Alumna brings biology mural back to life

Published: Jan 23, 2024

a woman works on repairing a colorful mural representing different biology motifs
When she first envisioned the project in 2013, Anna Vikhlyayeva saw her means to completing it through UMBC’s Prove It! competition, a university-wide call for ways to improve campus. She was a finalist, but ultimately not awarded the prize money. Vikhlyayeva was not deterred, and with the biology dean's assistance she still completed the labor of love, and got to leave a little piece of herself behind after she graduated. (Marlayna Demond '11/UMBC)

Walking down Academic Row, the ground floor windows of the Biological Sciences Building reflect the flow of student traffic, and colorful renditions of animals and microbes, silhouettes of researchers, and other elements of biology seem to pop off the wall and join the campus milieu. 

For many, the images on the mural blend into the background of campus—just another wall in just another building. But the artist remembers the blank wall 10 years ago, covered sparsely in inspirational posters and placards. 

“It was a huge wall, and visible from the outside,” says Anna Vikhlyayeva ’15, visual arts. In addition to wanting to beautify the space, Vikhlyayeva thought to herself, “The research of scientists can be very interesting and colorful and very inspiring for artists. What if by highlighting the biology research that people do in this building, other students will become more interested in biology?”

More than a mural

a night time exterior shot of a blank hallway lit up with lights
A “before” picture of the hallway in the biology building that the artist saw as an opportunity to emphasize the beauty of the world. (Photo courtesy of Vikhlyayeva)

In 2013 Vikhlyayeva took her plan to then-chair of the biology department Professor Philip Farabaugh, and it was perfect timing, he says. “I’d been thinking about branding the building in some way…and a mural was an obvious means to do that.” And in the decade since its installation, Farabaugh says, “I’m really gratified that the mural acts as a uniting image for all our faculty, staff, and students.”

But in December 2022 a combination of freezing temperatures and burst pipes resulted in damage across campus and significant flooding in the biology building. The bottom half of the mural fell victim to the water.

The challenges caused by the flood were hard to bear, particularly following COVID, says Farabaugh. “But, despite the disaster fatigue that everyone felt, the faculty, staff, and students responded with grace, energy, and yes, resiliency to the challenge.”

Vikhlyayeva, a working artist, still lives in the area, so when the biology building was reopened, Farabaugh emailed her to see if she’d be interested in repainting the damaged section. “I was happy to know that people in the building appreciate this wall so much that they want me to repair it,” says Vikhlyayeva. “Based on my images of the original mural, I’ve attempted to replicate the colors and designs the same.”

a woman stands in front of a colorful mural representing different biology motifs
Anna Vikhlyayeva ’15 originally planned and painted the mural 10 years ago, but after water damage, she returned to repair it. (Marlayna Demond ’11/UMBC)

Farabaugh says different elements of the mural stick out to him at different times, including that “the integration of the realistic animals and stylized students works to emphasize their direct relationships.” He sees the figures in the mural “representing all the thousands of students who have passed through the building in the last almost 60 years. I hope that many of them feel that their experience of research in our building set them on a life path and the mural is a visible representation of that.”

A glow up, 10 years later

In summer 2023, Vikhlyayeva brought a folding camping stool and a vibrant palette of green and blue hues to tackle the lower portion of her mural.

a woman works on repairing a colorful mural representing different biology motifs
The artist chose her subject matter for the mural based on actual research happening in the building. (Marlayna Demond ’11/UMBC)

“I thought that bright colors, these nice pictures, will put other students in a good mood and give them inspiration to study and even to be more happy,” she says.

Farabaugh says that he’s enjoyed watching students and researchers claim the re-beautified space as their own, holding poster sessions in the hallway with the mural as the backdrop. “It really has become the heart of the building and, mixing a metaphor, its public face.”

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