By Kharisma McIlwaine
Combining Chinese, Korean, Vietnamese and Thai cultures, Philadelphia’s Chinatown is one of the most iconic areas of the city. From August 20 – 22, a new art festival called The Celestial Beings Mural Festival took place in the heart of Chinatown on the side of the Far East Descendant restaurant, located at 251 N. Clarion Street (between 12th and 13th and Vine) and paid homage to Asian culture.
The wall was curated by Philadelphia’s own international mural artist, Alloyius McIlwaine. McIlwaine gathered artists locally and from afar to collaborate on the project and sat down with the SUN to discuss how the festival came to be, the importance of incorporating Chinese mythology in the mural and celebrating Asian culture through the collaborative mural.
The Celestial Beings Festival was created as a way to shine light on a new restaurant opening in the Chinatown neighborhood (Far East Descendant) while also highlighting Chinese culture and uniting the community.
“I was contacted by Michael Wink, who is helping Kevin Wong, the owner of Far East Descendant open his restaurant,” McIlwaine said. “Kevin wanted to have a mural done on the wall, because some of the graffiti artists around the city kept tagging it up. Wink called me and asked me to brainstorm ideas. I thought we should do some kind of mural festival; that way we could bring artists on board, do something for the culture, community, bring everyone together, create something beautiful for the wall and get people excited about the opening of the restaurant.”
In line with bringing the community together while illuminating Chinese mythology, McIlwaine conceptualized the name of the festival.
“I came up with the name for the festival when we were brainstorming ideas,” he explained. “The significance of it is that all of the characters on the mural are related to Chinese mythology, based on a mountain called Kunlun Mountain. The mural is based off of the five celestial beasts, which are the phoenix, the white tiger, the black tortoise, the azure dragon (the wood dragon) and the earth dragon. It also has some of the main deities of Chinese mythology — Houtu, Xuan Ming, Nuwa, Mother Earth, Mother of the West, Erlang Shen and Chang’e.”
Philadelphia is famous for having the most murals in the U.S., but ironically, there were not nearly enough murals in Chinatown that highlighted Chinese culture specifically.
“We decided to do this wall on Chinese mythology because we realized after doing some research, that there were only two other murals in Chinatown that have anything to do with Asian culture, which is crazy, and I have one of the other ones,” McIlwaine said.“Kevin wanted to use the mural as a way to teach people about Asian culture. There are so many things that people don’t know and they kind of group all Asian things together. I know a lot about Asian culture, and I learned a lot more. When we were figuring out the layout and researching the gods and goddesses, Kevin explained to me that having some of the deities on the same wall would be like having DC and Marvel characters in the same comic book. It was a learning experience for all of the artists involved.”
The biggest day of the festival was on Saturday, where there were Chinese dragon dancers, a DJ and free food and drink samples provided by Far East Descendant to give people a preview of what’s to come once they open. In addition to McIlwaine, the artists who volunteered their time and gifts for this project include: Brianna Ackley, Naythan Anthony, Busta Art, Damon Bain, Elizabeth Lubitsky, Ashley Myers, Ashley Macias, Chris Murray, Marisa Velázquez Rivas, Ashley Ryan and John Zerbe.
“I specifically reached out to artists that could do figurative work because I knew we would be painting a lot of people. I also reached out to artists that were good with characters and animals,” McIlwaine said. “Most of the artists were from Philly, but we had artists from Phoenix, Seattle and we had a few artists coming in from LA initially who unfortunately weren’t able to make it. Thankfully it all came together.”
The Celestial Beings Mural is located at 251 N. Clarion Street between 12th and 13th and Vine on the parking lot side of Far East Descendant. Far East Descendant will be opening within the next few weeks, the official date to be determined. Check their website www.fedphilly.com and social media at: @fareastdescendant for additional details. To keep up with Alloyius McIlwaine’s art journey, follow him on social media at: @culturesclothing and at his website at: www.alloyiusmcilwaineart.com where his coffee table book, “Muses Vol 1,” is available for purchase.
Leave a Comment