It Caught My Eye: Troubled Island Mural by Nona Olabisi & Charles Freeman

Working our way back toward USC during the Jefferson Boulevard/West Adams walk I did back in March, I was a little tired by that point and so didn’t stop and document this amazing mural when I first saw a section of it in an alleyway off View Street to the north of Adams Boulevard (map). Instead I promised to get myself back there at my earliest opportunity, which in this case ended up being yesterday.

(click to super enlargify)

Wow. What a hidden treasure! Painted by Nona Olabisi and Charles Freeman (Olabisi is the artist who also painted the amazing “To Protect And Serve” mural just off Jefferson Boulvard depicting the Black Panther Party), the powerful mural is painted on the entire south wall of the William Grant Still Art Center and takes its title, “Troubled Island,” from the opera Still wrote telling the story of the 1791 slave rebellion in Haiti.


“The viewer experiences, dramatically, the pain and suffering of the slaves and the rise to power of Jean-Jacques Dessalines, leader of the slave revolt.  In the center of the pictorial saga is William Grant Still (1895-1978), with his spiritual “eye” depicted in the middle of his forehead, conducting his powerful operatic score which expresses the need for a new era of interracial understanding, loving-kindness and God-consciousness on the earth.”

I also learned from the website that “Troubled Island” was the first grand opera composed by an African-American to be mounted by a major opera company for the American stage. Premiering in 1949 by the New York City Opera company, the opening night performance received with 22 curtain calls from a packed house. Despite its success the production was shut-down after its first three performances and the opera has never been staged again.