Bushwick mural uses Spanish poetry to capture diversity

October 22, 2012 By Bryan Koenig For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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When Camille Perrottet started visiting her son in Bushwick three years ago, she immediately fell in love with the neighborhood’s vibrant Hispanic population and burgeoning artist community. So Perrottet, an artist and muralist, decided to make Bushwick the site of her next project.

“I said, why not bring poetry to the streets?” said Perrottet, a lead mural designer for the non-profit group Artmakers, Inc., which paints murals around the city.

Because of his connections to Brooklyn, she chose the 20th century Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca. Lorca’s work then became the driving inspiration behind a four-part mural series on its way to completion in the northeast Brooklyn neighborhood. The featured poem was inspired during Lorca’s time in New York City in 1929 while a student at Columbia University.   

Today, different stanzas from Lorca’s “Sleepless City (Brooklyn Bridge Nocturne)” flow across three finished murals on the walls of Bushwick businesses who agreed to participate. Each mural shows a different part of Lorca’s face: eyes, an ear, his mouth.  

On Saturday, two of those murals will be formally dedicated at noon on Himrod Street and Knickerbocker Avenue.

Enigmatic but vivid in its imagery, Lorca’s poem of isolation and the immigrant experience and the murals it inspired are being used to showcase the diversity of Bushwick. Artmakers, Inc. plans to complete the fourth and final mural next summer and is currently looking for just the right wall to do it.  

On display in English and Spanish, the poem and its murals are “a good representation of what Bushwick is right now,” said local resident Cristian Marino after inspecting a mural for the first time.

Just shy of two-thirds of the neighborhood is Hispanic, according to the 2010 city government profile of Bushwick. One-fifth is African-American, and about every one out of 10 is white.

The neighborhood’s diversity is particularly evident in mural No. 2’s primary feature, a world map with dozens of dots representing more than 40 countries that community members identify as home.

While working on the mural, Artmakers put out a sign-up sheet so passersby could write down their native city and country. “When they stop and talk, we just ask them where they’re from. And then you get out the atlas and plop a dot,” said Jane Weissman, the project coordinator for the murals.  

For those who want a more vivid depiction of Bushwick’s diversity, the best place to view it is mural No.1 — a giant American flag dotted with the flags of residents’ home countries.

Even the locations of the murals are attempting to draw Bushwick together. On Starr Street, the first and largest mural abuts the younger, more commercial side of Bushwick where its growing artist community is based. At 12 feet tall and 145 feet long, it was painted over two months in the fall of 2011 for about $2,500.

Nine blocks away, murals No. 2 and 3 sit across from each other in the more commercial and Hispanic section on Knickerbocker Avenue. About 8 ft. tall and varying between 65 feet. and 89 feet. wide, they were painted in July and August for a total of about $6,000.  

The Lorca Project represents one of more than 40 murals that Artmakers has installed since it was established in 1983. Perhaps the collective’s best-known work is “When Women Pursue Justice,” an enormous 2005 mural still on display in Bedford-Stuyvesant.

A member-run volunteer organization that raises money project to project, Artmakers typically works off of commission provided by sources within the communities they paint. As in the Lorca murals, it also tries to paint one mural pro bono each year, Weissman said, paid for through fundraising.

Coming to Bushwick on its own is unusual for Artmakers, since it is typically brought in by community boards and block associations with specific requests for art.

Planners for the Lorca murals included the storeowners who allowed their walls to be painted, covering up what was in some cases rampant graffiti. Artmakers frequently chatted up those walking past and used their reactions to help guide the process.

According to Weissman, Artmakers got so many people identifying Puerto Rican origins while painting the second mural that they decided to make a map of the island the main feature of No. 3.

“Everyone on the block likes it,” said block association president Veronica Marte. She first learned about the mural and the map of Puerto Rico when she saw Artmakers working on it. “That’s a big thing for us because there are a lot of Puerto Ricans around the neighborhood.”

A few local residents also volunteered to help Perrottet, Weissman and a handful of contributing Artmakers artists paint the murals. Mural No. 1 also got some help from local graffiti artist Optimo Primo.

The fourth wall will feature a full display of Lorca’s face along with “Sleepless City’s” final stanza and a map of the neighborhood that will show the location of each mural. The exact details, including the budget, will be determined once a suitable wall and willing owner has been secured.

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