The Mural Collector

A UAB scientist snaps and shares Birmingham’s street art
Story by Brett Bralley • Photos by Andrea Mabry • Video by Matt Drummond, Laura Gasque, Andrea Mabry, and Carson Young
Photo of Viktoria Havasi taking photo of Wings mural in Avondale; headline: The Mural Collector
A UAB scientist snaps and shares Birmingham’s street art
Story by Brett Bralley • Photos by Andrea Mabry • Video by Matt Drummond, Laura Gasque, Andrea Mabry, and Carson Young
Viktoria Havasi, M.D., Ph.D., remembers the moment she spotted the dark-haired, gray-eyed woman with a yellow bird soaring past her face. It had taken her nearly six months to find the pair, painted on the wall of an abandoned building west of downtown Birmingham. And the long journey was worth it, Havasi says. “I felt a mixture of joy, relief, and accomplishment,” she recalls. (The mural is #1 in Havasi's list of favorite murals below.)
The large-scale painting, created by Birmingham street artist Marcus Fetch, is among more than 130 outdoor murals dotting the Magic City—some old, some restored, some commissioned, and some, like this one, far off the beaten path. Havasi, a UAB School of Medicine scientist in biochemistry and molecular genetics, is on a mission to discover and share each one on Instagram at @magiccitymurals.
Havasi began documenting her quest to uncover the city’s street art on social media in late 2018. “I noticed we had a lot of murals, but I couldn’t find a comprehensive list anywhere,” she says. “I thought it would be good to have a list and have pictures to go with it.”

Photo of Viktoria Havasi taking picture of Avondale mural showing colorful portraits of people

Havasi, who is originally from Hungary, approaches this project methodically, much like her UAB lab research focusing on stop mutations in proteins. [Stop mutations in DNA lead to defective or missing proteins, which can cause diseases such as cystic fibrosis.] She began by compiling incomplete lists of local murals. Now she is filling in the blanks, investigating each mural’s history or backstory, determining its whereabouts, and referencing the artist. She then visits in person to snap a photo and post her findings to Instagram.
A spirit of exploration drives this “treasure hunt,” Havasi says. “I love to discover new places and see cities, buildings, paintings, and natural wonders with my own eyes. For me, finding murals in Birmingham is the same feeling as it was seeing the pyramids of Egypt or Big Ben in London for the first time, but on a smaller scale. I get to see parts of the city I would otherwise never visit, and I get to learn a history about this place I have called home for over a decade.”
Havasi also enjoys helping to preserve pieces of that history and culture as Birmingham changes. “Because this is street art, sometimes it goes away—a building gets taken down, or it gets painted over,” Havasi explains. “For instance, I never got to see the ‘It’s Nice to Have You in Birmingham’ mural that was in Woodlawn. The first version of the wings by Melt in Avondale was vandalized, so it had to be redone. At the Birmingham Museum of Art, the “Love is Blind” mural will eventually be painted over. So it’s nice to have pictures of what has been here.”
The Instagram account has helped her connect with the community in a new way, Havasi says. “One time I was taking pictures of a mural, and a couple came up to me and told me they go every Sunday to look at murals I post,” she recalls.
She hopes that sharing the street art will inspire people to see the beauty Birmingham has to offer. “I think that with my Instagram account, I have the opportunity to show others how beautiful our city really is, and how many hidden gems anyone can find, if they just look around when they walk or drive around in Birmingham.”

Viktoria's Favorite Magic City Murals

1. “Una Hirundo non Facit Ver (One Swallow Doesn't Make Summer),” Smithfield
Artist: Marcus Fetch
“This one was the most difficult to find. Marcus painted this onto an abandoned, half-ruined building that doesn't have an exact address. I found it on my third or fourth trip looking for it.”
2. Watercress Darter Mural, East Lake
Artists: Roger Peet, Merrilee Challis, and Creighton Tynes
“This is a mural of a tiny fish that can only be found in Jefferson County and Birmingham. It’s part of an endangered species mural series that is spread out nationwide.”
3. Mural at Girls Inc. in Central Alabama, Crestwood
Artists: Merrilee Challis, Jordy T., Claire Godbee, and Rachel Axleigh Levinson
“As a female scientist, I can't help but love this mural's message. It inspires girls to be strong, smart, and bold. I also like that the mural was painted by an all-female artist crew.”
4. “Don’t Ever Stop,” Downtown Birmingham
Artist: Paul Cordes Wilm
“This mural commemorates Mark Lindsey, who was nicknamed ‘One Wheel Jesus’ last year when he was seen zipping around town on a [one-wheeled] skateboard wearing a hospital gown. He was going through chemotherapy at UAB at that time, and he sadly lost his battle with cancer and passed away earlier this year.”
5. Day of the Dead Mural at Domestique Coffee, AvondaleArtist: Danny Martin
“I am fascinated by Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos because the Mexican celebration is the complete opposite of the quiet celebration of the dead we have in my home country.”
6. “Freezing Time,” Five Points South
Artist: Shane B.
“I love all Shane B.’s murals, but I think this is the most detailed one, and parts of it look like actual photos. This mural is part of a neighborhood revitalization effort.”

Photo of Viktoria Havasi taking picture of It's Nice to Have You in Avondale mural

Published October 2019