On the streets and walls of Harlem are murals rich in culture and history. Although technically considered grafiti, the art that surrounds Harlem is the scenery of daily walking tours. The funny part about our Harlem trip is that considering the murals on the walls we passed was not my initial intention to blog about. I had planned 3 art gallery tours, but unfortunately they did not work out as planned. Our first pick was the Studio Museum in Harlem. However we soon learned that they were closed for construction during May. Then there was La Maison d'Art, which we could not find. We walked back and forth passing the location multiple times until we decided that it was just too hard to find. (I'm still not sure if the place was supposed to be a password baring hidden art gallery or if the address was no good) The last place we tried was the Elizabeth Dee Gallery which claimed to be open but when we made the 20 minute walk it was also boarded up and all the doors were closed.
Disappointed by our three fails, I thought we struck out. Until I started to notice a walking tour looking at a mural on the wall of the famous Apollo theatre and artists who performed there (Pictured below). The Apollo theatre is a music hall which is a noted venue for African-American performers also located in Harlem. It became the Apollo in 1934, when it was opened up to the black community (formally white-only). Not only did African Americans begin to come to shows they also took over the stage and performances. Artists like Duke Ellington, James Brown, Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder and Aretha Franklin. See below Stevie Wonders 1985 performance at the Apollo!!!
Not only did this remind me of the rich African-American culture in Harlem, but it also introduced me to the thriving street art all around us. On every corner there was art work, from cultural and political messages to art inspired by the Harlem Renaissance.
The Harlem Renaissance was the spread of intellectual and artistic expression in Harlem, New York spanning the 1920s, especially in the African American community. Through Black's new found expression came inspiring poetry, books, art and music! A Harlem stride style of piano playing developed in this time and the rise of spiritual blues and jazz. The Harlem Renaissance created a new identity for Blacks in the US and spread Black culture around the world. This identity was still displayed in the artwork painted on the walls of Harlem that surrounded are long walk.
#Educationisnotacrime is a campaign that works with street artists to produce murals, linking different communities of struggle to uphold the universal right to education. Three murals I saw was one by David Torres (who goes by Rabî) of the giant ruler, Erik Burke aka OverUnder who painted a mural of flowers surrounding a mother with her child (the mural Alex and Zoe is in front of) and Marthalicia Matarrita of the children in a classroom setting and a man playing a trumpet. These murals are supposed to draw parallels from the between the human rights and education crisis in Iran and the civil rights and struggle to overcome inequality in the United States. Notice how the ruler states Made in Iran.
Another side of art that we saw was African art in the local shops. (pictured below). The emergence of appreciation of African culture has also increased in Harlem and was represented through the art work sold in many shops. In addition to African art there was also paintings highlighting the black cultural experience in New York. Through this art we got to take a look inside the homes of those who lived in Harlem.
Overall, although this trip wasn't exactly what I expected. I got to see a unique aspect of the art that makes up Harlem without stepping foot in a gallery or museum.