Williamsburg sculpture recycles plywood from businesses boarded up during summer protests

“Miguelito” by Michael Zelehoski will live at McCarren Park near Union Avenue and Bayard Street from May through October.
Michael Zelehoski

A new temporary artwork made from plywood businesses used to board up their windows during last summer’s racial justice protests is coming to McCarren Park this spring. 

The sculpture consists of two entwined wooden obelisks aimed at resembling a caltrop, a spiked metal weapon thrown on the ground during protests, twisting traditional symbols of power into one of popular uprising, according to the artist. 

“I like the idea of reclaiming those monuments and subverting them in some way,” said Michael Zelehoski. “How do we turn that symbol of power into a symbol of protest?”

The Williamsburg artist drew inspiration from seeing demonstrators in Chile making caltrops out of twisted nails to blow up tires of police vehicles when he lived in the South American country in the early aughts, and he named the artwork “Miguelito,” a nickname locals gave to the devices. 

His 12-by-12 foot artwork is part of a citywide series in partnership with the Parks Department called “The Plywood Protection Project” by the arts nonprofit Worthless Studios, which will host one piece in each borough using the timber some businesses set up to cover their street frontages during the country-wide uprisings following the police killing of George Floyd last May. 

Workers board up a Kids Foot Locker on the Fulton Mall on Nov. 2.Photo by Kevin Duggan

“So much plywood was going up at the beginning of the pandemic and then even more started to go up as various businesses put up, blocked their windows because of protests that were happening,” said the studio’s managing director Katherine Cooper at a March 4 virtual presentation for local Community Board 1’s Parks and Waterfront Committee. “Part of what we’re doing is trying to take these barriers that were put up out of fear for a lot of people and up-cycle them into something positive that can be appreciated.”

The piece will live in McCarren Park just north of its entrance at Union Avenue and Bayard Street near the track and soccer field for about six months, from May until the end of October. 

The sculpture’s proposed location near the McCarren Park Track.NYC Parks Department

The park at the Williamsburg-Greenpoint border was a suitable choice, according to Cooper, due to the McCarren Gathering vigils that have happened nightly since the protests started last summer, several of which Zelehoski attended. 

“McCarren Park in particular as a site of so many peaceful vigils for George Floyd … seems like a really fitting and on-theme site,” said Cooper. 

The project will be entirely paid for by the nonprofit, including assembly, upkeep, and restoring the site once the exhibit wraps up this fall, according to Parks Department spokeswoman Anessa Hodgson.