Art is power.
So says Ko’ox Boon, founded by Millsaps College alumni Mandi Strickland and Allie Jordan in Oxkutzcab, Yucatan where they were working at Millsaps College’s biocultural reserve. Tonight, during Fondren After 5, the organization will sponsor a mural painting at the corner of State Street and Duling Avenue as a way to raise awareness for their mission.
Ko’ox Boon (pronounced COH-osch bone) means “let’s paint/draw/create” in Yucatec Mayan, an ancient language spoken where the Millsaps program takes place. It’s not the official language, which often leaves villagers there voiceless.
“The government is in Spanish,” said Strickland, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Millsaps College and a master’s degree in English from the University of Louisville. “With that comes all these different social issues that go along with not speaking the language of power.”
Strickland said her group seeks to operate through the language of art. “When (locals) can paint a mural in their city center and they get to choose what it looks like, then they have the power. It helps us transcend linguistic barriers.”
Back in Mississippi, Ko’ox Boon has commissioned Jonathan Webb, an artist and fellow Millsaps graduate, to paint their first-ever mural stateside. “I just happened to run into (Webb) one day at Sneaky Beans,” Strickland explained. “Webb says, ‘I just want to paint, man,’ and I said, ‘Awesome. We’re looking for you.’” Webb recalls that day. “I told Mandi to tell me what to paint and I’d do it.”
Using donated doors, hinged to make panels, and old house paint, Webb says the mural’s design will be a surprise. Strickland believes it will have a Mexican vibe. “Allie (who is also Millsaps’ Communication Liason in Yucatan) has come up with an idea that Yucatan is the Mississippi of Mexico,” Strickland chuckled. “We’re trying to strengthen that connection. In my head we’re sister communities, so the mural may reflect something that shows our cross-cultural ties.”
Webb likes the idea of public art, being vulnerable and exposed, especially at an event like Fondren After 5. “When people are around, you talk while making art and there’s an immediate and obvious connection to that art,” he explained. “That’s always something I’m interested in as an artist – how do you connect even more to the people who look at what you make?”
Eventually, Ko’ox Boon hopes to create a permanent mural in Fondren as part of Fondren Art Walls Now. Until then, Strickland hopes they are simply raising their flag on Mississippi soil. “Tonight is hugely about awareness,” Strickland said. “We want people to know what we are doing and that we are volunteers. You don’t have to just give money — you can give time or give us old house paint. The mural is symbol of unity that will push us to keep the ball rolling.”
More than 30 artists from Merida to New York are donating artwork to be auctioned at the 50/50 Art Auction on December 11, 2014 at 7pm at Hal and Mal’s in downtown Jackson. Artists receive 50% of the auction price for their work and 50% of the price goes toward funding Ko’ox Boon outreach programs in 2015.