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Sapphina Roller: Refuge in Art

Updated: Jun 29

Women of the World - WOW

Photo credit: Kyle Hilker, Shatter Imagery

We recently had the pleasure to chat with Sapphina Roller, one of the artists involved with the murals on State Street (Madison, WI), as part of the ongoing George Floyd/Black Lives Matter protests. Her image of a young, black girl, eyes closed, a fist held high with the blue sky and rays of sunshine behind her evoked such power and tranquility at once. Sapphina has just finished her first year at the Rhode Island School of Design and is a graduate of Verona High School. The project was organized by Karin Wolf, City of Madison Arts Program Administrator. Emida Roller, Executive Director and Lead Artist of Dane Arts Mural, encouraged her daughter to contribute. Her sister, Zaria, painted with her and their brother Solomon joined them on the second day. It was the first time the siblings had created art together.

Art has been a part of Sapphina’s life since she could remember. She loved to draw as a child and was always encouraged by her family to immerse herself in the work. Her mother has been a great influence of course but also her grandfather who was a painter and sculptor in Nigeria.


Have you ever done street art before?

Yes. I have worked on murals with Dane Arts Mural Arts and as a volunteer annually with the Walldog.


Describe how you felt that morning when you arrived on State St.?

I wasn’t really sure what to expect going in. It was the morning after the first weekend of protests downtown, I think around 9 am. All of the windows were boarded up and everything felt so different. I was pretty tired but ready to start painting. I felt kind of nervous and pretty overwhelmed with everything going on in the country.


And what was the experience like once you started painting?

Once we started painting, we almost immediately had people watching. As we continued more and more people would stop and compliment the work or ask if they could take photos. State St started to liven up as the day went on. It made me feel like my art had an impact. Even if it was something small, I felt like I was doing something positive and contributing my part in all this.


What message is the young woman sending in your piece?

She’s sending the message of power. That black lives matter. Black lives are precious and worth protecting. The rays streaming from around her, the content smile of black joy. Trying to find refuge when the world is on fire. I also wanted to present black women. I wish I had that representation when I was younger, so I want that for other little girls.

The first image is my grandpa’s work. “Romance of the Headload III” by Solomon Irein Wangboje. The second is a picture of my mom’s copper and metal sculptures she made in college. The last image is a piece I made at RISD this spring semester for my design studio. I made this piece in dialogue with my mom and grandpa’s art.


Author: Leslie Damaso

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