Innovative artists have unveiled a 600-foot-long collaboration of murals on construction sheds over an affordable housing project in Brownsville, bringing together a diverse community and bringing color to the dull barriers surrounding the new housing developments until construction is finalized.
“Brownsville Reflections: Past, Present, Future,” was created at 326 Rockaway Parkway by three artists in partnership with the City Canvas, the New York City Department of Cultural Affairs, nonprofit organizations ArtBridge and the RiseBoro Community Partnership, and the Slate Property Group.
Each artist was provided with space on one side of the three-sided construction site, their murals spreading across the construction sheds.
Local artist Jocelyne Goode’s mural “The Return of the Horse Whisperers,” installed over Rockaway Avenue, is rich in color, featuring dozens of women wearing all white, riding on blue stallions — highlighting that the people of Brownsville are able to tame the challenges and harsh situations that they’ve faced in their lives.
“The people of Brownsville have a lot of heart. They say, ‘Brownsville never, ran never will,’” said Goode. “Even though you can see some of the social challenges impacting that community, one thing that impressed me was the amount of creativity, the amount of raw expression, and a determination to overcome to not be limited by conditions that they did not create.”
Hanging over East New York Avenue, artist and photographer Laurent Chevalier’s mural consists of black and white photographs of the residents of Brownsville, seeking to represent new perspectives of Black America and the African Diaspora.
“I hope that the people who were photographed are able to walk by again and see themselves,” said Chevalier. “I hope that others are able to recognize their classmates, neighbors, peers, friends, colleagues up there, and I hope that in seeing that, they can feel that this is still their place, even when things change in it. This canon should still be their home and a place that they claim to.”
And, on Chester Street, visual artist Sophia Victor painted vibrant portraits of New York City residents, representing everyday people who have overcome and resolved overwhelming life challenges and oppression.
“That level of community, I find that that doesn’t really exist in many parts of New York,” said Victor. “I’ve lived in New York my whole life. There’s like a level of struggle, a level of hustling, a level of grime, a level of work ethic that is natural because people strive to be more in life than what was handed to them.”
Victor said she hopes her work will help viewers find the beauty in their everyday lives and difficulties.
“I don’t romanticize struggle, but I’ve learned to find beauty in every challenge and every struggle and situation, and so I hope that people can also gain that when they look at the work as well,” she said.
When finished, 326 Rockaway Avenue will be one of the most sustainable affordable housing developments in New York City — it will be all-electric, with rooftop solar panels, and will not use any fossil fuels at all for heating or other operations.
It will also feature 215 permanently affordable apartments to low-income New Yorkers, including 130 units serving formerly homeless young adults and their families. The development will include a community room, a children’s playroom and classroom space, a yoga and fitness studio, and outdoor shared spaces with a community garden. RiseBoro will offer supportive housing services — including case management, counseling, and referrals for employment and education services — to any residents who need them.
“We are thrilled to partner with Slate and RiseBoro to showcase the brilliant work of three local artists,” said Stephen Pierson, ArtBridge’s executive director. “ArtBridge’s goal is not only to beautify the City’s 300+ miles of construction fencing — we want to showcase local artists, while exploring and celebrating themes and cultures that are specific to the neighborhood of each exhibition. With Slate’s and RiseBoro’s support, along with the community-engaged processes of each of the three artists, we very much succeeded in this mission.”