Marshallese mural celebrates Ozarks Islanders
Marshallese artist Helmar Anitok, a native of Majuro in the Republic of the Marshall Islands who resides with his family in northwest Arkansas, was commissionedby the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences to paint a mural to honor more than 12,000 Marshallese who’ve legally resettled on the Arkansas Ozarks. The vivid 300-square foot mural, titled "Wind Catcher," can be seen in downtown Springdale, across from Shiloh Square, airbrushed and hand-painted on the side of Buck’s Emma Avenue Bar & Tap.
“It's pretty much about being navigators," Anitok said, "and how we always are lending a hand and helping one another.”
The mural depicts how, prior to colonization, communal indigenous islanders were adept at navigating their 750,000 square mile Pacific Ocean archipelago — traditionally referred to as Rālik-Ratak — in sailing canoes using the sun, night constellations, and stick charts.
“Yeah it's pretty much symbolic," Anitok said. "It also covers the nuclear legacy," referring to when the U.S. conducted a decade of destructive atmospheric nuclear weapons tests on the Marshalls during the Cold War. "I put a Japanese wave over there to symbolize, you know, that we were under the Japanese until the Americans took over, and we became allied with the Americans.”
Relations continue under a recently renewed Compact of Free Association with the U.S. that will partially compensate Marshallese for nuclear test damages, and enable citizens to freely migrate to the U.S. In an email, project coordinator Stephanie Takamaru with Arkansas Coalition of Marshallese said islanders are proud to have a mural marking their growing presence in the region and that the painting provides a glimpse into ancient folklore passed down by oral storytellers for thousands of years.