Bed-Stuy Photo Exhibit Highlights Neighborhood Murals

By Paul DeBenedetto on February 12, 2014 8:29am 

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 The exhibit, in the Bedford Library at 496 Franklin Ave., highlights murals from across Bed-Stuy.
"A Neighborhood in Transition" looks at Bed-Stuy's history through Murals
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BEDFORD-STUYVESANT — Forget the shelves — at this Bed-Stuy library, the real story's on the walls.

The Bedford Library unveiled a new photo exhibit Tuesday by two friends documenting the murals and street art of Bed-Stuy's history.

"A Neighborhood in Transition," which runs through June 30 in the library at 496 Franklin Ave., is a photography series focusing on the streets of Bed-Stuy by historian Elke Weesjes and photographer Tiffany Hagler-Geard.

The exhibition is inspired in part by the book "Do Not Give Way to Evil," which documented life in the South Bronx in the 1970s through essays and photography. 

"It's really about celebrating the achievements of the people in the neighborhood," Weesjes said. "The people who have been working so hard for years changing things from the inside."

Weesjes, who has lived in Bed-Stuy since 2011, has a PhD in contemporary history from the University of Sussex in England, and put those skills to work by looking at the transition of her new home.

The exhibit is named after a piece originally published in a European arts magazine, written by Weesjes with photos from Hagler-Geard.

The photographer, a Philly native who has been in New York since 1998 and currently lives in Williamsburg, was immediately charmed by the neighborhood feel of Bed-Stuy, she said.

"It was like the old New York I remember," Hagler-Geard said. "Real. It didn't have franchises on every corner."

Hagler-Geard's photos include murals of artists like Jay-Z, Michael Jackson and the Notorious B.I.G. alongside historic figures like Shirley Chisholm, Huey Newton and Malcolm X. The series also includes murals for Bed-Stuy locals who were victims of violent crime, as the Daily News reported.

Some murals date as far back as 1994. One tribute to Yusuf Hawkins — a 16-year-old black boy who was shot to death in Bensonhurst after being taunted by a mob of bat-wielding white youths — was originally painted in 1989, subsequently vandalized and partially restored in 2011.

The longevity of the pieces was a testament to the spirit of the messages, Weesjes said.

"The fact the murals have survived shows you the power," Weesjes said. "It's about the combination of images and words, and the power of the narrative."

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