City unveils new artwork “Unity” Downtown

A new sculpture called "Unity" opened on Tillary and Adams streets in Downtown Brooklyn on Nov. 9.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

This sculpture has a point!

The city unveiled a new sculpture in Downtown Brooklyn on Saturday, depicting a giant bronze arm pointing its index finger at the sky to represent Brooklyn’s ambition and togetherness, according to its creator. 

“The spirit of Brooklyn has always been about upward mobility and connection to roots,” said Hank Willis Thomas in a prepared statement. “The large-scale sculpture of a bronze arm pointing toward the sky is intended to convey to a wide audience a myriad of ideas about individual and collective identity, ambition, and perseverance.”

The Fort Greene artist said he was inspired to create the 22.5-foot installation — which lives near Tillary and Adams streets — by both the Statue of Liberty’s iconic pose and by a photo of a basketball player spinning a ball on his finger.

“I thought by removing the basketball, all of a sudden this piece can take totally different interpretations and meanings,” he said.

Thomas used a three-dimensional scan of Philadelphia 76ers all-star Joel Embiid’s arm as the blueprint for the piece, officially entitled “Unity” — which will stand in America’s Downtown for at least 30 years, according to Kendal Henry, the art director behind the project. 

The $284,000 project is part of the Department of Transportation’s ongoing renovation and revamp of the busy Tillary Street corridor, where the agency has also installed pedestrian islands and a two-way bike lane leading to the Brooklyn Bridge.

Fort Greene sculptor Hank Willis Thomas (center) poses in front of his sculpture with two U.S. Army recruiters (L-R) Sgts. Jonathan Soto and Cameron Petty on Nov. 11.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Passersby marveled at the newly erected work, with one Bedford-Stuyvesant student seeing it as a symbol of Kings County’s confidence.

“When people look at it they might think that they want to soar higher and achieve more in life,” said Jordan Newman.

An out-of-state recruiter for the U.S. Army said the sculpture symbolizes the borough’s prowess.

“It’s powerful,” said Sgt. Cameron Petty, of Kentucky. “New York City is the biggest city in the country. Everybody has something in their life they should be proud of.”

One southern Brooklynite saw religious symbolism in the gesture, which reminded him of a papal visit of decades gone by.

“It might be a religious symbol, evoking pointing up to heaven, pointing up to God,” said Jim Wise. “Many years ago, Pope John Paul II came off the Brooklyn Bridge. It was raining and as he turned off to St. James Basilica the sun came out and the pope pointed to the sky.”

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