New York City Pt. 3: Brooklyn (September 2017)

This is a separate journal entry on my full day in Brooklyn, New York.

Bushwick Street Art Tour

The morning started out pretty slow. As I arrived in Bushwick after a 40-minute train ride, I got myself a cream cheese bagel a block away from our meet-up spot. We were greeted by our guide, a very relaxed, pale-faced Mar, who casually checked for attendance before signaling to walk.

Mar then began to explain the norms of street art. We examined graffiti pieces, particularly unassuming bubble letters–the type we see everywhere–in which we often dismiss as vandalism and mindlessly leave it in the background. My understanding of street art deepened as he went further.

The culture of street art: you are well known off your name. Your label as an artist is vital in creating a reputation. You have to come up with a logo, a trademark, which other street artists remember you by. You stylize it, you can make it reminiscent of something, or it could just be a twist on your real name. If you find yourself in new territory, you have to know who runs the neighborhood, and show some respect, as if there were an unwritten code of ethics you should be aware of. You don’t just go bouncing off, spraying on walls. You earn your right. You can join a crew, too, and participate in spray-over wars–the equivalent of fist fights–where tension is escalated by marking an ‘X’ over another’s work.

In terms of style, you’ve got pretty much everything. In the same way art isn’t limited to just pen and paper, street art isn’t limited to just a wall and paint. Artists go as far as sticking pictures then painting on them, or placing frames made of tissue or wood, or glueing a pair of shoes onto the pavement as an installation, or bending wires to hang on electric cables. You’ve got fonts, colors, intricate details symbolic of different cultures. One person’s trash may be another person’s treasure. The possibilities are endless, and when one took the slow time to walk through the streets of Bushwick and pay attention to his surroundings, he’ll find that there is a creative piece in almost every corner.

Purpose behind making these artworks are varied: it could be as personal as paying tribute to a deceased legend, to extremely political such as anti-Trump propaganda. It could also just be an expression the day’s mood. It could be anything. The key to experiencing art is not to try to get behind it. At times we don’t see the message because our biases prevent us from fully opening our minds to the experience, and it is only when we suspend them and completely attend to the work in front of us do we begin to appreciate it.

Not all the locals are for graffiti. Even in a colorful town such as Brooklyn, there are areas where painting on walls are completely forbidden, at times merely tolerated. Majority of the community, however, show their support, as small businesses commission artists, building owners lend excess space, and residents open up their bodegas for artful consumption. They even host events such as the Bushwick Collective, in which artists paint over each other’s work to convey powerful messages through collaborative aesthetic expression. It is followed by a block party, which aims to build community.

Graffiti is an art form because it is a platform for people to write a message that is universal. It is another way of communicating, of deeply impressing a thought upon one’s soul. I then understood why people are so drawn and create a lifestyle around it, because it is through which they not only make sense of the world, but belong in it, as well.

After the hours-long walk, I opted for lunch at Sea Wolf.

Bedford Avenue & Martha’s Bakery

What I did next was to stroll along the famously hippie Bedford Avenue, lined up with vintage stores and artisan establishments, which were similar to Greenwich Village and Haight Street in SF. I walked into Martha’s Bakery for coffee and cupcakes before heading back.

Dumbo

Part of my day in Brooklyn was spent in Dumbo, commonly referred to as the Silicon Valley of the East Coast, where internet start-ups such as Etsy put up shop. It was unfortunately labor-day weekend when I went hence I didn’t get to experience the hustle of the town. That didn’t keep the restaurants and quirky cafes out of business, though. I can’t help but commend the local business owners for their effort in curating the look and feel of their establishment.

So my cycling was a little rusty. I’d just spent $10 on a supposed 24-hr bike rental only to push the thing around for 20 minutes. Might as well use it as an accessory. Thank you to the fellow tourist who took my photo and thank you, Brooklyn, for being apathetic to my pathetic.

Brooklyn Park

I spent some time at the park under the bridge to rest because my legs were beat. I took it as a fine opportunity to people-watch and eavesdrop on conversations (because that is what respectful human beings do). It was one of the few times I was jealous that I wasn’t a local though, and that I didn’t have company to share that lovely afternoon with, because the breeze, the sun, and the view were sublime.

Chicago on Broadway

I think I know why this play is a long-running classic. The energy of the actors was electric. The theatrics were phenomenal. Everyone did their faces well. The scenes had interesting, humorous nuances. The color, the eclectic minds, the references, the costumes, the historical representation of old Hollywood and the pictured, once-glamorous state of Chicago.

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