Swan Song for Bedford-Stuyvesant Murals


One of the impressive murals

The frigid weather was no deterrent for art aficionados who filled the reception area of the Bedford Library on Thursday, Feb. 11th for the opening of “A Neighborhood in Transition – Murals in Bedford-Stuyvesant” photographic exhibit.  The exhibit’s title says it all.  The walls are adorned with numerous photos of murals located throughout Bedford-Stuyvesant and surrounding areas.  You’ll recognize many faces of personalities from the “old neighborhood” who have gone on to prominence in politics, entertainment and sports. 

Many mural themes also commemorate victims of crime.  There is also one of late music great Michael Jackson.  Some murals date as far back as 1994.  One in particular of Yusef Hawkins, a 16-year-old black youth who was killed by a white lynch mob in Bensonhurst, painted in 1989, was vandalized and partially restored in 2011.  Many of the murals were completed by newly released prison inmates as part of the Justice Corps, a group whose mission is to reduce recidivism.

The exhibit aims to take you on four decades of living murals historical and visual journey through Bedford-Stuyvesant, described in one flyer as “a new chapter defined by restoration, beautification and community building”.

After the refreshments and viewing, the guests moseyed down to the lower auditorium area of the library where Librarian Nick Franklin thanked the group of approximately 50 for turning out in large numbers on such a chilly evening.  Librarian Yvette Jenkins, who assisted Nick in this arduous job to pull the exhibit together, didn’t speak, but her influence was definitely felt in everything from the artfully arranged cold-cut platters and wine to the wide assortment of literature available.  The brochure, “When Women Pursue Justice”, would be a welcome addition to anyone’s coffee table.

The photographer, Tiffany Hagler-Geard, is a Philadelphia native, who has been living in Williamsburg since 1998.   Tiffany is responsible for the photographs in this “Transition” exhibit.  Nick Franklin then introduced the exhibit’s curator, Elke Weesjes.

Elke Weesjes, a svelte Netherlands native, now a Brooklynite, thanked Nick and Yvette for their hard work in making the opening a success.  Ms. Weesjes spoke on gentrification of Bedford-Stuyvesant and said that long-time residents are being pushed out.  She said that it’s people who make neighborhoods, and that this exhibit honors the people who traditionally made Bedford-Stuyvesant.  She added, “It’s really about celebrating the achievements of the people in the neighborhood, the people who have been working so hard for years changing things from the inside.”

With the backdrop of the “When Women Pursue Justice” mural, dedicated to the late Shirley Chisholm on a large screen, the Guest Speakers, Muralist Janet Braun-Reinitz and Rochelle Shicoff took the floor.  They shared stories of when they worked on this particular mural and the relationships developed with neighborhood residents.  Muralist Janet Braun-Reinitz claimed bragging rights that she was actually acquainted with the late Congresswoman Chisholm.

This particular mural is the product of diverse artists.  In 2005, Artmakers Inc. brought together nearly 50 women – 13 professional artists, five interns from the High School of Fashion Industries, and over 30 volunteer artists and neighborhood residents to create this spectacular mural located at 498 Greene and Nostrand Avenues.  This mural salutes 90 women who participated in movements for social change in the United States over the past 150.

Sadly, the only element lacking was “traditional” community participation.  Librarian Yvette Jenkins said she emailed notices of the exhibit to numerous organizations like community boards, schools and the YMCA.  Hopefully, we’ll see more traditional community residents visiting this outstanding photographic exhibit.

The refreshment donations came from Bar Glorietta Baldy and Restoration Plaza Foodtown.

The A Neighborhood in Transition – Murals in Bedford-Stuyvesant” exhibition will be at the Bedford Library, 406 Franklin Avenue, 718-623-0012, bklynpubliclibrary.org until June 30, 2014.  



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