Huge Hamilton Heights Mural Portrays History of Harlem
HARLEM — After several weeks of working on the second largest mural in the history of the Creative Arts Workshop for Kids, a group of teenage artists unveiled their massive work, "Magic With Logic," at P.S. 192 on Wednesday.
It is an effort to display some of the history and daily life in Hamilton Heights while also inspiring others, they said.
The birds represent freedom and striving on the multi-colored mural on 138th Street between Hamilton Place and Amsterdam Avenue. The elephants are the elders of the community who pass knowledge to the young people flipping, dancing and playing soccer nearby. And a sun is composed of people's hands reaching out to the community and their own future.
"This mural is not just a mural," said student artist Issac Normensinu, 17, who is visiting New York this summer from Ghana. "It's the history of Harlem and we make history today."
The bright yellows and reds of the mural along with its rabbits and birds nod to the fact that Barnum & Bailey circus used to call the area home. Men play dominoes in the artwork, just as they do blocks from the site. Even the local shaved iced vendor on the corner is depicted.
"This has meaning," said Curtis Archer, president of the Harlem Community Development Corporation. "It tells your story, it tells my story."
The students drew inspiration from Harlem Renaissance painter Aaron Douglas and the poetry of poet William Braitwithe, a Sugar Hill resident.
"It just opened the doors of their imagination. Just seeing them get over their fears was amazing," said poet J. Ivy, who has worked with Jay-Z, Kanye West and John Legend and partnered with the kids on a spoken word project that goes with the mural.
Visitors to the artwork will soon be able to scan a code with their smart phones to get a guided tour from the artists and hear some of their poetry and spoken word, said Brian Ricklin, executive director and CEO of Creative Arts Workshop for Kids.
Molaundo Jones, program director for Creative Arts Workshops for Kids, said the mural was about much more than art.
"This gives them a sense of how they can impact their community. When they were working on this and saw the way people have responded, it had more meaning," said Jones.
The artists said they learned to work together.
"We were all a little shy because we felt we weren't artists. We didn't have the confidence," said Tiguida Toure, 15.
But that changed as the mural came together.
"We became more than friends, we became a family," said Richard Rosado, 19.
The community also chipped in. From the superintendent of the building across the street who helped put up the ladder everyday to the shaved ice guy on the corner who provided refreshment during blazing summer days, the community embraced the project, participants said.
In addition to the artistic experience, the kids involved with the mural — sponsored by advertising firm SelectNY — were also able to earn a paycheck.
Herwig Preis, SelectNY's president and CEO, said he hopes to commercialize the mural into t-shirts or other items. He also offered each of the mural participants two week internships at his firm starting in the fall.
"Whatever you can dream of you can achieve," Preis told the students.
Rep. Charles Rangel said the artists have made a long-lasting impact on their community.
"I can hear you bragging now to our kids, saying look what I did when I was young. I don't blame you because it's a gorgeous piece of art," said Rangel.
Normensinu said the mural is something he's going to remember for the rest of his life.
"It represents us, the people and culture of Harlem, and it's going to live forever," he said.