Nashville’s Newest Mural Is Colorful, Intricate And Uniquely Kurdish | Nashville Public Radio

Nashville’s Newest Mural Is Colorful, Intricate And Uniquely Kurdish

Jul 2, 2019

A new mural in Nashville depicts the baking of flatbread, games of backgammon and calligraphy of Kurdish poetry.

The colorful artwork on the side of an international market along Nolensville Pike was unveiled this weekend, and community leaders say they hope it draws people from other parts of the city.

More: See photos of the mural details by scrolling down.

It's a dedication to Nashville's Kurdish population — often cited as the largest in the U.S. The center of this community is a commercial strip with restaurants, markets and other businesses known as Little Kurdistan.

But there's not much indication that this area is such a unique place in the city. There's no signage for Little Kurdistan, and Nashville's official tourism website doesn't mention it. So to Nawzad Hawrami, the director of the Salahadeen Center, a local mosque, this mural is a beacon.

"It is a thriving area that provides thousands of Kurds living in Nashville with a small and individual slice of home," he said to a small crowd on Saturday. "We hope that will draw visitors and tourists from outside the community."

It's also part of an effort to connect, in a literal sense, this neighborhood to the rest of the city. A project called Envision Nolensville Pike spearheaded the mural. The effort is also trying to make the road more friendly to pedestrians and bus riders. This includes adding more traffic signals and crosswalks along Nolensville Pike, which is notoriously difficult to walk on despite high bus ridership.

"Our goal isn't just to make things pretty, it's also to make people more connected to their community that's already so important to them," says Rochelle Carpenter, senior policy advisor on the project.

Mural's Meaning

The mural is made to be "read" from right to left, like Kurdish texts. It starts with a textile pattern and a tea set.

The "beginning" of the mural is on the right side of the building, with a tea sent and colorful textile.
Credit Emily Siner / WPLN

Further to the left, a group of friends sits and drinks tea. Overhead, birds fly, sketched out of a Kurdish poem in calligraphy.

Rafif Alsaleh, one of the muralists on the project, explains one of the birds she painted out of Kurdish calligraphy.
Credit Emily Siner / WPLN

Further down, men play backgammon in the streets of Erbil, the capital of Iraqi Kurdistan. And a mother and son shops at an outdoor market, close to where real-life patrons would enter Nashville's Mazi International Market.

Mazi International Market's side wall is now a massive mural that is, in the words of the mural artist, "uniquely Kurdish."
Credit Emily Siner / WPLN

Mural artist Tony Sobota — who is not of Kurdish descent — received direction from a intergenerational community panel. 

"They wanted to see bright colors," said Sobota. "They wanted to see the mountains and the trees that are part of their homeland. And they wanted something uniquely Kurdish."