The Remembrance Mural

News reaches me from Nashua that a new mural taking shape in downtown Nashua is, unlike most if not all of its predecessors, causing a little controversy because of its subject matter.

The mural, being painted on a wall facing the parking lot adjacent to the American Legion Hall on Court Street, is meant as a remembrance of some who have succumbed, in the most final way, to the opioid epidemic that is ravaging New Hampshire and the entire United States.

Nashua has certainly not been immune, and at least two of the people being remembered on the mural were personal friends of the mural’s principle artist, Manny Ramirez.

For those of you who don’t know, Manny, along with Cecilia Ulibarri, and often with the assistance of other members of Positive Street Art, is responsible for almost all of the murals that grace downtown Nashua and environs, including a recent one completed on a back wall at Martha’s Exchange, several veterans-oriented pieces and the monumental and very uplifting mural facing the parking lot adjacent to Santander Bank.

Manny is a fabulous and gifted street artist, and Positive Street Art is a fabulous and positive agent for the arts in Nashua. Much as those involved with Nashua’s International Sculpture Symposium have help grace our city with a wonderful variety of three-dimensional art, Manny and PSA have helped grace it with art in two dimensions.

Getting back to the subject matter of the mural under discussion.

As a former art professor at UNH liked to ask, “Is it art, or is it theater?” It’s often both, and much of art challenges the sensibilities of one group or another. This piece in question is apparently doing so now.

But why? Because the subjects of the remembrance, having died of an opioid overdose, ere stupid or nefarious, or recreational drug users who got what they deserved?

If that’s your feeling. I hasten to point out that far more of the people who have died in this opioid “epidemic” started down the road to doom and death as a result of being prescribed opioids for pain, and had never, or long since, been recreational drug users.

You should also know that the enablers of this piece of art reached out to the public and offered to memorialize anyone who has succumbed, in return for assistance with funding the project.

Those of you who have been in the Gate City long enough may know this is exactly how likenesses of several well-known Nashuans of a bygone era appeared on the Yankee Flyer mural, painted by noted New Hampshire artist James Aponovich, that faces the Citizens Bank on Main Street. A more uplifting subject, to be sure, but is “uplift” the standard for public art?

I suggest not. Not if, for example, the Soldiers & Sailors Monument at the top of Library Hill is an indication. Or the monument to Firefighters where Concord and Manchester streets diverge. Or the monument to Veterans in Railroad Square. Celebrations of valor, yes. Also remembrances of death.

And who is to say that the people being remembered on the newest piece of public art in downtown were not valorous in their own way? Dig deep enough, and there is at least a little valor in all of us.

“It’s a celebration of drug use!” some might say. To that, the reply is, “No, it’s a celebration of the lives of decent people who were taken – just as they might have been by war, or fire or random violence – by something over which they had no control.” Let only those without sin cast stones.

Casey Holt is a writer, creative director and the managing partner of Ideabenders, an advertising/marketing firm with offices in Nashua and Prague.