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"Benu: Rebirth of South Shore", designed by Marcus Akinlana and Jeffrey Cook assisted by Joe Matunis, Kiela Songhay Smith and 14 youth apprentices, 1990, 65' x 25', medium acrylic and concrete bas relief. Location: 71st and Jeffery, (Jeffery Plaza), Chicago, Illinois. Sponsored by Chicago Public Art Group and the Neighborhood Institute and various other funders.


This project was part of the cultural, economic and housing redevelopment of South Shore, a neighborhood on the far South side of Chicago. Benu was the second mural I was involved in doing during that wave of community activism. The first mural was called South Shore Rests On The Bosom Of Oshun in 1989.

We had a community theme-planning meeting on what this mural was going to be about. One of the community members brought up Benu as an image and everybody loved it. Benu, more commonly known as the phoenix, is a bird that goes to its nest on a certain cycle and then is consumed in its own flames. From the ashes a new bird is born. Benu comes from the Khemetic or Egyptian culture. As South Shore was one of the communities that was burned out in the riots in the late '60s and early '70s, the Benu was a fitting symbol of the community rising and rebuilding itself.

The biggest figure in the mural is the Orisa Oya, the divinity of change, representing the energy force that was symbolic of the meaning of the mural. Oya is leading the community towards a better future.