“I’m glad you all picked a nice shady, quiet spot for this dedication,” joked 34th city council district rep Antonio Reynoso to the crowd in the sunbaked parking lot next to the screeching elevated J train where Groundswell’s newest mural was dedicated yesterday morning.
An all-ages, all-stripes group of about 50 gathered outside the Food Bazaar on Manhattan Ave and Broadway to celebrate the new mural entitled “The Fall of Oppression,” which was painted by Groundswell’s all-male empowerment team, Making His’tory.
For the past 20 years, Groundswell has been convening artists, educators, community organizations, and underserved NYC residents age 14 to 21 to design and paint nearly 500 public murals. This mural makes seven Groundswell pieces located in and around Bushwick.
“The Fall of Oppression” is one of seven murals to be dedicated this month as part of Groundswell’s Summer Leadership Institute, the organization’s summer jobs program that employs youth as apprentice artists.
The large painting stretches across the long wall of the grocery store’s main entrance and illustrates the process of awakening from the confines of others’ expectations into the freedom of self-realization.
“The boxes on these people’s heads represent imposed identities,” said one of the student artists about the gray cubes obscuring the heads of police officers, factory workers, and urban kids in the painting.
“As the mural progresses, they shed the boxes and instead put on masks that represent the strength and accomplishments of their ancestors. They start to see that society doesn’t control them; that they have their own real identities, and can make choices.”
The Making His’tory team sought to “inspire young men of color to know their value and know their rights,” according to Groundswell’s website.
“Young men in this city today need to examine the issues facing them and address them honestly,” said Patrick Dougher, Groundswell’s program director. “And they need to find their own expression. This mural isn’t just a remarkable piece of art—it’s also an expression of these young people’s souls.”
Spencer An, president and CEO of Food Bazaar, approached Groundswell several years ago to ask if they would like to use any of his supermarkets’ exterior walls as canvasses.
There are now Groundswell murals on several Food Bazaar locations—including a “contemporary blues piece” on another side of this same building—and both organizations hope to do more. “They deal with some heavy topics, and some people want to shy away from that, but to me, it’s so important,” said An.
“I love to watch these talented, articulate young people as they create these powerful images, and I love to come outside and see families talking with their kids about what the paintings mean. I told Groundswell, ‘Anytime I have a wall, I want you to come paint it.’”
The mural’s lead artist Raúl Ayala drew applause when he spoke about the inherent unfairness of life and the particular need of people of color to be courageous in their pursuit of happiness and justice. “We have to overcome our fears,” he said. “We have to create with integrity. We have to be brave.”
Watch a video on the making of “The Fall of Oppression” by Al Jazeera Plus. The last three in Groundswell’s series of seven Summer Leadership Institute murals will be dedicated today, in the Bronx, Queens, and Manhattan. See Groundswell.nyc for more about the organization.