Groundswell youth paint mural addressing prison system
by Chase Collum
Sep 08, 2014 | 5592 views | 0 0 comments | 122 122 recommendations | email to a friend | print
A massive new mural produced by Groundswell dons the previously empty white wall of the Brownsville Food Bazaar.
A massive new mural produced by Groundswell dons the previously empty white wall of the Brownsville Food Bazaar.
slideshow
Assistant artist Jose de Jesus addresses a crowd of onlookers at the unveiling of Groundswell's latest mural in Brownsville.
Assistant artist Jose de Jesus addresses a crowd of onlookers at the unveiling of Groundswell's latest mural in Brownsville.
slideshow
Lead artist Esteban del Valle reflects on the power of simple tools when coupled with dedication at the unveiling of a new mural at the Brownsville Food Bazaar.
Lead artist Esteban del Valle reflects on the power of simple tools when coupled with dedication at the unveiling of a new mural at the Brownsville Food Bazaar.
slideshow
As news was breaking about the severe living conditions for minors at Rikers Island in New York City, several young artists were working together with a local food chain to share their feelings on the prison system through a massive mural in Brownsville.

The mural project began six weeks ago, and is a series of such undertakings orchestrated by Groundswell, a local organization aimed at shedding light on social issues through placement of large-scale art pieces in local communities. Groundswell worked with the Brownsville Community Justice Center and the Center for Court Innovation on this particular project.

Spencer An, president of New York City's Food Bazaar supermarkets, said that it was he who originally approached Groundswell after finding out about the organization through his own research into mural-producing organizations in the city.

“Not too far from my first store in Corona, Queens, there is another mural that is very nice. I have these huge blank walls, so I started looking into muralists,” An said. “I found Groundswell purely by accident, and I noticed that mural on their website, so I told Susana Cookson at my store to contact them.”

An said he was skeptical at first as to how the artists would depict the message of the mural, but when they showed him the proposal, he was very enthused. Still, when he saw the finished piece he said, “I was not prepared for it to be this beautiful.”

In the colorful piece that decorates the greater part of the street-facing wall at the Food Bazaar is formally entitled, “Prison Industrial Complex: Tyranny Undermining Rights, Education and Society.” Thematically, the piece moves from left to right.

The foreground of the mural depicts a man with an empty birdcage for a head trying to escape from the Prison Industrial Complex, embodied by a fat leopard in a suit, but encountering difficulty due to the ankle chain he wears that is weighted down by a pile of currency.

While the man's struggle seems pointless, the mural shows three white doves flying out of the cage over a crowd of protesters led by Martin Luther King, Jr., who are holding signs that read messages such as, “I am a man.”

In the right-most scene, four colorful individuals help each other up out of what the piece calls “The New Jim Crow.” The birds of the last scene have given way to flying books, and an iridescent blue brain floats in the sky of the waving folds of Old Glory.

Gustavo Bahena, one of the many youth artists to participate in the mural project, said that for him, the project was his “first great experience,” and Nicholas Sutton said,” I really appreciate the opportunity to get my feelings out in a proper manner.”

“With this project, I was reminded of the power of art,” Valle said. “It's incredible to think that this [mural] could have come from this [brush].”

Lead artist Esteban del Valle said he was proud of his team for producing something beautiful that also contains an incredible message. While giving a short speech at the unveiling, he held up a small, tattered artist's paint brush and told the crowd that much of the huge mural behind him was painted with that very same little brush.

Reflecting on that brush, he urged the crowd to consider how much can come out of a dedicated effort, even with simple tools.

“Ask yourself, what are your tools?” Valle said. “They don't have to be anything big or complicated—they can be as simple as a paintbrush. But with these tools, you can make great change.”

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