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Neighborhoods of contemporary New York are primarily defined by the choices and actions of the people who call them home. They are collages fashioned from layer upon layer of small accretions that we plaster and paint onto our environments. Sometimes, this paint is literal, as is the case with the rich diversity of murals in memoriam found throughout Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn — public artworks that reflect a particular history of violence, racial prejudice, and, in some cases, the mixture of the two.
These murals fit into a broader lineage of public art in what is one of the city’s iconic historically black communities. Boys & Girls High School houses a renowned collection of pieces by local black artists; the 56-year-old Fulton Art Fair showcases art from the African diaspora in Fulton Park each June (the forerunner of the now-Fort Greene-based Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts, founded in Bed-Stuy in 1999); for the past two years, STooPS has carried on this legacy by showcasing local artists’ work on the neighborhood’s stoops, yards, and streets. The memorial murals are just one part of a much broader tradition.
In the personal essay, Kristian Sanford, a relatively recent resident, investigates this one aspect of his neighborhood’s visual culture. The memorial murals provide a unique lens into the community and its evolution. […]