Credit: Nikki Bass

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A massive, seven-story mural now resides on the front of the former Donovan Hotel in Thomas Circle, 1155 14th St. NW. Two women of color wearing large pieces of jewelry and holding spears are depicted in the artwork, as if standing watch over the neighborhood. A closer look reveals two giant flowers from which the figures seem to be emerging. The artist skillfully painted around columns of windows to cover about half of the 14-floor building’s facade.

The piece, titled “Guardians of the Four Directions,” is signed byMISS CHELOVE (artist Cita Sadeli), a local art director, muralist, designer, and educator. She completed it by herself since logistics made it difficult for her to have an assistant—requiring her to do double the work. And she painted through March, as the novel coronavirus pandemic spread in D.C., to finish by her deadline at the start of April. CHELOVE was commissioned to create the mural by Hotel Zena, a new establishment scheduled to open this summer, according to itswebsite. As part of the construction crew, she was considered an essential worker.

 CHELOVE documents the final days of her project on Instagram, as she watched the District transform from a bustling city to a ghost town.

“That contrasted with this extremely peaceful experience of being seven floors up on the outside of this building,” CHELOVE recounts, “in a circle that has such a vast, sweeping view.”

The project wasn’t intended to speak to the global health crisis, but its message is especially relevant. “Aren’t we reminded of how much we need both Mother Nature and one another’s support in these strange times?” CHELOVE writes on Instagram.

“Guardians of the Four Directions” was meant to introduce the public to Hotel Zena, the rebranded Donovan Hotel that describes itself on Instagram as “an art-infused tribute to female empowerment.” And CHELOVE painted it throughout Women’s History Month.

CHELOVE comes from a multicultural background: She has roots in Java, Indonesia and spent her formative years in D.C. during the ’80s and ’90s. She says that when creating her work she is considering who is typically represented in art throughout the city—like the equestrian statue of Major General George Henry Thomas in the center of Thomas Circle.

Her artwork is “responding with strong women of color and the Indigenous and their roles in just keeping things going,” CHELOVE says. “Outside of coronavirus, women of color seeing women of color being painted on this huge building was really powerful for folks.” 

Especially when they saw it was a woman painting. CHELOVE says passersby pumped fists and cheered.

When creating public artwork, CHELOVE also thinks about the tone. So when Hotel Zena requested “Amazon women, something like Black Panther,” she intentionally delivered a protective image rather than an aggressive one.

That consideration ended up fitting with the outbreak of COVID-19, as she saw workers wheeling computer monitors out of their downtown offices to work from home and women walking alone at night to take a break from quarantine.

“I felt like I had a significant hand in providing some sense of peace and inspiration for folks,” CHELOVE says. “It’s such a simple statement to make, but I think that in times like this we forget about what that means.”

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