We had the good fortune of connecting with Muhammad Yungai and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Muhammad, is there something that you feel is most responsible for your success?
My mural artwork is impactful because they paint the vital stories of other people! I began to paint murals in schools to make the drab, ordinary school buildings a more beautiful, effective place for students to be. I started painting murals in schools at KIPP WAYS Academy, where I worked as an Art Teacher. The KIPP charter school students and teachers in Atlanta were in their school buildings 30% more than other students and staff. So, it became very important to me that these buildings felt warm, beautiful, welcoming, and most of all, inspiring! What I wanted to accomplish was to make the feel of the buildings match the energy and dedication of their innovative teachers! I also wanted to build the self-esteem of the students by painting the very students who attended the school.
Alright, so let’s move onto what keeps you busy professionally?
My first paintings were all on canvas, as I pursued the traditional avenues of exhibiting through group art shows and art festivals, as a way to gain exposure. I thought of the school murals as something I could contribute until my big break at a gallery or museum. When I began painting school murals, I was still working as a teacher. So, I would teach from 7 am to 5 pm, then paint from 6 pm until about midnight most days. I knew it was time to paint full time when I didn’t have enough time to paint and prepare for classes. I was creating my own path, and finding purpose with my murals in schools, which has since gained recognition and clients across the country, with two of my latest murals installed in Minneapolis, and Washington, DC. My work resonates because I show the depth of beauty, history, and current challenges of my Black people. I try to compose my murals in a way that equally balances colors and shapes with the narrative it’s telling overall. I call my style “Inspirational Realism”. I join geometric shapes into a flowing colorful pattern that stands out, yet also pushes the human subjects to the forefront. . My murals are well received because I give the very best I have to each mural, and never compromise quality for time or money. .
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
I don’t really have one favorite area in Atlanta. ATL has so much to offer, I think I love it all equally. It really depends on the day or the time. On a Saturday morning, I might walk or run the beltline near Ponce City Market, then grab a quick smoothie at Ardens Garden. In the afternoon, I’m taking my time through as many shops as possible in Little 5 Points, where the most interesting treasures of clothing, music, or jewelry are buried in bins and racks. Saturday night, I might stroll Castleberry Hill’s diverse art scene and energetic nightlife, making sure to stop at Zucot Gallery and Habanos Cigar Lounge. Or possibly Edgewood Ave’s legendary barhopping scene for cocktails, music, and old-school video games, at Joystick (even though I’m considered a lightweight of a drinker). Atlanta’s Historic West-End is an ‘anyday’, ‘everyday’ place, that I roll through to get anything from Dashikis to, vegan lunch at Soul Veg. But, if I had to pick a favorite place, it would be the art store, Sam Flax, on Northside Dr. I used to spend hours in there just browsing the thousands of art supplies. Nowadays, I’m running in quick to grab some colors so I can get back and finish a deadline for something I’m painting. The Shoutout series is all about recognizing that our success and where we are in life is at least somewhat thanks to the efforts, support, mentorship, love and encouragement of others. So is there someone that you want to dedicate your shoutout to?
My Shoutout goes to the teachers and school leaders of KIPP Metro Atlanta. Their dedication and teaching styles were so inspiring, that I wanted to support them however I could. Do you remember your favorite teacher? Remember how they made learning fun, interesting, exciting, and they believed in you, and didn’t allow you to give up? Well, imagine if all of your teachers were your favorite, that was my experience with my children’s KIPP teachers. I sing these praises so high so you can understand why this motivated me as an artist. As a matter of fact, it was much more of a response by me as a parent than an artist.
Linkedin: Muhammad Yungai
Photo’s all taken by artist.