Iconic figures from southeast Queens celebrated in new public art exhibit at St. Albans – QNS.com

On Wednesday, August 17, a block-long public art beautification project was unveiled at the Daniel M. O’Connell Playground in St. Albans featuring portraits and inspirational quotes from famous icons associated with Queens throughout history and popular culture.

Queens Reflections fulfills the vision of former Councilor I. Daneek Miller, who assigned the project to the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL). Cambria Heights artist Eric Black was selected through a citywide open call process. Its murals feature LL Cool J, Q-Tip, Jackie Robinson, Count Basie, WEB Dubois and even former US Open tennis star Naomi Osaka, who learned the sport playing on public courts in Jamaica.

“The cultural and intellectual icons and luminaries we honor with this mural not only helped shape the artistic legacy that defines who we are as a community,” Miller said. “They also worked to intricately shape and define our values. Now we have the opportunity to recognize the heroes and heroines of Southeast Queens, control our own narrative and tell our story not just in our backyard behind, but with the world”.

Miller thanked her successor, Councilwoman Nantasha Williams, for keeping her vision alive and bringing the project to fruition.

“Beautification projects like this in our district are incredibly important,” Willams said. “Not only do they allow residents to take pride in their community, but they also embrace the rich history of Southeast Queens. I would also like to thank the artist, Eric Black, for his artistic creativity on to reimagine this block that truly reflects Queens.”

Black assembled a team of young artists from Queens, including his best friend Adrian Brown, Nicole Wang, Judge Levenson, and Levenson’s younger brother Tyler Blau, who is also an actor about to attend the LaGuardia School for the Performing Arts of Astoria.

“Queens Reflections is a visual trip down memory lane, paired with remarkable quotes that should inspire and motivate the viewer,” said Black. “It is more than a collection of images. To me, it’s an outdoor museum that should take people through the rich and inspiring history of this part of Queens. I wanted to have a healthy mix of people from all walks of life: some figures that people would instantly recognize, some that might be overlooked. These creative portraits should stir people’s memories and remind them of the power we all have as individuals and as a collective.”

Featured through NYC Parks’ Art in the Park program, JCAL Special Projects Manager Wendy Arimah Berot described the black selection process.

“The competition was tough for this project,” he said. “Our goal was to select an artist who not only understood the roots of the community but had a personal connection to it. Eric, who hails from Cambria Heights, possesses an artistic expression that accomplishes both. His chosen balance of sensibilities and iconic figures speaks volumes for the richness of Southeast Queens. We’re very proud of the work he’s doing.”

A group of artists created a collection of block murals that pay tribute to the cultural icons of Southeast Queens. (Photo courtesy of JCAL)

JCAL Artistic Director Courtney Ffrench praised everyone involved in making the project happen.

“Like a well-coached 4×400 relay team, the baton started in then-Councilmember Miller’s office, then passed to JCAL, then to NYC Parks, and finally to the masterful hands of Eric Black,” he say Ffrench. “What started as a dream has come.”

JCAL Executive Director Leonard Jacobs said Queens Reflections was a stunning triumph of boundless imagination and endless pride.

“It proves once again that right here, living among our families, friends and neighbors, there are some extraordinarily expressive and fiercely imaginative artists with the power and skill to bring the full attention of New York City to the O’Connell Playground,” Jacobs said. “From the beginning, Eric Black proved he was an artist, with the results now for all to see. How lucky we are to celebrate his work as he lifts up the legends of our community through time.”

A group of artists created a collection of block murals that pay tribute to the cultural icons of Southeast Queens. (Photo courtesy of JCAL)

Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers grew up in the neighborhood.

“As someone who grew up around the corner from Daniel O’Connell Park and spent many summer days there, I am excited that the community can celebrate and commemorate a visual representation of black excellence and recognize the contributions of our heroes and heroines through this mural,” he said.

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