This summer, a blazing, orange ombre sun rose over BUA—the BUA back lot, that is.
Over the past six weeks, a vibrant, celebratory, and inclusive mural was painted on the 4,000-square-foot exterior wall of Sargent Gym, adjacent to the Bridge Lot and visible from the BU Bridge, Storrow Drive, the Massachusetts Turnpike, and from many points along Commonwealth Ave.
The mural is the brainchild and passion project of recent Boston University Academy graduate Sitarah Lakhani ’22, who conceived of this project as a sophomore at BUA. After years of persistence and hard work, her vision has finally come to fruition.
Many hands made light work of the installation, as current students, alumni, and teachers pitched in to help paint: scaling scaffolding, braving the aerial scissor lift, and bearing the searing July heat to add their brushstrokes to this massive undertaking.
Born and raised in Cambridge, MA, Sitarah has had a love for art from a young age. In 2020, she started an Instagram account, @sitarahsketches, to showcase her drawings and bring joy to others. During her high school years at BUA, under the expert guidance of master visual arts teacher Liz Cellucci, and later of Lisa Townley, Sitarah experimented in a variety of mediums: paint, pencil, charcoal, photography, and digital art. In her senior year she won the Scholastic Art and Writing Awards Regional Gold Key in the digital art category for her piece, “She’s Golden,” a self portrait. Sitarah will matriculate at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) this fall.
The mural was created and installed by Sitarah, with mentorship from muralist Amanda Hill and support from Boston University Academy and the BU Arts Initiative. Funding for the project was secured by Sitarah through private donations.
Her vision? Transforming a 4,000-square-foot blank wall into a vibrant, uplifting, and celebratory piece of public art. Sitarah writes:
“I wanted to make the space beautiful. My bright and lively design showcases the women of the BU community with a special nod to those in the fields of STEM while incorporating elements of nature found nearby. The waves in the mural represent the Charles River Campus, and are mathematically generated and perfectly in scale with the wall. The use of color that pops and the energy of BU women on campus were just some of the things that made their way into my definition of what was uplifting. It is really there though for people to take in the image on their own terms, at different moments in time. The wall, which was formerly looming over a dark parking lot, has now been transformed into a warm, joyful, and welcoming area that aptly illustrates our diverse and inclusive community.”
The mural was completed in late July. A ribbon-cutting ceremony to inaugurate the mural will be held in the BUA back lot on Tuesday, August 30. Read on for a Q&A with muralist Sitarah Lakhani ’22!
Q&A with Sitarah Lakhani ’22
What inspired you to create this artwork?
My inspiration for this artwork came from the wall itself. I was walking across the BU Bridge one morning the summer before sophomore year, and usually when I walk to school I always take a picture of the river. This day I happened to forget until I was walking past the wall of the Boston University Sargent Gym connected to BUA. When I first noticed the wall I was struck by how drab it looked and once I stopped to fully take it in, how large it actually was. I couldn’t believe in all my years of passing this exact spot thatI did not even realize its existence. The next thing that came to mind was how amazing the area would look with a splash of color. So many people pass the same exact spot that I pass every morning, so how amazing would it be to make each of their mornings or evenings just a shade brighter? The inspiration behind my art came from bringing others joy. I thought so many people will pass by this mural everyday and if I can make even one person smile or have a slightly better day it is all worth it.
Does the mural have a title?
The mural will have the official title of “Untitled 1.” Although I was initially considering naming the mural, as I completed it I felt it was better left to the viewer’s imagination. I feel if I had named the mural based on the waves or the figures, that is what it would be seen as. Instead, I want your eyes to be drawn wherever feels natural.
Are the figures in the mural inspired by real people?
Not really! They are inspired by my imagination and I wanted there to be as much representation as possible. I took elements of features I have seen and thought would make for an interesting composition like the slit eyebrow, a hat, or the multicolored hair.
Tell us about your choice to leave the figures’ faces blank.
My distinct art style started in 2020 on my @sitarahsketches instagram and from there, I kept going with it. The figures and people in all of my older drawings have no facial features except for eyebrows and facial hair. I think this happened due to a few different reasons but to be honest, the main reason was that I was not so great at drawing facial features, it’s super difficult! My account was based on drawing the likeness of people through their forms of expression and other individual personal choices like accessories, clothing, and hairstyles. I think tying it back to the mural sketch, I am glad that I chose to stick with this style and not have defined facial features. This gives the viewer an opportunity to see themselves or even someone they might know.
What was the hardest part of the process of bringing this mural to life?
There were so many moving parts! One of the hardest parts was keeping track of everything that was going on throughout the past three years. From designing the actual image, to drafting a proposal, pulling a team together and fundraising, there was a ton going on. Also, another difficult part of this project was keeping my motivation up. There were definitely moments when I felt like I wanted to stop or quit or maybe something was moving at a different pace than anticipated or I needed to figure out how to turn someone’s ‘no’ into a ‘yes’ – but I just had to keep going. However, I was driven by my end goal and I found inspiration, motivation, and joy in the process even when it felt difficult. I had a vision that I wanted to see come to life and in the end I did it.
Were there any unexpected hurdles in the actual installation of the artwork?
I think one of the main hurdles faced in the actual installation was the weather. It was brutally hot these past few weeks but the team adapted and started working in the early morning to beat the sun that was fully shining on the wall by noon. Also, I think small things like having cars park right next to the lift or not having enough of one specific paint color were some of the smaller road bumps we ran into.
What was your mentorship with muralist Amanda Hill like?
My mentorship with Amanda Hill was everything that I could have ever imagined and more. Amanda is not only an amazing artist but she is an incredible teacher. She walked me through every single little step of the mural and taught me along the way. From learning how to create a doodle grid, to mixing the perfect skin tone, and even driving a 40-foot lift, Amanda taught me all the skills I needed to know in order to install a giant mural. In addition, Amanda taught so many other volunteers throughout the process ranging from BUA students and teachers to parents and neighbors. I truly enjoyed working and learning with her and she is definitely an inspiration to beginner artists like myself. I cannot wait to see what she does in the future!
Any advice you’d like to share with current and future BUA artists?
My advice for current and future BUA artists, and students in general, is that if you have an idea or a vision, go for it. You will never know if it is possible until you try. Sure, you might face some bumps along the way but go along with it and see your ideas through. And if it doesn’t work the first time, try again!