Teen Artists Portray Sandy Stories in Murals

A pre-mural painting by teen participants in Groundswell’s Recovery Diaspora Project Photo: All photos courtesy of Groundswell via Colorline

A pre-mural painting by teen participants in Groundswell’s Recovery Diaspora Project. (Photo courtesy of Groundswell via Colorlines)

A community mural service organization in Brooklyn is working on a series of murals to help restore some of the areas that superstorm Sandy washed away last October. The Park Slope-based Groundswell is employing teenage artists from across the city to paint their Sandy stories, reports Jamilah King in Colorlines.

(Photo photo courtesy of Groundswell via Colorlines)

(Photo courtesy of Groundswell via Colorlines)

The Recovery Diaspora, part of New York City’s summer jobs program, has been created by renowned street artist SwoonThe young artists are working on a mural for each of the hardest-hit areas, including Coney Island, Red Hook, the Rockaways and Staten Island. Swoon will paint a piece on Soho’s famed Houston Bowery Wall, a curated mural space, combining elements of the murals the participating students will create, to mark the first anniversary of the storm on October 29.

The artists participating in the program are paid interns who also attend workshops about a host of topics “ranging from why it’s important to be on time and organized to the social issues often unearthed by natural disasters.”

“When it comes to Sandy, we’ve talked about the difference in how men and women are often affected by storms,” says lead artist Yana Dimitrova, 30. “Women are often tasked with taking care of more than just themselves.”

Sandy was one of the deadliest storms to hit the eastern seaboard over the past several decades, leaving 72 people dead and causing $68 billion in damages. More than 80,000 mostly black and Latino residents of New York City Housing Authority buildings lost water and power. They were without these services for two weeks after the storm. Residents have complained about the long wait for storm-related damage repairs, which is aggravating problems such as mold.

The storm uncovered much of New York City’s increasing inequality. “The grim reality is that the storm disproportionately impacted our city’s most vulnerable populations—low-income people, people of color, and the elderly—in communities that are already overburdened with an unfair share of toxic pollution and health problems,” Al Huang wrote on the National Resources Defense Council’s Switchbord blog.

The Recovery Diaspora Project is making an effort to fix some of the destruction.

“No one else is going to make our point,” says Tasleem Sheikh, a 17-year-old senior at Brooklyn High School of the Arts who grew up between Bay Ridge and Staten Island.  Sheikh saw the effects of Sandy firsthand, in her family’s own water-damaged apartment on Staten Island and then on her daily bus rides to and from school, which carried her past homes that had been lifted from their foundations.  “We want to keep our voices heard and speak to what really happened.”

Sheikh wants her community to draw inspiration from the mural she is working on.

“They don’t want to be reminded of the storm, necessarily,” Sheikh says of her neighbors. “But they do want to see what we took from it, how we bettered ourselves.”

(Photo photo courtesy of Groundswell via Colorlines)

(Photo courtesy of Groundswell via Colorlines)

Shawntell James, 17, who opposed her family’s decision to defy Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s orders to vacate the Rockaway during the storm, is applying her talent to paint the lessons she learned during the harrowing days after the storm devastated her family’s home.

“Sometimes you can’t find the words [to] describe [what happened],” she says. “This is one way for people to express that we’re stronger than Sandy.” 

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