At the heart of this southern Maine town stands a mural of a young boy wearing a red baseball cap, slouching, cross-legged, with a phone to his ear. Any uninformed passerby would never discern the purpose of his phone call. They would immediately wonder what the artistic symbolism is for this towering work spanning the wall of a former textile mill factory in Biddeford, Maine. What is apparent to any bystander is that the boy is engaged in a phone call; what is not so apparent is that it’s an international call to a town over 5,000 miles across the world in Slemani, Iraq. There stands a counterpart mural of a young, anonymous girl, clutching a phone to her ear.
The muses for both murals were students from Biddeford Intermediate School and the International School of Chouelfat in Slemani. The mural project was commissioned by The Good Works Foundation in Boston, in partnership with the community and art nonprofit, Engine and aptART (Awareness & Prevention Through Art). The goal was to encourage cross-cultural bridge-building among youths as a means of fostering empathy and friendship.
As the mural is tucked away at the bottom of a sloping dead-end street behind Biddeford’s historic Main Street, an oblivious driver could miss a glimpse of this magnificent work by Michigan artist Pat Perry. The boy in the mural is peering toward a broken opening in a fence with intertwined barbed wire. The fence symbolizes the barriers between the countries, with the opening representing communication. The boy’s slouched posture evokes a sense of relaxation and comfort with his cross-cultural interaction. Encircling the boy in the mural are symbols and messages of peace, hand-painted by the fourth and fifth graders from the local elementary school.
Adding a whimsical and mysterious tone to the mural. Images of a snail, two gummy bears holding hands, an iconic Maine lobster, and a pizza (deemed by the children to be their favorite commonality) encompass the boy. And yet, more explicitly meaningful messages coexist in the mural: “Friendship can even go through seas,” “Life is better with friends,” “A million friends isn’t a miracle. One friend that sticks with you is a miracle,” and “All you need is love.”
Know Before You Go
The mural is located on York Street in Biddeford, which connects from Main Street. It's difficult to miss if you are looking for it, and best viewed during the day.