The influential street artist known as Mr. Brainwash helped celebrate International Women’s Day alongside First Lady Michelle Obama at D.C.’s Union Market last Tuesday during an event for Let Girls Learn. He unveiled a series of huge building-long murals. Event sponsor The Girls’ Lounge — a female leadership group — commissioned the Let Girls Learn themed mural – Mr. Brainwash gifted the other images, which feature messages and iconic imagery on Union Market’s exterior. Obama was on-site at the Northeast Union Market district on Tuesday to celebrate the first anniversary of Let Girls Learn, a U.S. government initiative aimed at educating girls around the world.
The murals are full of colorful hearts, clever rendering of pop culture references, portraits and the slogans “Life Is Beautiful,” “Follow Your Heart” and “Love Is The Answer.” Mr. Brainwash, an L.A.-based painter with murals scattered from LA to London and Dubai, worked overnight for 14 hours with his team to create the artwork. “When we thought about how to amplify the message of the day, we thought art,” said Jennifer Maguire Isham, director of Strategy at Union Market. “We had the walls, they had the artist. It was the perfect Union Market message mash-up.”
“I feel honored to be here so close to the White House, and happy that I am able to leave a mark,” says Mr. Brainwash, one of the stars of the street art documentary Exit Through the Gift Shop. “I will be back and try to do more because I feel like Washington, D.C. needs it. When I drive, I see so many blank walls that could have messages for people to see life more beautifully and that they should never give up.”
The Union Market neighborhood — including Gallaudet students who signed “life is beautiful” in sign language — welcomed Mr. Brainwash as he took on the project Monday night. With nearly 700,000 Instagram followers, Mr. Brainwash’s socially bold murals often go viral, and his murals at Union Market have proven to be no exeception as passersby and fans have Instagrammed and Tweeted their favorite images hundreds of times since Tuesday’s unveiling.
Obama even got in on the action, as her official account Instgrammed this special message on Tuesday: “Through the middle of the night street artist @MrBrainwash and his team painted a #LetGirlsLearn inspired mural at @UnionMarketDC in Washington, DC. Today, the first lady joined the artists to put the final touch on this beautiful piece in honor of #InternationalWomensDay and the 62 million girls around the world who are not in school.”
Mr. Brainwash says that art has the power to be transformative and create community.
“Art can change the world because it’s something that talks loud, but is very silent,” he says. “It’s just a very strong message that sometimes, even if you’re very silent in life, when you see it, you might yell inside. Sometimes we need to make a change to be happier and more thankful for what we have.” Shelley Zalis, CEO of Girls Lounge, said “when purpose meets passion we are unstoppable.”
In keeping with the celebration of International Women’s Day, it should be noted Union Market supports a number of female entrepreneurs, vendors and female-focused brands, including Amanda McClements of Salt & Sundry, Tara Foley from the skincare brand Follain, Donna Henry of Soup Up and 2015 Launch Pad winner Gabriela Febres of Arepa Zone, Lab 1270, Niko & Ava, S3 Active, Craft Kombucha, Time Off DC and Living Threads.