Free wheelin’: Street art challenges preconceptions with a revolution

Wheel cool: Eighth-grader Jaden Rivera said the “HIdden Fortune Wheel,” which asks users to spin and imagine themselves in the shoes of the identity it lands on, outside Brooklyn Prospect Charter School is “really cool.”
Community News Group / Colin Mixson

Call it a spin-off!

A diversity-promoting twist on “Wheel of Fortune” installed on signposts in Kensington and Windsor Terrace is challenging locals to imagine themselves in a different skin, and the results are mostly positive, said the artists who created it.

“People really enjoy it, and their response is powerful” said Ori Alon. “But I have no control. Sometimes I witness people having a very pathetic response to the wheel.”

The art installed on Church Ave. and Ft. Hamilton Parkway signposts this month consists of a spinning wheel divided into slices with labels that include “black,” “white,” “Muslim,” “LGBT,” and “immigrant,” and instructions to “imagine yourself in that person’s shoes.”

And, while it is not explicitly stated, Alon said participants should avoid acting like the type of person their wheel lands on.

“You imagine what it’s like to be in their shoes, you’re not supposed to act like them,” he said.

The artist developed the piece, called Hidden Fortune Wheel, with a State University of New York at New Paltz student for a thesis project the creative needed to get her Master of Fine Arts degree.

The original pieces were wood-and-steel, but the pair used old vinyl records to make the wheels in Brooklyn, a change that led some grabby passers-by to snatch them from their posts.

A wheel placed on Church Avenue between E. Third and E. Fourth streets in Kensington was gone as of June 16, but another on a post in front of the Brooklyn Prospect Charter School on Ft. Hamilton Parkway between E. Second and E. Third streets is still hanging, and students cannot help but give it a whirl.

“I think it’s really cool,” said eighth-grader Jaden Rivera.

Other observers of the project remarked on its potential to open minds and unite the community.

“It’s awesome,” said Bedford-Stuyvesant resident Jehan Giles. “If people stop and actually reflect, we can make some progress.”

But not everyone is in love with the art, and some locals said that the neighborhoods’ patchwork of ethnic and religious communities does more to promote empathy than the wheel ever could.

“This area is how many nations together? You can’t even imagine,” said local Thomes Mester, a Hungarian ex-pat. “So it’s pointless here.”

Fortunately, Alon’s co-creator’s professor did not agree with the immigrant’s assessment of the artwork.

“He was an easy grader,” said Ana Azzue Gallira. “I got an A.”

Reach reporter Colin Mixson at cmixson@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505.

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