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This Week on Frame of Mind, Murals And Graffiti Art 14

Although she is currently residing in Colorado, Gayle Embrey is a Dallas native. She’s both an artist and psychotherapist. Embrey began to focus on documentary and film making in 2006 and aimed to direct her love of art to help other people. This week, I talk to director and producer Embrey about her documentary “Beyond the Walls.”

“Beyond the Walls” takes the viewer to El Salvador, Australia, Brooklyn, West Bank, and multiple other countries to find out the stories of murals. Although murals are simply paint on walls, they are capable of making political statements and are a driving force for telling stories and bringing communities together.

  • Tune in to “Frame of Mind” on KERA TV Thursday at 11 p.m.  to watch “Beyond the Walls” and two short docs about Dallas graffiti art: “Catch Those Kids” and “Jerod AleXander Davis”

A mural in Belfast in "Beyond the Walls."

A mural in Belfast in “Beyond the Walls.”

On why she started making documentaries…
The truth is that I had always wanted to be an artist and make a living as an artist. I started as a painter and a photographer and that didn’t really work, so I started looking for what else might work for me. In 1992, I got my master’s in counseling and psychology in art therapy, so I still found a way to have my love of art and use it to be of service to other people. Film making, especially documentary film making, is still within that range of being of service to people by telling people’s stories.

On the idea behind the documentary…
I was a studio artist in the ’70s and I had a very snobbish attitude about street art. I felt like people who did street art weren’t really artists. Fast forward to 1995, I went to Belfast in Northern Ireland where a lot my family is originally from, and in the city they had these incredible, huge murals that tell the stories of what had happened to them over history. I was really blown away by the power these murals had; a lot of them were very technically skilled in their creation, but even the ones that weren’t still had a very powerful message that they were conveying visually. That transformed my entire thinking about street art.

On how she found the muralists…
I did a lot of research online, actually. I was also introduced to a mural historian in Belfast who is in the film, and he was a muralist there but he also met muralists in other places. Between my going and reaching out and just a couple of muralists, they trusted that I would make a film that told the true story about what they were doing. A lot of these muralists know each other and doors started to open significantly that way. A couple of places like West Bank and the Palestinian side are more anonymous for security reasons, so that was a little more difficult. We had to work with a Palestinian producer who helped us locate a couple of people.

Director and producer Gayle Embrey

Director and producer Gayle Embrey

On why she thinks murals are important…
I think they’re important for two reasons: one is that all the people creating these murals are people whose stories are not being covered or they’re being covered slightly by mainstream media. I think it’s important for these people to feel like they do have a voice and that they can get their stories out. One of the ways they talk about doing that is that they go to the wall, quite literally, to tell their stories. The second reason is that they bring communities together. For example, in Argentina, they make the whole process of creating a mural a big community event with music and poetry and lots of people come to help paint. Even with other places where murals aren’t a big event, other muralists give ideas, people bring food for them and some may even pick up a paintbrush a paint a little. It still becomes a community gathering, and that way people still take ownership of what’s really happening and the story that’s being told.

Thoughts on being featured on Frame of Mind…
It’s a great honor. I love PBS — I watch PBS programming a lot — it’s a real honor to be part of one of their series. I’m really looking forward to it. One of the things I would encourage is for people to not just walk by murals when they see them, but really take a minute to take and look at them. They do tell stories and it really can be eye opening if you take a minute to look.