Tendani Mpulubusi El
Tendani Mpulubusi El

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When Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X met for the first time in 1964, the moment went down in civil rights history. When, on the anniversary of that meeting, a local artist and community activist painted a picture of them and late mayor-for-life Marion Barry on the side of the Mart Liquor store in Congress Heights, it wasn’t quite so successful.

“It looked like cartoon characters,” Ward 8 activist Sandra Seegars says. “It didn’t resemble any of them. It looked awful.”

Following only a couple of days and hubbub from Congress Heights activists, the mural, painted by a local artist, is being taken down and will likely be repainted.

Even mural painter Tendani Mpulubusi El was dissatisfied with the final project, calling it “unsatisfactory.” But he says he’s not to blame—he needs more money to get the faces right. Mpulubusi El, who was given $1,500 as part of the District government-backed Art All Night program, says he needed around $7,000 to hire other artists to do the facial detail work and get the equipment he needed. He describes himself as primarily a background artist (samples of his work can be found here), and doesn’t usually do faces on such a large scale.

The reduced budget left everyone dissatisfied with the final product. But the consequences could have been much worse: Mpulubusi El claims the limited budget left him scared for his safety, at one point stranded 20 feet in the air. “I had to climb down. The ladder wasn’t working right,” he says, “and the ground wasn’t level enough to put equipment on.”

According to Monica Ray, the president of the Congress Heights Community Training and Development Corporation, the finished mural didn’t look at all similar to the sample they were provided. It will be replaced by a mural closer to that sample image. It’s unclear whether Mpulubusi El will help out, although he hopes someone will be able to repaint the faces.