Photos: Cameron Flaisch and contributed by Xaivier Ringer
If you have traveled into South Rome lately, you have likely noticed a beautiful mural painted on the wall of Super Latino Foods, a business located at the corner of South Broad Street and Cherokee Street.
In April of 2018, Xaivier(ex–ZAH–vee–air) Ringer, with contributions from several other members of the community, aimed to bring more color to our beloved Rome. Not only was this project something Ringer was passionate about, but the art serves as a small step towards a bigger movement—the idea to bring more creative projects to the place she calls home.
“The mural here in South Rome was very symbolic to me for many reasons,” explains Ringer as she thinks back to the weekend-long art project. “I used to live in South Rome, and I also completed that mural in the two different languages I speak, and that are spoken in South Rome; English and Spanish. I wanted something to commemorate my love for South Rome and show people that we can put more color in this city.”
Ringer’s enthusiasm to promote the arts in Rome is evident by her positive vibes. Soon, those speaking with her begin to understand why she, and others who know her, call her the “International Muralist.”
Ringer moved to Rome from California when she was nine years old but claims Rome as her hometown. Currently, she has an impressive resume of 55 murals in four different countries and 14 cities, and her hope is to expand upon that in 2020. But this artist didn’t begin her love affair with murals until college.
“I first discovered my love of art in high school. I attended Rome High School before I transferred to Darlington, where I took my first art class during my senior year. It was a general art class, and at the end of the semester I ended up receiving the art award,” recalls Ringer.
“I never really thought much about art being something I’d pursue, but after I won that award, I started thinking that maybe this is something I would like to take more seriously,” she adds. “I never thought art was something I would make a career out of, so I like to say that that moment is what awakened my desire to practice art.”
After high school, Ringer attended Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.
“Initially, I was interested in earning a law degree, but I started noticing that I loved my art classes just as much as my other classes. I minored in Art and Spanish and paired my two minors with a bachelor’s degree in Government.”
Ringer completed her first mural in 2005, which was a four-by-eight-foot mural on Georgetown’s multi-cultural student house. Shortly after, she created a mural for Martha’s Table and Garfield Elementary School in Washington, D.C., when she decided that mural art was more than simply a hobby but could be used to inspire communities far and wide.
“Since I was young, I have always been interested in community,” says Ringer. “How people can grow together and truly get to know one another so well is interesting to me. And in Rome, I really gained access to having that sense of community and devotedness.”
But Ringer was not simply on a mission to help morph Rome into a more engaging city, as she dreamed of painting in places off Broad Street and beyond. Once graduating from Georgetown, she made the Dominican Republic her new home, all with hopes of engaging communities through the power of public art in this Caribbean country.
“Once I graduated college, I had this dream of living in a foreign country and working with communities, more specifically thinking about development,” explains Ringer. “How could I use my knowledge to help other people use their available resources to improve?”
Ringer found a career working at a small consulting firm in the D.R., in hopes of helping to change the narrative and perception of the island. “There, we worked for organizations like the United Nations; I traveled to Barbados with them on a project. We also worked with a reproductive health organization that is pretty revolutionary in the country. It was a big learning curve, and I am truly grateful for the time I spent there because it helped me realize that I could do all of this stuff. The world was at my fingertips.”
And with the world in her hands, make boss-moves she did. During her time at the firm, Ringer applied for a matching grant, which she received, to fund another mural. “That was in 2009; we received the grant and I successfully managed my first community art project abroad.”
In 2013, Ringer decided to make her own path and work as a social entrepreneur; a path she has continually followed even today.
“I think I used to have a negative perception towards being an artist. I didn’t feel as if the discipline was an accepted career, as it is now, and people were not open-minded about the idea of major projects,” says Ringer. “But, it’s so much deeper than what meets the eye. It’s the promotion of local talent, the engagement of community members, and being able to turn a promising city with empty walls into a huge public canvas that can have lasting and positive effects on neighborhoods.”
Just how does one person complete these massive murals, you may ask? According to Ringer, it is not as difficult as it may seem.
“Murals are like metaphors for challenges. You take them on one step at a time, one day at a time and with help.
“Murals are very large pieces of art, but they are less intimidating to me than a small canvas. To me, it’s fun,” she says. “The way I do it is by engaging people, and I use that as a tool to help others understand their worth and their value in their community. That’s very important to me and the value that I put into my work.”
Ringer’s process is community based. In fact, the community in which she is hoping to liven plays an enormous part in the planning of the project, from start to finish.
“I always start my community murals with a workshop alongside the members of that community. To me, they have to be a part of the process from beginning to end,” says Ringer.
“So, we start with a workshop that leads the vision-making process. Here, we try to understand who we are, what we want to represent to the world, and other factors to consider. Our intent is to have an understanding of our vision before I begin the design process,” she continues.
The design process, for Ringer, includes taking the measurements, choosing paints, colors, creating a budget for the project and more.
“After the workshop, I step away for a couple of weeks and begin designing it. Then, I present the design to the community members, or organization. They approve what they like and give feedback in the areas they want to change. I complete a second draft and then we start scaling the design on the wall.”
Not only does Ringer consult the community with a workshop and throughout the design process, but she also encourages the community to actually paint with her.
“The painting process becomes almost a paint by numbers process,” she explains. “It’s very fun and gives the community an opportunity to take part in every single facet of the project. I think that’s so important because they come back and say, ‘Oh my gosh, I painted that part!’ They feel a part of it, and they take ownership of it. You know, I may hold the vision of the piece, but they have to walk through the process with me.
“I have worked with many communities that are considered vulnerable, like the communities of people of color or people of different faiths .A lot of times, they don’t feel seen or don’t understand how powerful they are. So, it is very important for me to make my murals be loud representations of who they are so that they can communicate to the public, I exist and I am proud.”
Ringer recently returned home from a trip to Satun, Thailand where she was busy working with the U.S. Embassy and their Cultural Affairs Department on an important assignment. “That was incredible because, to me, it was an example of taking my art to the next level, but also getting to see how other people saw my vision,” she explains. “Work like this can be used as a tool to create community. The mural was used to help engage different young people in the community who have different faiths (Muslim and Buddhist), different ideas, backgrounds, etc. It was an example of how to bring all of these different elements together into one cohesive story.”
Not only was this trip a feat for Ringer on an artistic level, but on a personal level as well. She transformed from the International Muralist into a muralist mom with an even bigger drive to pursue her dreams.
“When I decided to grow my family, my biggest fear was not being able to continue on with my dream. It’s so cliché, but when you are truly passionate about something, you find out how to make it work. And I definitely found a way to make it work,” she says.
Ringer traveled to Satun with her sister and a friend who helped her care for her son, Nasir, when she was busy painting. “Thailand is very baby friendly,” smiles Ringer. “That’s why Thailand has been my proudest project, because I went in as a mom, a working mom. I took my nine-month old baby 10,000 miles away—I was so scared, but I made it work. That, if anything, definitely made me feel like a bad ass.”
Nasir has been a part of the process since he was in the womb. “I did seven mural projects in 2018, my last one I finished a few days before I gave birth. I really enjoy having him be a part of my artistic process.”
Another one of Ringer’s favorite murals is one she completed in Caberete, Dominican Republic with the Mariposa Foundation. “That particular mural was done with the youth in the local school. We took the Mariposa girls and essentially turned them into leaders. They were almost like my little assistants; they walked along the process with me, helped teach the younger girls how to paint, etc. It was a very devout moment.”
Other international destinations Ringer has painted in are Santo Domingo, Guadaloupe and more. She hopes to continue her travels in the upcoming years, with her first stop in Santo Domingo with the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Here, Ringer will be helping to design a metro stop. “That is very exciting to me, because I am very interested in community development and how we can utilize art, especially public art, to engage the community. I will be designing crosswalks in hopes that my work improves safety for their citizens,” she explains.
On top of international travel, Ringer also hopes to move into more individualized projects, like taking more commissions, and extending more focus on simple affirmations, prints, canvas paintings, etc.
In addition to mural painting, she also does community development consulting, service tours and women’s empowerment workshops.
“I created a movement called Black Girl Free, which was born out of a need to just affirm women of color’s existence, presence and beauty,” explains Ringer. You can follow Black Girl Free on Instagram at @blackgirlfree.
Bringing her story full circle and back to Rome, Ringer hopes to organize another project that mimics themes of positivity and love, as all of her murals do.
“I am really excited that Rome has come to embrace public art,” smiles Ringer. “I’ve seen a lot of people begin to dabble in different things, and just seeing this town grow, creatively, and welcome more creatives with open arms is exciting. I would love for this city to be a space where the sky is the limit, and I want to be a part of that, or help to inspire that change.”