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The murals tell stories at Texas Southern University

Written by on February 22, 2021

By Chandrelle Lazard, Texas Southern University

HOUSTON – Texas Southern University sophomore Jillian Hill returns to the highly decorated corridors of Hannah Hall, one of the first buildings on TSU’s campus. She reflects on the history and stories the strokes of paint inspire.

Hill’s passion for art began as a little girl and has grown to her desire for art education on the collegiate level. Since the beginning of the art department at TSU, all students must take a mural class. Hill has not taken hers yet, but is hopeful for the future as she wishes to continue the legacy of excellence started by senior art majors who came before her.

Mural inside TSU's Hannah Hall
Mural inside TSU’s Hannah Hall (Texas Southern University)
Jillian Hill, TSU Art Student
Jillian Hill, TSU Art Student (Texas Southern University)

The painted murals were one of the first decorative pieces of Hannah Hall. The senior art majors have over 128 murals on campus each telling a different story free of censorship.

“All the murals have a unique story that they tell and all of them are about black history in some way; for example, the theme of this mural is reincarnation, but art can be depicted however the viewer sees it,” Hill said.

Murals fill the walls of Hannah Hall on the TSU campus
Murals fill the walls of Hannah Hall on the TSU campus (Texas Southern University)

In 1949, African American iconic muralists and educator, Dr. John Biggers breathed life into the vast corridors of Hannah Hall. He founded the TSU art department and was the architect behind allowing senior art majors to plaster the walls with their artistry.

Although Biggers did not censor his students’ expressions, he showed a firm hand in execution and honoring deadlines. Failure to comply would result in giving the wall to another student.

Some of the first murals were done in the early 50s. They captured what life was like for these students and their yearning to use creativity to tell their stories.

Jesse Sifuentes, a current professor at TSU attended the university as a student in the 70s’and discussed the power of storytelling with words, voice or in his chosen form of expression, the brush.

“Dr. Biggers instilled mural painting into the program, which is the artist’s voice in the community,” Sifuentes said in a recent interview.

Mural created by Jesse Sifuentes who is now a professor at TSU
Mural created by Jesse Sifuentes who is now a professor at TSU (Texas Southern University)

Sifuentes has murals all over Houston but credits the foundation of his skills to his training at TSU. His key takeaway from his training is respecting the space and honoring the wall of the desired mural.

Hannah Hall is a sacred space dressed in treasured murals that are vibrant reminders of Houston’s history and a showcase of unrestrained talent. Hill wishes to unleash her talent to tell the tale of life as an African American in the 21st century, continuing the entries in TSU’s notable shrine.

■ This story was written to chronicle Houston’s Black history as part of a partnership between KTSU2, “The Voice”, and KPRC-TV, for Black History Month.


About the author

TSU Student Chandrelle Lazard
TSU Student Chandrelle Lazard (TSU)

Chandrelle Lazard is a journalism major who aspires to be a public relations practitioner. She graduates from Texas Southern University in May.