The signs say “I Am a Man,” but the new mural at 14th and T streets NW might make you contemplate what it means to be a Washingtonian, an American or a human. After two days of gluing from precarious three-story scaffolding, the French street artist JR completed his first D.C. installation: a building draped in Ernest Withers’s iconic civil-rights-era photo of the 1968 Memphis sanitation workers strike.
“This says it all, ‘I am a man,’ ” said JR, referencing the signs the pickets are holding in the photo. “They created such a strong and powerful image that still resonates today, but in another context. Still people say, ‘I am a man,’ but they care less about the color [of their skin]. It’s ‘we are humans, we are here, we want to exist.’ And I like that, I think that’s pretty powerful.”
The building-size installation had already captured the attention of passersby. As construction cranes for the nearby Louis apartment project pivoted above and flecks of glue rained down below, a small crowd gathered to take photos. Photographer Steven Cummings lamented a wasted opportunity: Earlier, a garbage truck had pulled in front of the mural of the striking sanitation workers, “but I missed the photo,” he said.