19 January 2016

I Am Because We Are mural by Gerry Tonti

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Spiritans are a religious group that started over 300 years ago within the Roman Catholic community. The full name is The Congregation of the Holy Spirit under the protection of the Immaculate Heart of Mary. An evangelical group of clergy and laymen that focus on working with the poor, they draw their inspiration and guidance from the Holy Spirit. This mural is first of all, on the campus of Duquesne University – a Catholic University. More specifically, it’s a Spiritan University and for over 100 years the only Spiritan University in the world. Duquesne is now affiliated with the other University, which is Spiritan University College in Ghana.

The full title alone helps to explain this mural. I Am Because We Are: A Celebration of Spiritans in Africa. It is on the side of the Laval House, where African Spiritans attending Duquesne reside. This excerpt from Duquesne University Magazine’s winter 2012 issue explains the symbolism:

The mural depicts the Holy Spirit above two African women locking arms over a baobab tree, which artist Gerry Tonti says is known as the tree of life in Africa. Kente, the distinctive woven cloth of West Africa, serves as the background and represents the commitment of the University to Africa, now woven into the Strategic Plan. Intertwined in the Kente cloth are two symbols:
• Nkonsonkonson, the chain link, representing unity and human relations, and serving as a reminder to contribute to the community, that in unity lies strength.
• Osram ne nsoromma, the moon and the star, symbolizing love, faith and harmony. These two West African symbols stress the importance of community, love and faith.
Through this work, Tonti was looking to depict the ideals that resonate in Africa and at the University: community, unity and spirituality. The title, he says, is taken from Ubuntu, a South African term, that reflects a philosophy of interconnectedness, the idea I am what I am because of who we all are.

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