Students are leaving their mark on a USC residence hall, slowly but surely coloring its interior with internationally inspired artwork.
Residents of the International House at Maxcy College (otherwise known as Maxcy) are planning to paint a mural spanning one of the residence hall's staircases to reflect their experience as an international community.
Maxcy houses both U.S. and international students from nearly two dozen countries. Esperanza Lopez, a first-year social work student, describes Maxcy as a close-knit community of the residents.
“Here at Maxcy, I feel like it’s more like a home. I’ve grown really close to the people who live here. I think that's my favorite part — being able to go to a community gathering and knowing everybody and being able to communicate with everybody,” said Esperanza.
The idea to create murals in the building was first spawned in the fall of 2016, when Gussa, a Costa Rican street artist and architect, served as one of Maxcy’s visiting fellows. Visiting fellows stay in a guest apartment at Maxcy House and host events relating to their field over the course of a week, and it was during this time that Gussa helped plan the first mural.
The mural currently being undertaken by Maxcy residents is intended to reflect the spirit of Maxcy’s community. Kaitlyn Evensen, a first-year English and studio art student, is spearheading the design of a mural that will eventually, span the entirety of one of Maxcy’s staircases. Evensen drew inspiration from two Maxcy residents who are studying abroad this semester as well as Maxcy’s unofficial symbol.
“Our logo is the upside down map, and so I wanted to do the same thing," Evensen said. "In my art, I am drawn to nature and natural sort of ideas, so I want to do the national flower of every country is what makes up the countries that I’m painting.”
David Snyder, the faculty principal of Maxcy House, expanded on the ideology behind the upside-down map and how the usual presentation of maps distorts power among certain countries.
“There is no up or down in the universe. There’s no north or south in the universe, and anyway, there no necessary reason to read north as up and south as down, we just do it,” Snyder said. “For the people that generally have made the maps, which was Americans and Europeans for the most of our history, we have had a very particular set of interests. That map serves those interests and doesn’t necessarily serve the cause of global understanding.”
Evensen was also inspired by Viet Max, a Vietnamese artist who was a Maxcy visiting fellow in October 2018. He designed the second mural in Maxcy, after Gussa’s, that spans one of the other staircases in Maxcy to reflect Vietnamese culture in the United States. Evensen helped paint part of the previous mural designed by Viet Max.
“The doors to the stairwell were open and people would walk by and they would see us painting and they would just grab a paintbrush," Evensen said. "That’s kind of why I wanted to paint our other stairwell, just because it's a great community builder. We've got new residents this semester and it’s just a great experience."
The mural is in the early stages with the design still being drawn out. Snyder wants the planning and painting to be a collaborative effort.
“It’s never just 'Dr. Snyder and the students are going to do x.' You always have to localize other people and other groups. In this case, we needed university housing to commit to this project, which is manpower and money," Snyder said. "So, university housing came over and in all four of the stairwells did the work of spackling, repairing the walls and then priming them, getting ready for us to paint.”
Evensen hopes that the future mural’s design will inspire thought in residents and visitors of Maxcy alike. Evensen is excited about the mural’s completion and its effect on herself and the university.
“To be able to leave your mark on a building like this, it’s done so much for me, helping me get involved with USC and everything," Evensen said. "To be able to leave something so permanent here is really inspiring."