Powerful faces look out at visitors to the gallery at the Human Rights Education Institute.
Some smile. Some look stern. All have made their marks on the world.
Each of the 12-feet-tall portraits depicts a hero in the fight to promote peace and human rights across the world. Painted directly onto the walls, the images will be on display through October.
The exhibit is the brainchild of artist Rachel Dolezal.
“My 6-year-old came down here,” Dolezal said of her son. “I said, ‘These aren’t superheroes like Superman and Batman. These are real heroes.’”
Some are well-known for their work – civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr., peaceful resistance leader Mahatma Gandhi and farm worker organizer Cesar Chavez.
Others may be less familiar to the general public.
Aung San Suu Kyi fought for democracy in Burma, beginning in the 1980s. She was imprisoned for seven years for running for office, before being released in 1995. She still cannot travel freely.
Archbishop Oscar Romero was assassinated in 1980 while presiding over a mass celebration in El Salvador. He was a vocal advocate for human rights.
Carly Zalenski is a young American who began collecting food and other goods for needy near her and before age 14 raised enough money to build a school in Vietnam.
“We’re trying to expand the education beyond the typical names,” Dolezal said.
She added that with so many social justice advocates to choose from she had a hard time paring her list down to 15. She worked hard to represent people across cultures.
The peace advocates also fought for a variety of different causes, including labor rights, the environment, anti-war, children’s rights, political freedom and more.
At 31, Dolezal teaches at North Idaho College and Eastern Washington University in addition to acting as the Human Rights Education Institute’s art director and creating her own art.
She graduated with a Master’s of Fine Arts from Howard University and has lived in Montana, Mississippi and South Africa.
Her peace advocates paintings are simple, black painted directly onto the brick walls. Quotes and information are displayed on hanging canvas beside each portrait.
“It’s kind of graffiti meets fine art,” Dolezal said.
The gloss of the paint adds a wet, work-in-progress feel to the portraits, reminding viewers that peace in itself requires ongoing work.
And even after they are painted over, the portraits will remain, Dolezal said.
“These faces will become a part of this building.”