Colorful New Montrose Mural Celebrates Cancer Survivor
The billboard-size mural shows a young woman with wavy brown hair, chartreuse eyes, and thick-rimmed glasses looking up at a Monarch butterfly floating peacefully across a baby-blue sky. Painted on the side of a vacant building on the northwestern corner of Marconi Street and West Gray, just a half-block from Montrose Boulevard, the mural is the latest work of public art in an area that, earlier this year, was the site of Patrick Renner’s Funnel Tunnel sculpture.
The mural was the brainchild of Montrose developer, contractor, and broker Stathis Kafoglis, who leased the building on which it was painted. While he hasn’t decided what to do with the space, he wanted to use one of the walls as an outdoor canvas. “Since I was paying money to rent it, I thought I at least want to do something nice for the community,” he said.
Earlier this summer, Kafoglis found the perfect artist for the project when he met painter Natalia Victoria at the grand opening of Midtown Bar and Grill’s new outdoor mini-mural gallery. Three of Victoria’s works were featured in the inaugural show. “We connected right away” Kafoglis said. “She’s got a spunk and an energy, and there was just something about her.”
Kafoglis and Victoria spent the next few weeks brainstorming ideas for the mural. Then, one day, Victoria called and said she had the perfect subject—a 23-year-old woman she knew named Kenya Paopao who had studied dance at Lone Star College in Kingwood. Kenya’s mother had died of thyroid cancer a few years back; in her will, she requested that her daughter get tested for the same disease. Although reluctant, Kenya got tested and found out that she, too, had thyroid cancer. She immediately went into treatment and today is in remission.
Kenya struck Kafoglis and Victoria as a relatable person who could inspire people with her courage and perseverance, so they decided to design the mural around her. “Kenya’s not some Hollywood superstar—she’s just an ordinary, average person,” he said. “To have that as an icon for people who are struggling, going through hard times, it’s already helped a lot of people.”
For her part, Victoria was eager to paint Kenya’s face. “The way her eyes shine with enthusiasm…her smile is so genuine, her eyes are genuine,” Victoria said. “She’s one of the few people I’ve seen who have that kind of beauty.” They set up a photo shoot at Smith’s Opticians, a sponsor of the mural, where Kenya posed with a pair of glasses—despite the fact that she doesn’t normally wear them. The glasses represent the woman’s unique perspective on the world, according to Victoria.
Victoria then printed the photo, divided it into a grid, and painted Kenya’s image, freehand, on the clapboard siding of Kafoglis’s building, adding in details like the butterfly and the blue sky. At the bottom she signed the mural and wrote “Dedicated to Bella”—Bella being Victoria’s nickname for Kenya. As for the butterfly, Victoria explained that artists have historically used them as a symbol of hope:
“Butterflies represent new beginnings. And every day is a new beginning.”
The Kenya Project mural is on view at the corner of Marconi Street and West Gray in Montrose. For more information, check out #lipservice and #thekenyaproject on Facebook and Instagram.