A team of young artists have inspired a holistic view of healthy living at the Queensbridge Houses through a new mural on the Jacob A. Riis Settlement House community center. Created in response to the community's tradition of memorial shrines and murals, the youth tackled health issues faced by Queensbridge residents such as HIV/AIDS, diabetes, food access, mental wellness, and gun violence. Their mural, entitled “The Balance – The Four Faces of Health,” stands in honor of all lives at the development—past, present, and future.
The youth artists worked as part of Groundswell’s two-month long flagship summer youth employment program, the Summer Leadership Institute, presented in collaboration with the Queensbridge Tenant Association, New York City Council Member Ritchie Torres, and New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). In lessons facilitated by Lead Artist Misha Tyutyunik and Assistant Artist Victor A. Saint-Hilaire, the young artists researched, designed, and fabricated the mural.
This mural is part of Groundswell’s larger “Public Art / Public Housing” Initiative, in which five developments identified from the Mayor’s Action Plan (MAP) for Neighborhood Safety, one in each of the five boroughs, have co-created three mural projects, for a total of 15 new public artworks throughout the city.
The mural presents a vision of holistic health through symbols hidden within a mythical sphinx, which represents a healthy, strong, and proud community. Physical health is shown as a figure with an apple for a head (representing both healthy eating and the “Big Apple”) lifting weights. Mental health is a scene of a man holding up his community, illustrating the importance of each individual in building their community. A heart framed by a flower crown represents emotional health, and spiritual health is depicted as a scale balancing the sun and moon. Through these playful depictions of the elements of healthy living, the artist team hopes to bring joy to the Queensbridge community as the mural promotes a holistic view of wellness.
There are four main languages in the Queensbridge community – English, Bengali, Spanish, and Mandarin. To represent these cultures, the word power is written in English below the symbols for physical health, the word balance is written in Bengali under mental health, the word freedom is written in Spanish under emotional health, and the word peace is written in Mandarin under spiritual health.
“I loved painting murals and helping out my community this summer,” youth artist and Queensbridge Houses resident Kevin Perez (21) said about his experience working on the mural. “It's really changing my life. It’s been very inspiring and I enjoyed working with different Groundswell teaching artists. My plan for this coming year is to be better with myself and fix my life around to set up goals.”
Through Kevin’s example and the work of the other youth artists, “The Balance – The Four Faces of Health” stands as a call to action for a healthier way of life for all residents at Queensbridge Houses by encouraging balance in all areas of life.