As Brooklyn continues to grapple with the outbreak of novel coronavirus, a cohort of local artists is filling the walls of a Williamsburg park with painted portraits of the borough’s essential workers.
“There are postal workers, there are nurses and doctors,” said Joe Matunis, teaching artist of Los Muralistas de El Puente, a neighborhood art collective founded in 1990. “But, we are also going to be seeing grocery workers and musicians.”
Matunis said he was in search of a way to fill his time during the days of quarantine after Los Muralistas had three upcoming projects canceled due to the ongoing pandemic.
“Because of the shutdown, three projects that were coming up had been taken off the table,” he said. “I wanted to do something so that I didn’t feel helpless, or that things were going on and I couldn’t contribute anything.”
He initially reached out to Domino Park’s operator, Two Trees Management, about painting a mural, but the group elected Los Muralistas hang portraits onto panels so that the art could remain intact after the project.
“We came up with this idea to do them on these 24-inch square boards,” Matunis said, adding that the portability of the panels has allowed him to open the project up to a wider range of artists.
And while the portraits primarily feature essential employees, such as grocery store staffers and delivery workers, Matunis has also encouraged artists to consider people who have been essential to the fabric of their communities during the pandemic, such as someone who has continued to take care of a public garden.
“Essentially everyone is essential is what we have kind of opened it up to,” said the artist, who has left it up to the project’s 10 team members to pick who they will spotlight.
Each portrait is painted in black and white and includes a quote from the subject — something Matunis said is reminiscent of the murals that the art collective creates regularly.
“We do a lot of oral histories, so a lot of our murals have had this same kind of concept,” he said. “You do a portrait of somebody and then put their words with them.”
To provide park goers with an ongoing experience, the full collection of 60 portraits will be hung about 10 at a time each week, for the next few weeks, Matunis said.
“Rather than putting them all up together when they are done, why don’t we just unfold it over the course of a month and a half,” Matunis said. “[That way it gives people] something to look forward to every week.”
Domino Park is located at 300 Kent Ave. Los Muralistas’ portraits are hung at the South 4th Street entrance to the park, near River Street.