ANN ARBOR, MI – A 54-mile march depicted by 16,000 LEGO bricks in one mosaic.
That is what Aaron Liepman, an Eastern Michigan University biology professor, has captured in his latest LEGO mural. For Martin Luther King Day this year, his artwork shows the civil rights leader arm in arm with peers during the famous 1965 march from Selma to Montgomery in Alabama.
For the next month, the mural called “Selma to Montgomery” will hang in the downtown Ann Arbor District Library branch, 343 S. 5th Ave. Liepman sees the work as a new way to draw all ages into the lessons taught by King.
“There will be people who look at this who never knew too much about that there were problems with voting rights and more,” he said. “One of the nice things about using LEGO is that it can appeal to kids and adults.”
As Liepman explains the potential accessibility of the mural, two girls stopped to gape at it and ask what it represents. This shows the power of the artform, Liepman said.
“Kids can look at this, and they might be interested because it’s made out of LEGO,” he said. “But then they will ask mom and dad what it is. That’s an opportunity for people to learn.”
The picture shows, from left to right, King’s friend Ralph Abernathy, local activist James Forman, King, key march organizer Rev. Jesse Douglas and eventual U.S. Congressman John Lewis. The march, among other issues, fought to outlaw discriminatory voting practices in many Southern states.
Liepman chose this picture for an MLK Day piece this year for its power, and thinks its “visually arresting” nature will draw people into learning more about civil rights.
“There are so many things going on in the image, including the power of the image itself and the people in it,” he said, adding that he hopes AADL will provide supplemental material associated with the photo for people to learn more.
The mural is available at the downtown AADL branch until “sometime in mid-February,” said Sherlonya Zobel, associate director of public experience at AADL. Other MLK and Black History Month events include a movie screening of a documentary called “Remembering Martin” and in-person forums with community organizers that discuss King’s legacy, his anti-war stance and other civil rights issues.
The LEGO mural enhances the way AADL is spreading King’s message this year, Zobel said.
“Here is a moment from a part of his legacy, and when you have an image that big, it’s hard not to look at it,” she said. “It forces you to ask, ‘Why is this here?’ ‘Who took the time to do this?’ and pause and reflect.”
Liepman finished the piece only two weeks ago, he said. The construction took more than 100 hours to complete. The process includes painting 24 different color shades of bricks to create the black-and-white photographic look.
Read more: 15,000 LEGO bricks become Martin Luther King Jr. mosaic from Eastern Michigan University professor
Liepman has spent the better part of nine years developing his LEGO craft, first inspired when he saw similar constructions at the LEGO store in Chicago. His first creation was a large model of The Incredible Hulk superhero, but he started focusing on MLK and civil rights messaging more after the police brutality protests during the summer of 2020.
“I wanted to learn more about civil rights due to the racial injustice of the time,” he said. “Between George Floyd and the riots that summer, demonstrations and things that were happening, and I figured (King) was a good place to start.”
In January 2021, he premiered “Revolutionary,” a black-and-white mosaic of a picture of King addressing tens of thousands at the Los Angeles Freedom Rally on May 26, 1963. That has since been sold to a Los Angeles art gallery, he said.
LEGO bricks make the images come to life, he said. His biology background informs him of how a three-dimensional image sticks in the brain better than a simple flat picture, he said.
“You see all these details and faces, and for me, when I’m working on these things, when these details emerge it just really knocks my socks off,” he said.
“It just feels more dimensional,” she said. “It’s very arresting.”
Being able to share his work publicly at AADL is an ideal scenario, Liepman said.
“I’m so privileged to have the ability to have it in a place where it can be seen like this,” he said. “This really is a dream for me.”
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