‘Flowers In My Head’ Mural Portrays a Story of Combat-Related PTSD

Local artist and disabled army veteran, ISH (Ismael Muhammed Nieves), wanted to paint a public art mural acknowledging local armed forces veterans. The Jiffy Lube located at 9301 Broadway in Crown Point, Indiana, sits between the Adam Benjamin VA clinic and the Gary Area VetCenter. With a high-traffic area of repeat travelers to the clinic, Ish was able to take full advantage of the large mural opportunity.

About the Artists:

ISH has been a muralist and graffiti writer in northern Indiana for more than thirty years. He is known locally for his involvement in a commissioned mural for Eskenazi Hospital, the Subsurface Graffiti Exhibition, and a founding member of Crazy Indiana Style Artists (CISA), Indiana’s first and oldest active Latino Artist Collective. In addition to several public and private projects, he was also an active artist and mentor on a previous Jiffy Lube Mural project called Three Kings with apprentice artists Jamal Crouch and Matthew Cooper.

ISH has battled with combat-related PTSD for more than 20 years. He finally decided to seek help after realizing how disengaged he was with his family.

“Physically, I look OK, and I’m grateful for that,” said ISH. “In my head, there are days I’m a hot mess. The location of the mural is ideal for me because I frequently visit the VA clinic across the street. With every visit to the clinic, I’ll have the opportunity to settle with the mural.

ISH’s sister, Eloisa (LISY LOVE) Nieves assisted him with the mural project. Eloisa is a high school guidance counselor but started helping ISH during her summer breaks years ago. Now she is ISH’s lead assistant.

“It is important in my art practice to include family members in my progress,” ISH said. “It has been healing to spend over 200 hours painting on a wall with your family helping you be successful.”

About the Mural:

The mural follows a timeline of the internal emotions, actions, and results a soldier with PTSD may travel. Visually, the mural is divided into two parts starting from the top left corner going left-to-right and the bottom half traveling from right-to-left.

ISH chose to portray cartoon characters to lighten the viewing experience and flower symbolism to zone out different areas and allow veterans to focus on talking points.

“With full artistic license from Jiffy Lube, I was provided a platform to cover PTSD,” said ISH. “I had to find a creative way to approach the subject so it would not trigger a stressful or anxious moment.”

The mural begins with children running through a flower field. They can barely see above the nose-high flowers and slap each other with the flowers they’ve pulled from the field.

“For me, it symbolizes that period where you are in battle,” Said ISH “Always moving towards a certain objective. You may not have a clear view yet you are still moving.”

The characters high-five each other when they get out of the field. There is a celebration but it’s not necessarily tied to national victory. For ISH, this part of the mural was linked to making it out alive with his peers.

In the next section, they are taking off turtle shell helmets and placing them in a pile, a representation of transitioning from a reptilian mind to a civilian.

“Although I am no longer in the fields, on occasion, I still see flowers,” said ISH. “I always felt a little in the clouds with one foot in the civilian world and one foot in a combat boot. As a civilian, little things (triggers) would spark an explosive or retreating response from me.”

The next scene in the mural represents seeing yourself in the mirror, with your hair undone and flowers in your hair and feeling unsettled.

“I remember the day a co-worker pulled me to the side and shared her concern that I may have PTSD,” said ISH. “I knew I needed to do something.”

The rake on the character’s boots represents the work ahead. It’s a matter of clearing the field and dropping new seeds and germinating healthier thoughts.

The seeds being dropped from the air represents the awakening that comes from asking/answering the questions. The pink cloud being combed and watering the ground below represents going through the thoughts that will germinate new perspectives.

On the bottom half of the mural (from right to left), the first scene shows scissors cutting hair with flowers. It represents that sometimes the only way to move on is to cut it off. 

The two girls combing through eachother’s hair represents the therapy process. The therapist (left) is trained to assist and always learn and develop her practice with each new patient. The soldier (right) has her hair covering her face. It represents shame and/or unawareness. It may be hard for soldiers to seek or know they require therapy. Their hair has the colors of the flag to represent one American helping another.

The next scene shows the yellow hand throwing the flowers from their hair into a compost. This represents the energy and value in the memories and lessons learned. Tossing the flowers into the compost provides food for the garden you keep.

Moving through the process, the young lady is then admiring herself because she has gone through the process and is happy with her appearance. Her hair is neat and organized and decorated with a red bow. The red bow represents the red poppies above her. It shows she has found a way to accentuate and decorate herself. 

Lastly, standing behind her is a soldier with a shovelful of freshly made compost. It represents that the work never stops.

“You will always get “triggers” that may put you back in uniform donning a turtle shell,” said ISH. “When that happens you have a choice in which garden you keep. You can feed the cleared field with the new seeds or you can feed the flower field above and repeat the cycle.”
Ish Muhammad

You can connect with ISH here:

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This mural project is part of our Growing People through Work initiative, a franchise-wide commitment to building up our employees and the communities where they live and work. The murals are presented in partnership with the Arts Council of Indianapolis.

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