Expansive elephant mural depicts feelings of peace, joy, togetherness, and community

Local artist, Cedric Michael Cox has infused his formidable brand of visual art into the largest habitat in Cincinnati Zoo & Botanical Garden’s history. With the completion of his mural on the Zoo’s new elephant barn, which spans the entire side that faces Forest Avenue., it’s another example of how Cox’s work impressively brings the art into the community. The psychedelic mural features vibrant and surreal colors with swirling patterns, intricate details, and a dreamlike quality creating an otherworldly and mind-bending aesthetic. 

“It is 14 feet tall by 135 feet long,” said Cox when he described the mural. “The building stands about 30 feet tall, and the mural was executed on the upper section of the wall.”

The Cincinnati Zoo Botanical Garden has a history of being committed to supporting its surrounding neighborhoods and inspiring the next generation to care about community and the environment. Just last year, Cincinnati Zoo created two community projects at Rockdale Academy in Avondale, the Zoo’s home, which provided opportunities for the Cincinnati Zoo and young adults from Groundwork Ohio River Valley to improve safety for students.

The mural has given new life to the stretch along Forest Avenue at Irving Street, as well as to his own deep sense of community and belonging. It’s a treasure that Cox knew was within his artistic reach ever since early spring 2023, when he was led to the path of creating this mural for the Zoo. It began with Cincinnati Zoo management witnessing Cox’s artistic community revitalization in a neighboring community.  

It can arguably be said that Cox’s entire breadth of work is in stark contrast to the dark time we have lived through the last few years. 

Interest in Black American artists has exploded in an overwhelming effort to re-write wrongs of the past. According to a recent report from ArtNet, there has been a 400% market increase between 2008 and 2021.

Cox was commissioned to help transform White Oak Townhomes (formerly Colonial Village apartments) in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Avondale.

If you walk through the streets of Avondale, especially down one street in particular, Forest Avenue, you will witness an immense series of four murals created by Cox.

When program officials from Cincinnati Zoo saw this vast array of vibrant neighborhood murals from inside their elephant habitat, they called on Cox to create one for the elephants…and for the people who visit the elephants too.

“It's an amazing space,” said Cox of the new Elephant Trek Habitat. “Officials from the Cincinnati Zoo contacted me and asked for a meeting after they saw my murals in Avondale. They were able to see them from the Zoo’s property when they were building the new exhibit and wanted to do some for the Zoo.” 

The murals Cox mentions are a series of murals as part of a partnership between Related Affordable and Artrepreneur. Cox was commissioned to help transform White Oak Townhomes (formerly Colonial Village apartments) in the Cincinnati neighborhood of Avondale. The murals were a part of an overall effort to help in the revamping and revitalization of the community. 

Cox has always identified his career in four stages: large abstract drawings, architectonic imagery, the Inness-influenced work, and his current phase, which he describes as revitalizing his Cubist format and creating a better sense of depth between organic and linear forms. 

“Overall, the theme of my work is a feeling of peace,” said Cox. “A feeling of joy, a feeling of togetherness and community. When you look at my work, there is this all over compositional climax of shapes and forms relating to each other. What I wanted people to see in my work is how color can be used to celebrate, unite, and find connections.” 

“Right after this initial meeting with the Zoo, I started to work with students at Rockdale Elementary in Avondale to help with an overall concept for these murals.” 

Best known for elaborate artistry which includes murals, paintings and drawings, Cox has chosen to take his art to another level by stepping outside his genres and to look closely at other artists’ compositional structures. His work takes on complicated and poignant themes ranging from mythical literature to the intersection of music, body, nature, and soul.  

As a student at the University of Cincinnati’s College of Design, Architecture, Art, and Planning (DAAP), Cox was awarded a fellowship to study at the Glasgow School of Art in Scotland. After receiving his Bachelor of Fine Arts in Painting in 1999, he began to exhibit regionally and nationally as he was beginning to hone his craft and interest in Cubism from the beginning of the 20th century to create images that relate to elements of urban architecture, highlighting areas of the city in which he has lived, worked, and played. After DAAP, Cox began to master his technique right here in Cincinnati.

What it means to make art and to have it being your soul obligation,” said Cox, “...it means that I am blessed. There is a natural synergy that people have with my work. I feel that it’s timeless and driven from art history’s past, present, and future. I also have murals in Mariemont and Amberley Village. All of these murals relate to one another; transcending any limitations that people should think communities may have.” 
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Read more articles by Kareem A. Simpson.

Raised in the inner city of Covington, Kentucky, Kareem Simpson is an author, innovator, community enthusiast, military veteran, serial entrepreneur, foodie and lover of all things creative.