(JACKSON, Miss.) — While few may know Sabrina Howard, many undoubtedly have seen her work. That’s because the artist has collaborated with Jackson State University to produce murals that grace the city.
Her murals include the JSU/Blackburn Learning Garden near JSU’s main campus and the Milton Shoe project. Both projects are linked to JSU’s Community Engagement.
Howard has been interested in art since age 5, when she was known to make stuffed animals out of clothing. That burning desire led her to participate in and win more than 70 art competitions while attending Jackson Public Schools.
She said art is her calling – a burning desire to satisfy a part of her. “If I can’t create or paint or get an idea out I can’t rest whether it’s by way of canvas, paint, mural or whatever.”
Howard’s work caught the attention of Dr. Heather Denné, director of JSU’s Community Engagement, the Center for University-Based Development and Metro Jackson Community Prevention Coalition. Next, a collaboration developed.
In fact, the JSU/Blackburn Learning Garden Mural was completed with a grant from the City of Jackson. The mural faces the Robert Smith Sr. Parkway and has become a photo backdrop to many families walking along the Parkway.
It’s known as the Fertile Ground Project, which uses public art as a medium to inspire dialogue about food access in Jackson. The project recently funded several murals throughout the city. The newest mural in West Jackson is titled “Sowing the Seeds of Love” and is located at the JSU/Blackburn Learning Garden near the main campus of the university.
Denné describes the mural as a “beautiful display of artwork that depicts children planting fresh produce. This mural represents what happens at the JSU/Blackburn Learning Garden. It is an artistic interpretation of the site and adds so much value to the aesthetics of the community, JSU and Blackburn.”
Howard emphasized that the “Fertile Ground Project” draws attention to areas known as food deserts in which communities lack access to healthy, nutritious options. As a result, her mural expresses “Sowing the Seeds of Love” and spotlights generational growth by encouraging children to prepare, plant and consume healthy foods.
“We can help change the world by what we sow into our children,” said Howard, referring to the message of the mural. “The knowledge and tools passed down from generation to generation are necessary for sculpting our future. To illustrate this, there is a boy and girl sitting under vegetation that resembles collards with their arm extended. In each hand is another male and female with a similar pose but holding a seedling. This represents the natural and generational growth cycle.”
In addition, JSU’s Community Engagement secured funding from Hope Enterprises to complete the mural for the Milton Chambliss Shoe Hospital, a shoe repair shop, which is a historical preservation project. The mural is located at the 900 block of John R. Lynch Street. The Chambliss Building was constructed circa 1936.
“Sabrina brought the original mural back to life. It helps share the history of the Lynch Street Corridor and showcases the many talents of people from the community,” Denné said.
Meanwhile, artist Howard said working with Denné has been “pretty exciting because it’s all about the growth of our city and the area around the university. I actually live in West Jackson, too, so it’s encouraging to see an area of town that seemed to have been forgotten but now has become the hub for creativity.”
Howard also specializes in graphic design, web design and printing. She further enhanced her skills while attending art school in Georgia. Subsequently, she worked extensively with the Mississippi Urban Research Center and other departments at JSU as a webmaster and graphic artist.
So, aside from her art creations, she works for the Center for Community Production. There, she’s a fabrication laboratory tech anchor and recently used 3D printers to create masks for health care workers. She also performs laser cutting and trains the community to use technology to improve their living environment.
With all she does, it’s her artwork that provides a window into the souls of individuals, tugs on heartstrings and underscores the social tensions that grip the conscience.
Howard said, “Being a creative living in the South, I feel it’s extremely important for us to reflect what’s happening around us. Our art should be reflective of the current issues and struggles within our communities, so they evoke conversations surrounding resolutions to these problems. Ideas are born through imagery, thoughts and ideas.”
She continued, “The unfortunate thing about some of the pieces that I have created in the past is that they are blatantly still relevant today. I hope and pray that we one day come up with what will break this cycle of inequality in racial and social injustice.”
Howard points to current headlines, too. “I feel that it is very important that my art evokes conversation about the issues that are plaguing our country. One of my most recent pieces is titled ‘Everything Hurts.’ It displays a portrait of George Floyd, and in its background you will find the American flag that is just black and white where the stars appear to be flying away.”
She said, “There is also imagery of burning cities as well as raised fists. The piece’s title expresses the pain that is currently building from living through a serious pandemic where lots of lives are lost as well as having to deal with recurring struggles of our black community.”
To aspiring artists, she said, “Follow your heart. Once an idea is born, it is our responsibility to share that nugget of information with the world. What you have to share may be that one idea someone needs to experience to get to their next level.”