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NoMa residents walk their dogs passing by Gentry Pack’s Doberman mural near Alethia Tanner Park. (Kaishi Chhabra / ҹֱ)

‘A piece reflective of the community’: Local artist’s Doberman Mural in NoMa depicts Black Culture

Part of the NoMA in Color Annual Mural Festival, local artist Gentry Pack’s newly unveiled mural reflects the essence of the neighborhood, challenges stereotypes and evokes a sense of connection among residents.

In the heart of NoMa, a 12-foot-tall mural featuring a regal Doberman with a gold chain has become a standout attraction. Its striking realism and darker tones set it apart from the surrounding artworks along the Metropolitan Branch Trail near Alethia Tanner Park.

“It’s awesome,” said NoMa resident William Foster, pointing out the Doberman. “Of all the murals here, I think one of the most beautiful ones is that dog with that chain. I see it and I feel there’s more to it than just a dog.”

Painted by local artist Gentry Pack, the mural is one of 16 new artworks unveiled by the NoMa Business Improvement District (BID) last month as part of the “NoMa in Color” event, running from September to mid-October.

The inspiration behind the mural, according to Pack, was to reflect on the stigma of the Doberman breed’s intimidating and aggressive appearance despite their friendly, loving and goofy nature.

“As a minority male, sometimes, depending on how I’m dressed or whatever neighborhood I’m in, people might think I’m on a certain type of time, but in reality, I’m smiling, I’m assuming, I’m laughing and I’m just trying to spread love, inspiring people,” Pack said.

The eighth Annual Mural Festival featured both established and emerging muralists with diverse backgrounds, adding to the neighborhood’s history and spirit. These newly released murals are an addition to the colorful 900-foot-long concrete wall owned by the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) serving Metro’s Red Line.

Residents can find the mural wall behind Alethia Tanner Park. The wall hosts a range of artworks, from abstract pieces to depictions of human portraits. One such portrait by Maryland artist Yewande K. Davis titled “Joy Reverie” features a Black woman basking in a nature-inspired setting. Another vibrant mural spelling out “DC” in American Sign Language painted by artist Yiqiao Wang represents the Deaf community in NoMa.

Toward the end of this expansive mural wall, residents can discover Pack’s striking Doberman painting.

DMV resident Rich Bontrager looks at local artist Gentry Pack’s Doberman mural near Alethia Tanner Park in NoMa. (Kaishi Chhabra / ҹֱ)
A pedestrian walking by artist Yiqiao Wang’s artwork that spells out “DC” in ASL. (Kaishi Chhabra / ҹֱ)

 

Pack, originally from Baltimore, has found his artistic home in the DMV. With an arts degree from the University of Maryland, Pack has been painting for the past 10 years, often featuring animals and humans.

“I started off with animals because I was scared to paint people,” Pack said. “Animals are a lot more forgiving. But I do think naturally, as a subject, (dogs) can carry just as much emotion as a human; they can carry just as much symbolism. And last but not least, like most people just love dogs.”

While this was his first mural— and it took him nine days to finish the piece— Pack is no stranger to incorporating dogs into his art. He previously showcased a series of canvas paintings titled “Demon Dogs” at Eckington Hall earlier this year.

Pack’s choice to paint the Doberman is also rooted in the breed’s common practice of cosmetic alterations, including ear cropping and tail docking, for both aesthetic and working purposes. As a Black artist, he draws a meaningful link to the historical mistreatment of his race, akin to the way these dogs have been altered, reflecting a shared history of cruelty and resilience.

“I always see them wearing like gold chains; I always wear gold chains,” Pack said. “And I was like, man, all these things that I think are so cool about this dog are low-key kind of cruelly done. I think just as a black man and the history of black culture in this country, for some reason or another, I just really resonated with those things, and aesthetically, I was already drawn to it.”

Local artist Gentry Pack painting during NoMa’s Annual Mural Festival in September 2023. (Courtesy Gentry Pack.)

Many residents and pedestrians, especially from the Black community, marveled over Pack’s artwork and were able to recognize its cultural inspiration. One such resident was Neena B., who saw Pack working on the piece last month during her regular strolls.

“Looking at it, it felt very much inspired by the Black culture,” she said. “I really love it, and I feel like the additional context makes a lot of sense.”

Another resident, Colby, appreciated the muted colors and the attempt to soften Doberman’s majestic pose with the addition of flowers to the piece. Colby said that knowing the story behind the artwork made her feel more connected to the artist.

As NoMa’s mural display has become a highly anticipated cultural and community event, NoMa BID President and CEO Maura Brophy said the organization recognized the vast talent pool in the DMV and wanted to support local artists like Pack.

“We love it when people have a chance to reflect on the pieces and kind of see their own personal lived experience through them,” Brophy said. “Everyone brings something unique to a piece of art when they interact with it. … I love that G. Pack was able to bring us a piece that is reflective of the community.”

Kaishi Chhabra

Kaishi Chhabra

Kaishi is a multimedia journalist specializing in political and human rights reporting. Having a diverse cultural and global background, she is especially interested in amplifying the voices of marginalized communities such as women of color and LGBTQIA+ groups. Kaishi is currently pursuing a Master’s degree in Journalism at The American University.

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