MOTT HAVEN — The Mott Haven arts scene is getting a lot more visible.
A bevy of new murals is springing up in the neighborhood featuring images of train cars decked out with multicolored graffiti, a group of people releasing paper airplanes into the sky, a surrealistic vision of the neighborhood, and a mandala representing balance and unity.
The people in the mural are all wearing masks, and the painting is supposed to represent them launching their dreams into the air and trying to catch keys that will unlock their masks, Usher explained.
“It’s a very metaphoric mural about freeing your mind, freeing yourself from whatever you’re covering yourself with, whether it’s work or whether it’s makeup or whether it’s money or whatever the case might be,” she said. “Reach out for what you’ve always dreamed of and let yourself go.”
This concept was particularly appropriate for Mott Haven, a South Bronx neighborhood with an underground arts scene that's struggling with a stigma, according to Usher.
“When people get off the train and people get off the bus, they’re still being exposed to the smell of urine,” she said. “They’re still being exposed to the smell of feces.”
The arts collective ProFreshionalism and the artist Dek 2dx started work on the graffiti-strewn 6 train mural right next to Usher's painting about a week-and-a-half ago as an ode to New York in the 1980s.
“Graffiti sort of started in the South Bronx,” said Bart, the founder of ProFreshionalism, “so we wanted to sort of tie it all back in together with a painted subway train on the street.”
The mural includes many names of people who walked by and chatted with the artists while they were working, and Bart — who asked that his last name not be used because of his involvement in the graffiti scene — said he hopes to have the project finished before this weekend.
Artist Matthew Burcaw, who lives in Soundview, envisioned his mural across the street from the Bruckner Bar and Grill as depicting a dreamlike image of the neighborhood from under the Third Avenue Bridge, only without the actual bridge there.
He stressed that the painting, which plays with scale and perspective and which he hopes to finish this weekend, was meant to have a very freewheeling vibe.
"I did have a plan for it, but the plan was a really loose sketch that I just kind of keep adding into," he said.
"If I feel like there’s a flower that needs to be there, I’ll put a flower there. If I feel like it’s a person, I’ll add a person."
Bronx-based artist Kimberly Santiago is working on the mandala mural on the side of the Bruckner Bar and Grill and hopes to be finished by the middle of next week.
She hopes her colorful, circular design helps put people in a good mood when they look at it, a goal it seems to be accomplishing so far.
“When I’m painting, a lot of people pass by, and I see a lot of people, when they look at it, they get happy,” she said. “I think they really enjoy seeing something being done around here like beautifying the area, making it look better, because this is where we live.”
Local artists' space The Shoppe Bx helped launch and put together the project. Founder Jamie Jones said she was mainly interested in displaying murals in the neighborhood so that lesser-known artists would have a better opportunity to show off their work.
“We want to get different people out there,” she said.
Michael Brady, lead organizer of the Mott Haven Merchants, said he was happy to see the murals adding vibrancy to the heart of the neighborhood and referred to them as part of a broader plan to make a culture trail in the South Bronx connecting Mott Haven to the 149th Street HUB.
"The Mott Haven Merchants and area residents are grateful to the present and participating artists for donating their time and talent, as we continue to build a better Bronx," he said in an email.