INDIANAPOLIS — For more than 15 years, people walking on Guilford Ave. near Broad Ripple Ave. would see the image of Mpozi Mshale Tolbert looking down at them. The mural showed Mpozi DJing with angel wings on his back, until the artwork was painted over earlier this week.
The mural had been on that wall since 2008. The business was formerly Lava and before that, a popular nightclub called The Patio. The owners are now converting the space to a new business, but no one anticipated the mural being painted over.
“Complete shock and hurt, hurt more than anything,” said Russ Johnson, better known as DJ Rusty Redenbacher.
Johnson said he first met Mpozi when he moved to Indianapolis in the 1990s. They would hang out in the Broad Ripple Village together. He said he first noticed painters at the mural earlier this week.
“I realized they were spray painting,” he said. “Really my heart just kind of sunk into my stomach.”
Matthew Aaron, an exterior decorator who has worked on artwork across the city, had the same feeling.
“Mpozi was my friend, you know? It’s sad to see that gone,” Aaron said.
Mpozi was a popular DJ in the Broad Ripple Village and across Indianapolis. He was also an Indy Star photojournalist and won the love and admiration of so many in the Circle City.
Aaron met Mpozi when he was also working as a photojournalist. He and Mpozi used to be on assignments together.
“He was a very, very tall man and I’ve always been super short so he would stand behind me and use his camera on top of my head, just over my frame,” Aaron said. “So, we often took very similar pictures and we were in the same places at the same time.”
Johnson said Mpozi taught everyone around him how to move through life and be a better person.
“He really didn’t have anything bad to share about anybody,” Johnson said. “He wanted to share his art and his culture and his thoughts and his vibes with people.”
Mpozi died in 2006 at the age of 34. Friends and fellow artists created the original mural in 2008 and then the late DJ Indiana Jones and others reworked the mural in 2020.
“Aside from it being a landmark and a memorial to a great friend, it was a great painting,” Aaron said.
The loss of the mural is sudden, no one we talked to anticipated the mural being painted over.
”It’s hollow,” Aaron said of the empty white wall. “That whole area is obviously missing something.”
Jordan Dillon, the Executive Director of the Broad Ripple Village Association, said she and others had met with the owners of the Lava building in May to discuss the future of the business. Dillon said the mural and its importance to the community were discussed and the owner of the building said the mural would not be changed.
Dillon said there had not been any further contact before the mural was painted over this week. It is worth noting, Dillon said, that the owner of the building can do what he wants with his building.
FOX59/CBS4 called and messaged the information listed for Lava, but have not heard anything back.
Roses now line the base of the white wall where the mural honoring Mpozi used to be.
“I think if they had asked people and talked to people about it, they would have gotten a response to make sure they didn’t do this,” Johnson said.
Moving forward, Aaron said the nearby Alley Cat Lounge has offered some wall space for a new Mpozi mural where a reminder of his life already is.
“He’ll get back up on walls in this city,” Aaron said.
In the meantime, Mpozi’s friends ask everyone to remember or learn about his legacy.
“Just be good, he was just a good dude,” Johnson said. “He was good to everyone he ever met.”
There is another mural in the city honoring Mpozi. It’s in Fountain Square near the corner of Prospect and Virginia.
It features a painting of his face, his name in big bold letters and seven symbols of African Humanism. The worldview promotes interconnectedness or coexistence, according to the plaque next to the mural, which was painted by the BRIDGE Collective.