The India Street Mural Project, located on India Street between West Street and the East River in Greenpoint, launched July 17th, with an introduction by borough President Marty Markowitz and City Council Member David Yassky. The fun-filled afternoon event featured food from local vendors as well as music by bands including Ninjasonik and Japanther.
“When I was a boy the only water we knew was Coney island and the open hydrants,” Markowitz said. “What you folks and all of us together have done is open up this waterfront, so this neighborhood and the rest of Brooklyn can appreciate how blessed we are to have this open water front area for now and in the future. Now, when you add this art, it’s beautiful. I have to congratulate all of you that participated in this wonderful, wonderful effort. It really beautifies a space that’s not exactly attractive. There’s no question that the art community in Brooklyn is located here in the Greenpoint and Williamsburg area in a major way.”
The mural project, headed by Rami Metal, Ciara McKeown, and Sarah Pirozek and supported by Yassky’s office and the Open Space Alliance, is the kickoff project for the North Brooklyn Public Art Coalition (NbPac) and an effort to revitalize the industrial space for the community. A panel of ten community and art industry members selected local artists for the project, who worked between June 3 and July 10, despite heavy rain. Several organizations and local businesses supported the effort.
“We got sponsors from a lot of the small businesses, especially on Franklin Street,” Metal said. “These are tough times, and for them to support it means a lot. They believe in the project and they believe in the community, so it was especially gratifying to get the local community involved.”
The project represents the ability of art to thrive, even during tough economic times and even in industrial eye-sore spaces such as the obstructed India Street waterfront, with the help of the community, and the effort on the part of local elected officials.
“Art takes something that is without value and gives it value. This was neighborhood driven,” Yassky said. “Like most of the good things that have happened, it didn’t come from the government or a politician. The idea was from the neighborhood, and the government did its part to give it the permit and to let it happen and provide the resources. I want to thank the leaders of the neighborhood that have transformed so much of Williamsburg into the beautiful thing that it is now.”
Several of the artists were present for the launch. Each piece was a stylistically and conceptually distinct meditation on themes such as Greenpoint, neighborhood, water, history, and community.
“I’m really proud of the artists we got,” Pirozek said. “We made an effort to get a diverse group of artists—street art, fine art, conceptual art, folk art. This would never be here if just a few people hadn’t said, ok what can we do to help.”
Ali Aschman’s untitled work is the closest to the waterfront, and is a stylized painting of blues and greens featuring water, boats, and people. The South African artist, who lives in Bushwick, wanted to emphasize pattern and color, and found inspiration for the piece from her interest in boats, mythology, and religious traditions.
“It was a really positive experience,” Aschman said of painting the murals. “I enjoyed being with the other artists every day. It was a really nice atmosphere.”
Seattle native Joshua Abram Howard, who has a studio in Greenpoint, drew inspiration from the idea of a Native American potlatch ritual, which is a community gathering of exchange, as well as the Brooklyn hip-hop community. His painting, Super Duper Sound System, is a black and white piece that depicts a sound system in the stylized manner of Indian totem poles.
Chris Soria’s painting, Antiquated Giant, is an intricate painting of grays, greens, and blues that incorporates his love of fossils and turtles with his experiences photographing the historical Greenpoint Terminal Warehouse, which has since burned down. Soria, who has done several mural projects before, lived in Greenpoint for seven years and now lives in Williamsburg.
“I started incorporating different fossils to suggest that it was a sort of excavation of something that no longer exists, and eventually just focused on the skeleton of an archelon, which is a pre-historic giant sea turtle and that became my center piece. The three passages that go across the chest bone are the three passageways that used to cross over West Street. After the building burned down they still existed but were knocked down. They were sort of a landmark of the community.”
Other paintings included the India Street Rocket by Eve Biddle and Joshua Frankel, which depicts a bright magenta and blue rocket launching, and Welcome to Greenpoint by Skewville, which imitates a postcard and features images of dockworkers, referencing the neighborhood’s ship-building past.
The most conceptual of the mural pieces was Knock, Knock, Williamsburg based artists Robert Seng. Seng replicated the wall of a bricked-up truck bay nearby over a real door in the mural’s wall.
“I’m a site artist,” Seng said. “I take a look at a site and figure out something about it to emphasize it or make you realize it. I projected [the other brick wall] over the weird door. I wanted the two doors to have a conversation.”
Unfortunately, Seng’s piece was vandalized the morning of the launch. But Metal called the artists and Soria and Howard came over to help Seng paint over the graffiti.
“These guys have been terrific,” Seng said of all of the artists. “One of the great things about this project is that you meet people and you sort of become a community. Often times when you’re working with artists in these projects, you have a new family that you might not have had before. You couldn’t find a better group of people as far as I can tell. Everyone is so passionate about what they’re doing.”