Free exhibition of 200 oil portraits of South Brooklynites opens at Industry City

Artist Rusty Zimmerman poses alongside Coney Island’s King Henry, Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams and members of the Extra Syrup Horns before Saturday’s parade through Sunset Park
Photo courtesy of Jumaane D. Williams’ office

We Are South Brooklyn, an exhibit displaying over 200 oil portrait paintings of South Brooklynites, officially opened to the public at Sunset Park’s Industry City on Feb. 24.

Kensington-based artist Rusty Zimmerman was awarded a proclamation from the City of New York at Saturday’s grand opening in recognition of his work to preserve local history in the southern half of the borough.

The free exhibition’s 30-day run will be the only time all 202 portraits will be together. All of the paintings will be gifted to the subjects — residents from Kensington, Coney Island, Bay Ridge to Mill Basin and everywhere in between.

free portrait project
Zimmerman created more than 200 portraits in total. Image courtesy of Rusty Zimmerman

Zimmerman, who completed a similar project in Crown Heights back in 2015, previously told Brooklyn Paper that We Are South Brooklyn was inspired by his past works but also served as a way to get to know his new neighbors following a move to Kensington.

Over 650 people applied to take part in the free portrait project this time around, with each of the 202 subjects chosen through an online lottery.

The Extra Syrup Horns brass band led the procession from Sunset Park’s recreation center to the exhibition in Industry City.Photo courtesy of Jumaane D. Williams’ office

Industry City got behind the project intended to democratize portrait painting in early 2023, offering Zimmerman a studio space at a reduced rate to carry out the four-and-a-half hour sittings with his subjects.

Averaging 17 paintings a week at his studio space, Zimmerman completed the project in the space of a year. As part of the project, he also collected an oral history from each person who took part — their varied stories can be heard in the exhibit by scanning the QR codes underneath each portrait.

Many of Zimmerman’s subjects came together on Saturday, Feb. 24 for the exhibition’s opening, marching to the beat of Extra Syrup Horns brass band in a parade procession from Sunset Park’s recreation center to Industry City’s building 8, lead by Coney Island’s King Henry.

Council Member Shahana Hanif presented artist Rusty Zimmerman with City Council proclamation at Saturday’s opening.Photo courtesy ofCouncil Member Shahana Hanif/X

Council Member Shahana Hanif presented Zimmerman with a “well deserved” City Council proclamation for the portraits he painted with “great detail, care, and respect.”

Public Advocate of the City of New York Jumaane D. Williams was also in attendance for Saturday’s celebration, praising Zimmerman for his art which he said “wonderfully captures the stories of South Brooklyn.”

“Our city is a portrait of diversity, uniqueness and boldness that is seen through each of the Free Portrait Project’s paintings,” Williams posted on X.

The free exhibit will be on view at building 8 in Industry City through March 25.