall that has been tagged or is along a corridor where tagging is a problem and Florida Avenue/U Street is the most tagged corridor in Ward 1,” she said.

Standing in a small parking lot between the brick wall and a liquor store, Mr. Udofia sported a straw fedora and paint-flecked pants and shoes, his hands covered in drops of tan primer that he and a half-dozen apprentices were applying to the brick.

“I want people to not just see something new that’s popped up, I want people to feel good, come to check it out and share it,” he said. “I wanted something to look at.”

The wall is roughly 100 feet by 40 feet, and the plan is to paint the woman’s image on the side of the wall closest to Florida Avenue so that passing traffic and pedestrians can see the full image.

SEE ALSO: D.C. murals serving as an artful alternative to graffiti on walls

Mr. Udofia, 37, lives in Adams Morgan but hails from Nigeria. As a boy, he spent his time perusing comic books and illustrating, which blossomed into his career as a professional artist.

The city pays the artists as well as the apprentices that work with them. A wall can cost the city between $2,500 and $20,000.

One of the apprentices is 20-year-old Emma Quander, who attends the Maryland Institute College of Art. She said she became interested in the program after hearing about a mural along Rhode Island Avenue.

“I wanted to learn,” she said. “I wanted to get some knowledge. I like the idea of how a mural can be used for social justice.”

The building the brick wall belongs to houses a printing center and a shop that showcases local artwork and crafts.

Karen Massalley, a partner with Kuumba Kollectibles, said the buildings’s owners are looking forward to showcasing the art.

“They have always wanted a mural on the wall and they’ve been in the area for 30 years,” she said. “We’re really happy about that.”

• Meredith Somers can be reached at msomers@washingtontimes.com.

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