Artist Katana Sol is the visionary behind many stunning art pieces around Western Washington University’s campus. Her newest mural, “Eban,” was unveiled on Feb.1 in the Black Student Coalition space located in the Viking Union 504.
The name for Sol’s mural is inspired by West African designs called Adinkra symbols that represent different principles and values.
Eban is an Adinkra symbol meaning fence, which symbolizes love, safety and security. The word Eban can be seen in large letters across the mural. This mural acknowledges that students fought for the Black Student Coalition space, and now the next generation of students can enjoy it.
Sol is a fifth-year student in Western’s industrial design program and is minoring in user experience design. In addition to “Eban,” she also has art on two floors of Alma Clark Glass Hall.
Alma Clark Glass was the first Black student to attend Western in 1906; the new residence hall is meant to honor her and provide a space for Black Affinity housing. The Black Affinity Housing program “centers the identity of Black students through the celebration and affirmation of the Black student experience at WWU,” according to the Black Affinity Housing page.
Sol’s art is a reflection on the past and coming together as a community in the present. Sol was able to work with Alma Clark Glass’ granddaughter on this project.
Sol said she painted a bird in the Alma Clark Glass mural to reflect and honor those who have come before. There is also a bird in “Eban.”
Linking the two pieces was an important part of this project, resonating with the word “sankofa,” which means to learn from the past and to move forward.
“The bird on this mural is created in a cosmic manifestation … to symbolize we have learned from the past, and those from the past who are here to help us. We are now coming into a new future where the next step is to build the community and really love one another,” Sol said.
There are hearts on the mural that are meant as a reminder to “love thyself, and once that is accomplished, others have the ability to grow new relationships,” Sol said.
Students who enter the Black Student Coalition space will be able to sign the mural, allowing them to become a part of the art.
The Black Student Coalition space was the first item on the Black Student Organization’s demands released in 2020. Black students advocated for their needs and produced a list of 19 demands, signed by 30 Black students.
The Black Student Coalition space on campus is meant to provide a space centered on education and celebration of Black identity, said Black Student Coalition Coordinator Nia Gipson.
The doors to the Black Student Coalition space opened in 2021, but this is the first year with a professional in the space as well.
“We want to be able to provide an environment that supports our students in their collegiate journey; that means making sure we have support for our Black students,” Gipson said.
Many students have been able to enjoy the space, including first-year student Ezana Yassin. He quotes Roald Dahl in describing what the Black Student Coalition space means to him.
“‘Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.’ I feel like that’s relevant here; this is my magical space. You get to come in here and tune out,” Yassin said.
Gipson said having a student artist was an important part of this space coming together.
The mural is made of plywood that was attached to the wall, and a variety of mediums were used on it, including house paint, charcoal and pastels. This was an artistic choice by Sol to not only experiment but also to keep things local.
This piece was not done alone — from the concept design to the making of the art, it was a community process. Sol worked with Gipson, Multicultural Student Services Director Amy Westmoreland and collaborated with other Black artists in Washington and at Western, including Hadley Hudson and Maya Smiley.
This mural took Sol and others a week of painting to complete. Sol offered any student who walked into the space a paintbrush to contribute.
“It felt good to pause, and when I paint, I exhale and just go,” Sol said.
The Black Student Coalition space can be enjoyed by both students and faculty in building community with one another and supporting Black students here on campus. The space welcomes all but has a focus on uplifting Black students.
The Black Student Coalition supports numerous clubs on campus including Black Student Union, African Caribbean Club, National Society of Black Engineers and Black Womxn Revolution. They also co-advise the Black LQBTQ+ Thriving Collective.
“It is important to make sure our voices, especially those of us with marginalized and historically underrepresented populations, are being amplified, are being shared … [are] all part of a collective story that we all need to hear,” Gipson said.
The official unveiling of this mural and grand re-opening of this space took place Wednesday, Feb. 1, in VU 504. More information on Black History Month events can be found here.