Milwaukee muralist Ammar Nsoroma has definitely made a mark on Milwaukee.
His 1992 mural, “The Patchwork,” inspired the Milwaukee Bucks’ City Edition “Gathering Place” uniform.
The mural, located near North 5th Street and West North Avenue, is littered with colorful stars. Like most of his work, the mural is Afro inspired.
"A social responsibility"
“For the Black community, art serves a purpose. So, as an artist, you have a social responsibility to not only make art that is aesthetically pleasing but art that means something,” he said. “My artwork is about the beauty of being Black and feeling all right about it.
“I draw from the philosophies of the diverse religions of the African Diaspora, like Ifa, Vodou, Rastafari and ancient Kemetic traditions. They express the strength, inner peace and beauty of the path to enlightenment," he said.
Nsoroma’s earliest memories of an interest in art go back to grade school. His third-grade teacher became excited about a lion he had drawn in class the day after a visit to the zoo.
"I thought everybody could draw,” he said. “I realized then that what I had done was different.”
That jump-started his career.
"My teacher got me a scholarship to attend art classes at the art museum on Saturdays, and that’s where I first heard about murals, and then I started to notice them around the neighborhood,” he said.
A Washington Park native
Nsoroma, 56, grew up in Washington Park and said the diversity of that community has contributed to his works over time.
"The first mural I was a part of was at a pharmacy that was on 35th and Center,” he said. “I was like 16 and after that, I was hired to do another one, and I guess it just went from there."
Nsoroma was a part of the first class of students that graduated from West Division, now known as Milwaukee High School of the Arts, where he studied visual arts.
He studied at both the Milwaukee Institute for Art & Design and the Art Institute of Chicago. He has many works across Milwaukee and other major cities like Chicago, Washington, D.C., Minneapolis and Los Angeles.
He sells smaller works in Milwaukee’s 5 Points Art Gallery & Studios. And he has illustrated books.
Nsoroma said while he knows he could do his work in any city, he stays in Milwaukee because his family is here and he feels a sense of responsibility to the city.
Outside of art, Nsoroma is an advocate of healthy living. He has been a vegan for more than 20 years and spends his spare time as a member of Red Bike & Green-Milwaukee. He is a bicycling advocate.
"He knows so much"
According to Evelyn Patricia Terry, a mentor of Nsoroma’s, in addition to being a talented artist, Nsoroma is highly intellectual.
"He knows so much about so many things because he reads a lot and retains the information well,” she said. “He’s soft-spoken but he could give a good talk, especially on African American history.”
Terry has known Nsoroma since he was 16 and said he’s just nice to be around.
“He’s a good person,” she said. “And his work is beautiful and meaningful, and I think it makes the world a better place."
Nsoroma is a father of two and a grandfather of two.
"Having an artist as a father gives you a look into a very happy and creative life that I don’t think many kids get to experience,” said Adjua Nsoroma, his daughter.
She, like her father, is an artist.
“He inspired me to make art all the time,” she said. “I spent a lot of my childhood watching him create or attending art shows with him."