When I was on my way to show one of my friends the Graffiti Hall of Fame by 106 and Park, one of my childhood neighbourhoods, I could not help but notice this beauty along the way.
As you walk through Harlem, your eyes will be drawn to all the walls depicting black culture. With vibrant colours of neon green and electric blue, my obvious first thought was the artists ode to old school hip-hop channelling Africa Bambaataa’s Universal Zulu Nation movement.
As I continued walking throughout the streets, I am reminded of the importance of graffiti for the community. Symbols of black figures drawn on the walls to mark the cultural movement of the hip-hop industry, from the DJs to the B-Boys and the MCs who brought the entertainment to our ears.
However, the essence of hip-hop is not just to entertain the listener, but to tell a story and looking at this mural brings a sort of melancholy to the viewer. Like an MC, a graffiti artist let’s an audience see their ever-changing emotion and frustration with society through their art; therapy for the silenced and oppressed.
Seeing all the faces of black men that have been lost to police brutality immortalized with a spray can was a definite reminder of the injustices we see today. It felt as if no matter how far you come or how much you accomplish, you are still held down to an outdated stereotype.
Was that how this artist felt? That was an answer I left for another day.
As we grew closer to the Graffiti Hall of Fame, I felt as if I stepped back in time, turning off Google Maps and letting my body take over, guiding me in the same direction I took as a little girl. First passing through Central Park to a familiar building that was once viewed as a project (and my father’s home) is now considered a pricey real-estate venture. Typical of New York housing and all too familiar to residents who are forced out of their homes, because of new management’s greed .
Finally arriving to a familiar destination I once knew as a child was a thrilling feeling. I can’t say I miss the smells or sounds, but the wondrous colours and stimulating images that changed depending on the community’s mood was a welcoming feeling.
Harlem will always be an interesting neighbourhood, because I remember Harlem for the block parties and the smorgasbord of black and puerto rican culture. Now that it is turning into this metropolitan gentrified borough, I almost do not recognize it. However, it will be these walls that remind me what Harlem was really all about.