At the busy intersection of Sands Street and Gold Street, right along the entrance to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, a colorful mural of two Caribbean women in bright hues of blue, purple, pink and yellow stands in stark contrast to the nearby grey and brown buildings.
The piece is part of Murals for the Movement, a social justice-inspired initiative that provides opportunities for local artists of color to celebrate diversity.
“It’s just an opportunity for us to share our art and our culture in a way that’s highly visible and highly accessible to everybody,” said Liza Quinonez, curator of the project and co-founder of the artist-owned creative agency Street Theory, which she runs with partner Victor Quinonez.
“And it’s also an opportunity for artists of color to be able to take space in a very large and an impactful way in our communities.”
The project’s goals include funding for artists of color to create large-scale public art, beautifying neighborhoods and empowering victims of social injustice.
The murals were painted in Dumbo, the north Brooklyn neighborhood around the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges, in early November by three Brooklyn-based artists, including Victor Quinonez. The Dumbo murals include one featuring the word “Love” rendered in bright, 1970s-inspired typography and “Standing in the Gap,” a piece depicting inter-generational Black justice movements from the ‘60s to now by Sophia Dawson. Work also has been installed in other U.S. cities such as Boston and Los Angeles.
The Brooklyn art, funded by the Downtown Brooklyn + Dumbo Art Fund and the city Department of Transportation’s Temporary Art Program, is part of the state Downtown Revitalization Initiative.
Street Theory was awarded a grant of $50,000 for the project, which covered costs for materials and a stipend for each artist. The pieces are expected to remain up for a year, after which they will either be allowed to stay up longer or be painted over, Liza Quinonez said.
Capturing a moment
Murals for the Movement was founded during the rise of Black Lives Matter protests in 2020.
“This was during a time where everybody was in quarantine, people had just witnessed the murder of George Floyd,” said Victor Quinonez. “We felt like we really needed to empower artists of color to have our own narrative and create work that keeps people aware and engaged.”
His 20-foot-high, 150-foot-wide “Back to the Essence: Brooklyn” mural is painted on Gold Street along the entrance to the BQE and across from the Farragut Houses, a New York City Housing Authority complex in Vinegar Hill, just east of Dumbo.
The work features a woman with clasped hands and closed eyes and another looking out past the painting, giving the effect that she is looking back at passersby.
Quinonez called his piece a celebration of the African diaspora.
“There’s a lot of people from the Afro-Caribbean region living nearby, there’s a lot of people from Haiti, Jamaica, just many different places, and we wanted to connect people back to their roots, wanted them to see themselves as having a powerful history and coming from rich culture,” he said.
Why it’s important here
According to the 2018 American Community Survey, nearly half of the 4,352 residents of the Farragut Houses and surrounding blocks are Black and about a quarter were born in the Caribbean. This contrasts sharply with the demographics of Dumbo as a whole, where nearly 70% of residents are white and only 3.7% are Black, according to 2020 census data.
Community organizer Desira Barnes, 37, who worked in Dumbo for 10 years as a Pilates instructor, said Dumbo’s lack of diversity is part of the reason she arranged a Black Lives Matter protest there in June 2020.
She said the new murals serve as a reminder of the ongoing oppression of people of color.
“It’s important to bring that awareness and highlight these issues in a visual sense so people can see it again,” Barnes said. “Daily reminders of these things are needed to really understand that injustice is happening to Black and brown people every single day.”
Barnes has also arranged other events in Dumbo to raise awareness about issues such as lack of equity in education, maternal Black health disparities and the effects of racial redlining throughout the city.
The value of visibility
Historically, public art has been used by Black artists and other artists of color to voice grievances and issue societal critiques.
“Art is the medium activists, educators, and artists use to raise awareness about an injustice that directly affects them and their communities,” said Casarae Abdul-Ghani, a professor of African American literature at Temple University who is an expert in African American art. “Art is the through-line between elite society and the voiceless, the marginalized and the unheard.”
And while the Dumbo pieces have political messaging, they have also inspired very personal reactions from onlookers.
Lauren Pena and Chris Delgado, a couple visiting from Houston, said Cey Adams’ “Love” mural—painted in vivid pink, blue and purple—caught their attention.
“I love it because it says ‘love’ and we’re in love,” said Pena as she looked at her partner.