project overview

Memphis Upstanders

When Facing History and Ourselves relocated their offices downtown near the National Civil Rights Museum, the organization decided to commission a mural project that spoke to the importance of their work. Facing History and Ourselves is a national organization that engages students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry. For the mural at their Memphis office, they sought to honor Memphis Upstanders who embraced the challenge to speak out, did the right thing, and made decisions that helped create positive change. Memphians were invited to nominate Upstanders in Memphis history to be highlighted in the mural. 

Memphis-based artists Nelson Gutierrez and Cedar Lorca Nordbye were commissioned to create Upstanders mural and further invited Memphians into the process through being photographed and included in the background of the mural. The mural was highlighted at the 2017 Public Art Network's Year in Review at the annual Americans for the Arts conference. 

The Memphis Upstanders included in the mural are Bishop Carroll Dozier, Nina Katz, Maxine and Vasco Smith, Yellow Fever Upstanders, Reverend Frank McRae, Reverend Samuel "Billy" Kyles, Lucy Tibbs, John T. Fisher II, Charl Ormond Williams, Ida B. Wells, T.O. Jones, Dr. Sheldon Korones, and Rabbi James A. Wax. For more information about the mural and Upstanders highlighted by the project, click here.


About the Artists

Nelson Gutierrez 

Born in Bogota, Colombia, Nelson Gutierrez lives and works in Memphis, TN, USA. Since the early 1990s, Nelson Gutierrez’s work has focused on creating two and three-dimensional artworks, conceptual objects, and installations based on current sociopolitical issues. Through art he looks to better understand societal conflict and its implications psychologically and socially.

His art addresses issues of longing, fear, grief and vanity. He juxtaposes materials such as charcoal, ink, wood, metal, blood, wax, water, glass, light and photographs that together also have symbolic relevance to the issue he is exploring. He uses a variety of different mediums to express these feelings and tell a story that is universally understood to us all but experienced more intensely by a select few.

Cedar Lorca Nordbye

Cedar Lorca Nordbye is a visual artist based in Memphis, TN. He has taught studio art at the University of Memphis and led the creation of a number of murals on campus.