Adamma Ince's New York Obsession (2008)

There are close to 8 million stories in New York City, all yearning to be told. Many have the opportunity to express their voices in this mecca of artistic endeavors, others only the chance to hear them. I belong to the latter, since I have never created a thing that any true art lover would give a shit about. Instead, I rely on my eyes to find the stories of New Yorkers that would otherwise never be told.

The unknown is introduced to us in various ways, from gallery exhibitions and graffiti to readings and slams. My favorite storytellers are murals—initially drawn to their bright, hypnotic colors, I am eventually seduced by their message.

Murals are traditionally found in the ghettos of "money-makin' Manhattan," "boogie- down Bronx," and "go-for-broke Brooklyn," which in itself explains the need to be heard. As with its brotha vessel hip-hop, the message is simple: expression by any means necessary. Earlier this year, when rap artist Big Pun died unexpectedly, a slammin' mural was thrown up to commemorate all that he meant to his peeps, in life and death. Similarly, "We love you, Big Poppa" was the sentiment expressed in a tribute to the late Biggie Smalls.

Murals challenge me to shed the day-to-day toughness required to exist in this city and flex back to basics. "Image is nothing, reality is everything," screams a childlike, rainbow-bright mural on the corner of Myrtle and Washington Avenues in Brooklyn. Each day when I pass it on my way to work, a different word jumps off the wall: "forgive," "laugh," "love," respect," "peace," "care," "UNITY." Those simple words have changed the course of many potentially shitty days when I wake up not wanting to know or see anyone and the words fuck you seem glued to the tip of my tongue. If by chance a lunatic driver cuts me off on the road, I immediately want to shove "the Club" up their ass. This response usually subsides once I pass my mural of wisdom. Tiny words have knocked the bitch out of me, embracing me and reminding me that humanity is a beautiful fucking thing after all.

Another mural that sends my heart trippin' is a series of messages from the students of P.S. 29, P.S. 77, P.S. 164, and others. Located on Smith between 3rd and 4th streets in Brooklyn Heights, it occupies a wall that spans two city blocks. For me the vibe is naively surreal, and when our children beg us in their voice of bright colors and stick people holding hands to "get along" and "love one another," I want to make that a reality for them.

"In Memory of" murals strike a different chord in me, reintroducing an often lost intimacy with my ghetto. They tell the untold stories of young black men who never got the chance to grow old and the people who loved them. Usually a life-size portrait of the deceased brings us eye to eye, and he immediately comes alive for me. Different questions turn in my head: What kind of man was he? Did he die violently as so many young brothas do? Most of my questions go unanswered because murals don't speak of the ill shit, only the good, however minute. It says something to me that their names, forever unknown, will never appear in the obituaries thrown on newsstands every day. Instead they are memorialized ghetto style, and that lasts a hell of a lot longer.

Benjamin C. O'Garro, November 5, '68-August 17, '95. I didn't know him when he was alive, but after seeing his face every day on a mural at Brooklyn's Myrtle and Vanderbilt Avenues, I feel as though he could have been my father, brother, or uncle. His nickname was Roni. I know this because of his wife's goodbye, "Continue to watch over us and guide us!! I'll always love you, Roni. Your wife, Nikki." He had a radiant smile, and I know that he touched the lives of many in his neighborhood—they said so: "You're still shinin' Roni. You remain in our hearts and you'll never be forgotten, ever." That's enough to make me hug and kiss everyone that I cherish, just because!


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