Interview with Austin Artist, J Muzacz

4 October 2021   |   Kate Stritzinger, Fairtrade America
Muralist J Muzacz standing in front of his Fairtrade Month mural at Wheatsville in Austin, TX.

There is a special opportunity we all have when we walk into a grocery store. It’s the chance to prioritize farmers and the planet through our purchasing habits. It’s easy to forget that a simple decision like choosing a chocolate bar has ripple effects all over the world.

That moment when we make a purchasing decision is the one we hoped to impact by co-creating a mural with Austin-based artist, J Muzacz, and the team at Wheatsville Co-op. We caught up with J to learn more about his experience with this project.

Why did you decide to partner with Fairtrade?

I decided to partner with Fairtrade on this important campaign because I align with their mission to bring fair wages and working conditions to all farmers and workers worldwide. As conscious consumers, we each have the power to make decisions when we go to the store and purchase something as simple as a chocolate bar, making informed decisions and supporting those companies who treat those in their company and supply chain equally with respect and dignity.

Our choices at the supermarket actually can make a difference in someone’s life halfway around the world.

How does this mural connect to your personal values?

Well, besides being a chocolate lover, I have also been a gardener for many years, and even a day laborer working on farms such as sugarcane and mango in Okinawa, Japan, where I experienced firsthand the extremely tough and unrelenting conditions that farmers are faced with every day, year in and year out harvesting staples and luxuries of our modern diet. The heat, the rain, the bugs, the snakes and the strenuous labor required to bring these items to the table ought to be considered in the price, and we should be forever thankful for how easy it is for us to go to a local shop and pick up these items quickly, conveniently and affordably.

What kind of connection do you have to the Wheatsville Co-op in Austin?

When I found out this was the site of the mural, I had to chuckle as, admittedly, back when I was an undergrad student at nearby University of Texas, me and my friends would dumpster dive at Wheatsville since they had the best quality produce around! Oftentimes, we would salvage more than enough food for ourselves, at which point we would prepare and serve meals as part of the Food Not Bombs initiative every Friday evening at Treasure City Thrift formerly at their East 12th Street location. In most of my years in Austin since, I was a member at Wheatsville, so I also patronage the store through the front door!

One of your tasks was to highlight how Fairtrade fights poverty. How did you do that?

Showcasing strong, female leadership at the source, in cocoa farms connected to Tony’s Chocolonely brand, was important for me as it relates to Fighting Poverty in so many ways. Managing people and funds more equitably is essential, and especially in farming communitiesthere is still a great need to establish gender equality. In this joyful and celebratory mural I hope that strength, passion, happiness and drive are expressed, encouraged and achieved now and in future generations.

I hope that strength, passion, happiness and drive are expressed, encouraged and achieved now and in future generations.

Artists in Austin, Texas creating a mural of 3 Fairtrade farmers at the Wheatsville Co-op.
Photo by: Melanie Grizzel

Why did the farmers’ stories resonate with you?

These three female farmers’ stories resonated with me because having done a bit of research, I quickly learned that in West Africa, even more so than somewhere like here in the US, female farmers succeeding in these powerful leadership roles, above and beyond the hard labor of field work, planting, harvesting, sorting, etc. is an incredibly impressive example of perseverance and systemic change. 

They also took the initiative to start entrepreneurial and human rights organizations to fight poverty through efforts such as combating child labor, empowering other female leaders, and generally improving quality of life for so many women in the field, despite the long, difficult hours keeping up operations in their positions in the cocoa production process.

Having said that, and building on the Legends project, a Mosaic Workshop initiative that I am facilitating and curating since Summer 2020, we are attempting with as many public art projects as possible, to show reverence and respect for those women of color who have historically never been depicted visually in the urban art landscape. Using my platform as a public artist, I endeavor at every turn to more equitably showcase and give prominence to these fantastic narratives of struggle and perseverance above all else.

See the Austin mural!

Check out the J Muzacz's final work and hear the stories of the incredible women - Assata, Eugenie and Sarah - that he highlighted.

We’re in this together

Fairtrade America partners with brands on the journey to certification and beyond. We can help with everything from finding a certified supply chain to marketing your newly certified product.

Get in Touch

Explore More