A pair of Brooklyn business groups enlisted the help of local artist Sherwin Banfield to honor the legacy of Christopher “The Notorious B.I.G” Wallace in the late rapper’s home borough with a newly erected statue near the entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge.
The interactive installation is a nine-foot structure made of stainless steel and bronze. It features a crowned head of the Brooklyn native and hip-hop legend, who was gunned down by a still-unknown shooter in 1997. Wallace — better known by his stage names the Notorious B.I.G., Biggie Smalls, or simply Biggie — was just 24 years old when he was killed.
The new public art display was made possible by the Downtown Revitalization Initiative (DRI) — New York State’s approach to creating vibrant neighborhoods and boosting local economies — and The Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund, a partnership between the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership and Dumbo Improvement District that provides grants for eligible art, performance, and accessibility projects looking to enrich public spaces.
Earlier this year, the two business-boosting groups hosted an open call for proposals from local artists who wanted to showcase an overt art piece. With the 5oth anniversary of hip-hop just around the corner, Banfield’s piece, titled “Sky’s the Limit in the County of Kings,” stood out to panelists who helped select an exhibit.
“We were really really careful once we received all these wonderful proposals to make sure that we were choosing projects that really spoke to what was unique about downtown Brooklyn and Dumbo — pieces that really activated our neighborhood with really forward thinking and provocative work and I think this piece really fits into that way of thinking,” said Regina Myer, president of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership.
The groups have already received “wonderfully positive” feedback on the installation, according to Alexandria Sica, president of Dumbo Improvement District. During its first showcase weekend, organizers enjoyed watching residents stop to engage with the work.
“We’re really seeing the actual investment and ability to put on so many major public art works at one time. This doesn’t come around that often and we’re thrilled with the quality and the caliber of the art we’ve been able to put out,” Sica said. “It’s just proof that people really enjoy encountering art like this and how important it is for keeping conversations going and memorializing an amazing man.”
Sica said fine arts advocates like herself use installations like Banfield’s to expose Brooklynites to cultural diversity, history, art preservation and community.
“Sherwin’s monument is incredibly timely, it’s beautifully executed and when you see it, as you walk off the Brooklyn bridge down into Dumbo, you can see this gleaming work on the hillside,” Sica said.
For his part, Banfield drew on his love for hip-hop culture, which he calls the “soundtrack of his life,” to create his intricate piece. Raised in Trinidad, Banfield maintains that music has had a profound influence on his personal expression — especially boomboxes and other large speaker known for blasting a carousel of colorful and diverse music. This inspired him to include a blend of contemporary steel work and vibrant neon designs into the new Biggie statue.
“It takes incredible people that understand the vision of artists that can read the drawing and the write up and understand where the product can exist and how it can impact culture,” Banfield told Brooklyn Paper. “It takes those important people to understand artists creative vision.”
Located at the northeast corner of Prospect Street and Washington Street, the crowned bust sits atop a steel frame and is supported by panels inscribed with details of Wallace’s career and achievements. The design includes one of Biggie’s albums embedded with resin, a neon heart that says “spread love” — a well-known Biggie-ism — and and audio system playing some of his popular tracks.
“I wanted to create something monumental, something regal to coincide with his king of New York status,” the artist said. “He was king of New York [and] he was well-known, well-loved. I hope this dedication to him and his family is appreciated by the community and by the culture as a whole.”
“Sky’s the Limit in the County of Kings” will remain on display through the spring of 2023.