On the side of a building on State Street in Cayce is a mural depicting a young girl, full round cheeks, big brown eyes and a curly afro surrounding scenes of “The Wonders of Cayce.” Inside one of the rooms at Immersion – an interactive art gallery on Main Street – is a diva bathed in colors with braided hair and full lips, wearing glasses on the tip of her nose with the words “Where Will You Go?” etched on the lenses. Head down the 1400 block of Main Street and a new mural depicting the once vibrant and bustling community of black owned businesses, restaurants and shops, titled Black Wall Street, is coming alive.
Credit Columbia artist Ija Charles for these art scenes and many others that have been popping up across the Columbia region – and made an appearance at the Super Bowl this year. Charles adequately describes her art pieces as a renaissance of Black joy.
“What drives me is just evoking inspirational positivity in the biggest way possible,” Charles said. “I just love how it touches everyone. That’s just the whole point, and the fact that I’m able to do it on large scale murals means everyone has access. You don’t have to go to a museum. You can just see it. And that’s what I want to do, especially for South Carolina – Columbia, South Carolina – to paint the town in some different colors of positive inspiration.”
Her love for her craft is infectious. The 24-year-old artist says art has always been a part of her life. She remembers drawing on her middle school tests prompting teachers to feed her interest with trips to museums and purchasing her art. She has used art as a form of self-therapy and expression, and a way to bring a ray of positivity to those who need it.
“I just knew that this was my career path,” she said. “And that was when I was first introduced to paint so I fell in love with color as you see with all my work now. My mission is to just paint positive vibes on our canvas of life because I know what it’s done for me, so if I can put that same light in a dark room, I’ve done my job.”
Charles said the art scene in Columbia is ever-growing and is starting to define itself. From new art experiences like Immersion on Main Street to festivals with pop-up art shops and West Columbia’s art district, a lot of places are trying their best to create.
“A lot of people say you can’t make it here. I feel like it’s very important for me to do something like this and stay in Columbia so people realize you can make it anywhere. People literally told me you have got to leave. But you really don’t have to! It’s up to you to make it wherever you are.
“I feel like the longer you’re here the more art you’ll see, and every day there is going to be something new.”
Charles is completing Black Wall Street in four week by herself, and will next pay homage to the first Black female entrepreneur in Columbia in the Five Points area.
“It’s going to be pretty huge,” she said. “It’s actually a re-representation of Black Wall Street that actually existed in Columbia, S.C. A lot of people don’t even know that we had one because when they took it down they kind of just buried it in history, so I’m going to be recreating that and just showcasing how vibrant and lively that area was during that time.”
Follow her art journey on Instagram @ija_monet.