New Black House mural, “Undivided Legacy,” focuses on Black past, present and future

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Iris Swarthout/The Daily Northwestern

NU alum Dwight White painted the mural to recognize the past, present and future of Blackness on campus.

Iris Swarthout, Assistant Campus Editor

Growing up, artist and creative consultant Dwight White (Communication ‘16, Medill ‘17) used art as an escape — a way to express himself beyond words. But White only started to take painting more seriously after a kidney contusion forced him to stop playing varsity football at Northwestern.

“While I was at NU, I started exploring other … things that helped me with mental health,” he said.  “Art — painting — was one of them.” 

Now a full-time artist based in Chicago, White painted “Undivided Legacy” over the course of six months for NU’s Black House, a place he frequented while a student. The mural represents the past, present and future of NU’s Black students, White said. Three faces represent each of these time frames with words such as “love,” “peace” and “legacy” strewn between them.

The mural’s placement on the Black House’s first floor pays homage to a previous, beloved mural destroyed in the early 2000s by water damage, Assistant Vice President of Inclusion and Chief of Staff at Student Affairs Lesley-Ann Brown-Henderson said.

With the conclusion of the Black House renovation in October 2021, Brown-Henderson said she wanted to install a new mural to welcome the House into a novel era. After knowing White during his time at NU and following his art on social media, Brown-Henderson said he was the first person she thought of to create the artwork. 

“I brought up this idea of this new mural and potentially working with Dwight, and (the Black House Space Committee) loved the idea,” Brown-Henderson said. 

White spoke with several current students and faculty about the Black House before creating the piece. Gathering student experiences allowed him to tell and share truths — which is the purpose behind all of his work.

Following the initial brainstorming phase, White put his thoughts to canvas. He darkened the mural’s NU purple with black and white paint in order to bring cohesiveness to the artwork, and he hopes the painting comforts students who enter the space.

“The big picture really is providing a sense of hominess, and I would say a connection again between the past, present and future,” White said. “Hopefully it also sparked a sense of curiosity and engagement within the historic Black House.”

The Black House showcases a multitude of other Black-inspired artwork, according to Charla Wilson, archivist for the Black experience. She said most of the work throughout the House is either created by students, connected to Chicago or has garnered prominence from uplifting Black voices.

While many pieces of artwork exist around The Black House, Brown-Henderson said White’s mural represents a full-circle moment for him and current students.

“(The mural) is encouragement for our students that there’s a process of becoming, and that process might start at Northwestern, but it doesn’t end,” she said.

Brown-Henderson said Blackness is not a monolith, and she wants students to find themselves within the Black House space. “Blackness is vast,” she said, referring to the wide range of experiences within the Black community. 

For White, collaborating with NU doesn’t end here. With roots in Chicago, White said he’s focusing on finding strong partnerships that allow him to communicate his artistic goals effectively. Still, he said he wants to look at painting through an educational standpoint, among others.

“(The mural) is a nod to the past, knowing that there were a lot of significant historical moments that the house is representative of,” White said. “Because I was speaking to current students, I got an understanding of the meaning of that space on campus for them or what it will mean in the future… as an undergraduate student, or even a recent graduate, you’re always thinking about the future.”

Email: irissw[email protected] 

Twitter: @swarthout_iris

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