Friday, July 9, 2021

B&O Street Art Project


Artist Spotlight: Tima Aflitunov

Tima Aflitunov is the artist behind the striking "It's in Our DNA" mural, painted onto a caboose here at the B&O Railroad Museum as part of the B&O Street Art Project. The piece's focal point is certainly its DNA double-helix with interlocked hands of various colors bonding the two helixes together. The B&O Street Art Project prompted artists to design pieces on the theme of connectednessa subject which Aflitunov's piece both successfully interprets and thoughtfully elaborates. 

For Tima, a graphic designer and illustrator who completed his undergraduate studies at MICA here in Baltimore, all art is a form of language. Street art in particular, he explains, "gives you an outlet to speak to the public. And sometimes people don't get to do that verbally. They might say things in public but nobody might listen to them." 

As we delve deeper into the nature of the artform and the themes present in Tima's mural, it becomes clear that just as street art can provide a direct voice for the artists themselves, it can also serve as a proxy voice for oppressed people throughout history whose narratives are often disregarded. Tima engages critically with the history of railroading in the United States, citing the use of cheap and unpaid labor in the development of the nation's railroad infrastructure, and drawing particular attention to the exploitation of Asian immigrants and people of color broadly in this process. Tima says that "...without them, there wouldn't be such a strong railroad infrastructure in the United States," adding that this history is therefore somewhat "bittersweet." 

It is this outlook which drew Tima to feature in his mural a DNA double-helix comprised of interconnected multicolored hands, a self-professed commentary on the inextricable contributions and presences of diverse groups of people throughout history, going all the way back to the origins of humankind itself, which have all led us to where we are today. Tima believes that the diversity inherent to our human DNA makes each of us stronger, and he uses this concept to symbolize the railroad itself in his mural. Tima explains that just as the hands between the helixes connect two otherwise separate points, the railroad is held together by the hands of those who built it, and is itself used to connect different parts of the country. As an immigrant himself, having arrived in the United States from Uzbekistan at the age of 11, Tima believes that his own experiences, combined with his connections to larger communities of fellow immigrants, have afforded him a rich perspective on culture, history, and sense of placea perspective with which Tima's mural is undeniably imbued. 

When asked what he'd say to those who might view street art as an illegitimate artform, or as mere vandalism, Tima's response is resonant, simple, and strong: "Art can start a conversation." 

Follow Tima on Instagram @sharp_bubble

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