a collaborative mural
by students at Bloom Trail High School with Olivia Gude
In 1984, the students in my Painting course at Bloom Trail High School and I decided to paint a mural to commemorate 1984. It’s hard to understand this if you are someone who was born in the 1980s, but at the time it was a shock that the fantasy future date of 1984 had become a reality.
The mural is a contrast and comparison of the real 1984 and the 1984 predicted in Orwell’s novel. In the dystopian future predicted by the book, people are controlled by a grim, overbearing on-screen Big Brother. In the real 1984, people seemed to be controlled by a plethora of media images.
In the book 1984, the conditions and rules of the society are explained as being necessary because of the various wars in which the country is engaged. One never sees the wars or hears about specifics of the wars, but the wars shape the society. In the real 1984, the massive military expenditures in the arms race with the Soviet Union shaped the social possibilities of the U.S.
There’s a folded out map of the world near the top of the mural and from the top edge one sees the tips of nuclear warheads pointing at various places on earth. This image became a huge controversy in the school. It wasn’t that people questioned our research; the information had come from U.S. Defense Department publications, but some adults in the school felt that it was inappropriate to put this into a public mural.
Initially I just felt so irritated and disheartened by the brouhaha. I exclaimed in frustration, “Why is it controversial to make a picture of what everyone acknowledges is real?” And then I was struck by the significance of this question. For the students in that mural painting group and for other students and community members who heard about this controversy, what could be a more significant visual culture learning than to realize that it truly can be controversial to picture of some aspects of reality?
Students were encouraged to question what gets seen and what gets hidden, what is included in the school curriculum and what is included.
I learned that what I saw as aggravating and unwanted trouble was actually a learning opportunity.