The newest selfie wall in downtown Madison has artwork and messages geared towards Black girls and is designed by artist Lilada Gee, who finished up the mural on Monday after spending a week working on the giant Wisconsin Historical Museum wall at the top of State Street.

“What I like the most about this mural is that there are pieces that are specifically for kids, where the height of the pictures are, for example, ” Gee tells Madison365. “Particularly, the middle piece is geared towards children – the affirmation wall. I really want to encourage people to take their daughters down there to take a picture in front of the affirmation wall and have a chance to talk with them about the importance of words and believing in yourself and encouraging yourself towards your goals and your dreams.”

Gee has dedicated her life to advocating for Black women and girls and is the founder of Lilada’s Livingroom, an organization to help women and girls deal with the trauma of abuse.  A little more than a year ago, she founded Defending Black Girlhood, an organization that is committed to making sure Black girls are safe in their homes, schools and communities.

“For the pieces I came up with for this project, I am always wanting to infuse something about what I’m out here fighting for in my art and messaging in a beautiful way,” Gee says. “I had a short window of time to do this. They contacted me on Monday and I had to have it done the following Monday.

“The mural was my whole life last week and this past weekend I ate, drank and slept that mural,” Gee adds, laughing.

Lilada Gee poses in front of her artwork at the top of State Street.

“When Black women heal, black women thrive,” says one of Gee’s murals. The downtown storefronts have become an open forum of expression and the outside wall of the Wisconsin Historical Museum on State & Carroll is a prime spot overlooking the Wisconsin State Capitol building. Gee gives credit to Downtown Madison’s Central Business Improvement District (BID) for allowing her to display her art there.

“Tiffany Kenney, [executive director] of BID, had contacted the [Wisconsin] Historical Museum years back and they had been using that as a selfie wall for a number of years. Tiffany contacted me and connected me with Rebecca Cnare, from the Planning Department, and said they wanted to to do something this year about ‘Mask Up Madison’ to inspire people to wear masks and wanted me to create a dynamic piece for that wall that could be a fun selfie wall,” Gee says.

For Gee, she hopes the mural builds self-esteem in girls and empowers their voices. She has really come into her own as an artist this summer with the digital paintings of her beautiful artwork on coffee mugs and yard signs that can be found all around Madison and Dane County.

“It has blown me away. I just really came out as an artist last July. That’s the yin and the yang of this whole COVID situation. When I was invited in to be a part of the murals downtown, it gave me an opportunity to do something for my community and put up messaging that I feel was really consistent with the work I am doing around Defending Black Girlhood,” Gee says.

“Out of that grew the lawn signs – a piece of art that people could have themselves and hold themselves. I’m blown away at how many people have wanted them,” she adds. “I’m deeply grateful for how things have taken off. I think what makes me the happiest is that I want to show joy and convey hope. Those are the messages that I’m getting back from the people when they see my art – it is making them happy and giving them hope.”