Just got this last-minute invite to a really great event going on in Harlem, if you’re in town later today.
Picture The Homeless (PTH), a grassroots social-justice organization founded and led by homeless people advocating around the issues of housing, police violence, and the shelter system, reveals their new mural based on those themes today at 4pm at 138t Street and Adam Clayton Powell. The mural is on the side of Epiphany Bar. (More details here.
According to Shaun Lin, one of PTH’s community organizers, the mural was a 6-month collaborative effort of people of all ages living in the community.
“This mural itself is actually the conclusion of a 6-month collaborative process between Picture The Homeless, Peoples Justice, and artist Sophia Dawson. We started with a few study sessions–of “Broken Windows” theory, “quality-of-life” policing, and resistance/organizing around these policing practices–which guided a collective visioning process in which particular images drawn directly from study and conversation. And finally concluded in the painting of the mural, which included 2 community painting days and over 80 volunteers [sic]. The mural itself is beautiful in itself, but the process of creating and painting the mural has been one of the most engaging, collaborative, and community-oriented projects I’ve personally worked on.”
I did an interview with artist Dawson about the project and public art, especially in light of the controversial mural about Trayvon Martin’s murder in Miami.
How and why did you get involved with this project? What’s your background in public art?
I took an anti-police brutality class at City College with Brother Shep, a former Black Panther. Once a participant completes the course are supposed to become facilitators. (Basically the same tactic that was used which allowed the Party to grow so quickly–each one teach ten). For a number of reasons I have yet to facilitate the course although the issue of police brutality is something that is of importance to me. I felt that this project was my opportunity to use art as a tool to educate people on their fundamental rights in light of all of the recent deaths caused by police brutality and the ongoing oppression of people of color.
I started painting murals at the age of 16 as a youth participant at Groundswell, a non-profit arts organization based in Brooklyn. Our first project was developing a mural that was located inside of a dull children’s classroom in a project building in Red Hook, Brooklyn. I witnessed how the project truly transformed the space. I continue to work with Groundswell as an Office manager and bookkeeper and occasionally as a lead artist when time permits.
How do you think this work links in with your other work about homelessness, the state of policing in NYC and the rest of the US, particularly the Central Park Five?
I think there is one recurring theme in my work: “Wet Paint” which is also my artist name. Wet Paint began with me developing a body of work about my incarcerated Godmother. The purpose behind me doing her portraits was to emphasize that regardless of her situation, her struggle or current condition, she was still growing, and under construction. “The paint was still wet.” This is how I feel about all of the individuals in my work. Their stories are still unfolding; there is still time for them to overcome their opposition. As people who struggle both consciously and subconsciously, I think it is important for us to always remember that the paint is still wet.
Recently, we’ve seen public art meet some controversy, namely the one in Miami dedicated to Trayvon Martin.
Though an artist can’t ensure the public will take the work as they originally intended, is it the responsibility of a public artist, if they’re claiming some sort of solidarity to the person they’ve used as the subject of their work, to be conscientious of how they’re expressing that solidarity with their subject?
I think it is the responsibility of the artist to be aware of the community in which their public art piece will exist, especially at the time of creation. The people that live near the piece, work their and encounter it daily should feel connected and supportive of the project. When doing this project, I did not want it to be MY mural, but rather a collaborative piece. The community was invited to participate in painting days and actually physically contribute to painting the mural, they were also welcomed to ask questions and give their feedback. In the end, it is them who will continue to tell the story of this project when I am no longer present.
What is your own hope with the mural you helped with that’ll be unveiled this Friday?
I hope that this piece will uplift and empower someone. Education = Power. This mural is an education tool that can be used by individuals and various groups over time. I also hope that this mural will be a part of historical events that follow: the Central Park 5 being compensated for the injustices that were done to them in the past and winning their case against the City of New York, justice for all victims of police brutality, the FBI taking Assata Shakur off of the terrorist list, Stop and Frisk being illegal… The list goes on. I feel that struggle is something that can be powerful if everyone does their part. As an artist, I hope that through this mural I have done a part of my contribution.
Also happening this weekend in NYC is the Goddess Walk, which takes place tomorrow. Started by performer/activist Chiquita Brooks, the event is a march against street harassment. The rally begins at noon at Fulton Park in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn; the walk starts at 1pm.
The invite is, according to the event’s Facebook page, “Black women, LGBTQ folk and our allies to walk in solidarity & sisterhood for respect in the streets. What to wear? Wear what makes you feel like a goddess, the invite says. What to bring to the march? Roses, for dropping the petals along the walk and/or “signs, posters, and banners that express your desire to be respected regardless of your gender, race, color, or sexual orientation!!” Hollaback! and Black Women’s Blueprint are among the supporters of the Goddess Walk.
For more info, including directions, contact OshunReturns@gmail.com or check out the website!