Photos by Sebastian Bach
Oct 21, 2021
Colorful chaos at the Prospect Park bandshell
A bright new mural by artist Emily Oliveira adds a splash of vibrancy and rebellion to the Lena Horne Bandshell through May
With the temperatures dropping faster than the leaves in New York this week, winter’s palette promises to paint everywhere from the East River to Prospect Park in its cozy but colorless hues, empty branches and slush-filled streets. After another ephemeral summer of extravagant blooms, Brooklyn’s backyard will return to hibernation.
At the recently-renamed Lena Horne Bandshell at Prospect Park’s Ninth Street entrance, Flatbush-based interdisciplinary artist Emily Oliveira has animated the hub’s nondescript grey facade with her first-ever public mural, a resounding epic fully titled (deep breath) ”We Are At a Moment That Will Be Remembered as the Beginning of the Great Change, For Who Can Say When a Wall Is Ready To Come Down.” Oliveira’s captivating, colorful creation not only injects a vibrancy to the landscape—it also contains thematic multitudes challenging hierarchies and boundaries. The mural will be on view through May 2022.
“It’s about the past, present, and future colliding and feeling outside of time,” the artist tells Brooklyn Magazine. “It’s not just about the work we have to do now to dismantle hierarchies and boundaries, but also about the work that has been done before us and will continue to happen after we are no longer here.”
Facilitated by BRIC and Prospect Park Alliance in partnership with NYC Parks Art in the Park Program, Oliveira’s vision pulls from the canon of WPA mural projects and Mexican muralism to depict “a vividly colored natural landscape inhabited by humans and gods who take part in a Promethean sense of rebirth and new ways of being,” as Prospect Park Alliance explains in a statement. “Oliveira envisions rebirth through such forms of collective action as joy and care—celebrating public parks and natural areas like Prospect Park as sites for imagining and enacting utopia.”
Oliveira actually painted the centerpiece of this mural indoors, across 14 panels later installed on the bandshell. She freehand painted the swirling periwinkle galaxies at the periphery as well as the shooting stars, savoring the improvisational rhythm paired with the rumble of alternating F and G trains that shook the earth below.
Interconnectedness radiates amongst the panels’ saturated hues. Her figures are engaged in self-care activities including hair braiding and meditation, but also community organization and protest. At the same time, two putti—baby cherubs—float near the top of the mural holding broken chains, molotov cocktails, and the end of a banner that reads “SIN FRONTERAS SIN BINARIOS SIN JEFES.”
Oliveira’s work is dynamic, rife with dichotomies: rest and work, peace and protest, joy and righteous rage. Hiding in plain sight, almost eradicated by the chaos, two looming figures of indigo and lilac toast with sploshing tangerine chalices.
The mural challenges traditional ideas of narrative in painting, which often seek order.
“We are conditioned to interpret the word ‘chaos’ as pejorative—as negative—whereas it can be liberating,” Oliveira says. “It can be a place for us to explore dismantling hierarchies.” It is, for example, hierarchical order that determines who receives resources and who does not. The opposite of order is entropy. There’s an abundance to chaos in Oliveira’s world—it’s the true origin of endless possibilities.
One of the hallmarks of painting in public comes from an artist’s random interactions with the local residents who will live alongside their artwork. Plenty of polite, curious Brooklynites paused to observe Oliveira and even ask questions while she painted the bandshell’s exterior rings. The artist recalls one father-daughter duo in particular who stopped by while work was underway, even picking up spare paint and cardboard lying about to create their own art.
“They sat and watched for about an hour,” she smiled. “It was really sweet.”
The weather might get colder, but Brooklyn won’t stay indoors. There’s trick or treating and crisp autumn walks, and eventually sledding. While Prospect Park’s landscape changes with the seasons, We Are At a Moment That Will Be Remembered as the Beginning of the Great Change, For Who Can Say When a Wall Is Ready To Come Down promises to stand flamboyant sentry over the chance encounters possible courtesy of community-oriented chaos.
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