Competition gives creative souls a whole new ‘avenue’ for expression
Justin West grew up in Harlem, and he never imagined his artwork would appear on the street he’s walked up and down hundreds of times since he was a kid.
But after winning a competition, West and four other talented local artists will have their artwork on display on banners along Harlem’s most recognized strip: W. 125th St.
“It feels like an honor,” said West, 23, whose piece depicts what looks like Earth with the colors red, black and green.
“It’s one of those things where it’s like I could be walking along and just (say), ‘Yo, that’s mine.’ ”
The winners of the “BID on Culture” banner program — organized by the 125th Street Business Improvement District, the Harlem Arts Alliance and the Harlem Community Development Corporation — were announced Tuesday at the Dwyer Cultural Center.
“This is my first foot in public art and I plan to do way more,” said West, who has been painting and drawing since he was 5.
“So this just really boosted my motivation.”
Barbara Askins, president and CEO of the 125th Street BID, said the banner program, which had a theme of “Harlem: A Cultural Legacy,” is significant because it exposes the work of local artists like West.
“It’s important to the artists because (they)are looking for avenues and ways for their work to be seen,” she said, noting that 125th Street averages more than 600,000 passers-by per month on one corner.
“That many people have an opportunity to see your work, and that’s great visibility.”
The banners will go up during the second week of July and they will stay up for one year. They will be installed along W. 125th St. from Fifth Ave. to Morningside Ave.; W. 125th St. between Broadway and 12th Ave. and on 12th Ave. between W. 125th St. and W. 138th St.
“It puts a smile on people’s faces,” Askins said of the banners. “It helps to show 125th St. is about Harlem.”
The winners each bagged a $1,000 prize as part of the annual competition, which garnered more than 100 entries from 49 artists.
Harlem artist and competition winner Laura Gadson is no stranger to the banner program. She’s won twice before.
“It’s always a surprise and a shock,” said Gadson, 48, whose winning piece depicts a Harlem brownstone.
‘I’m a brownstone dweller. I’m a brownstone owner,” said the resident of W. 134th St.
“I love when you see the blocks, and you see the different architecture.”
While this will be Gadson’s third time with a banner on the prominent Harlem strip, she remains excited about the opportunity to showcase her work.
“Anytime you can say on your blog or on your website, ‘I have a public art piece that you can currently see,’ it just helps you as an artist that much more,” she said.
Other winners include Bronx product Soyca Mphahlele, City College graduate Marivel Mejia and Tomo Mori, a Japanese immigrant who now lives in West Harlem.
West, who lives on W. 123rd St. — just two blocks from where his art will hang — can’t wait for the banner with his piece to hit the streets.
“It’s always going to make me smile,” he said.
“It’s one of those things like, my work is hanging like a flag in my community, so I think that’s the greatest honor.”