Artists bring life back to Chelsea amid COVID-19 pandemic

Artists Hisham Akira Bharoocha and Maria Lupianez showcase their mural at the Elliott-Chelsea Houses.
Photo by Dean Moses

Two Chelsea artists are celebrating the beauty of life in the wake of the tragedy of death.

New Yorkers’ relationship with art has changed dramatically in 2021. With indoor space now severely limited, preventing large scale exhibitions from taking place, and world-altering events such as the onset of the COVID-19 virus and the activism of the Black Lives Matter movement changing the way in which artists see the world, art has been forced to evolve in order to continue stimulating minds and provoking creative thought.

With the help of Art Bridge, Hisham Akira Bharoocha and Maria Lupianez teamed up to create a free, outdoor art exhibit called Intertwining Colors that focuses on the elements which make life in the Chelsea area great despite an emotionally trying year: its people.

The façade of several construction scaffoldings in multiple locations including West 26th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue have been transformed from dreary eyesores into vivid, kaleidoscopic designs that light up the community with color and character. This character stems from the myriad of faces illustrated upon the polytab fabric concealing the metal beneath. Each smile, wave, and enchanting gaze are the products of real people living in the community.

 The artists met with public members residing in the Elliott-Chelsea Houses, photographed them, and then worked on immortalizing their personalities with weather-resistant paint. Each individual represented is connected by a multicolored tether, a prism of joy that intertwines the lives and souls which make up the neighborhood.

The mural depicts residents of the area in colorful hues. Photo by Dean Moses

“It is incredible to create work specifically for the residents the artwork is surrounding. To see the reactions of people just brought tears of joy to my eyes, to see how excited they were to see themselves in it,” Bharoocha said.                  

Lupianez agreed, stating that the resident reception was one of her greatest takeaways from the project.

“I think that was the biggest highlight for myself, just seeing their reactions. We were out here doing final touch-ups and we got to see some people come out and scream, overjoyed by seeing themselves. To me, that said it all,” Lupianez said.

Rico, a local Chelsea celebrity known for his idiosyncratic sense of style, is one of the many faces painted on the murals. The artists encountered Rico hanging out at another one of their exhibit locations on 17th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue and immediately decided they had to include him. While he was hesitant at first–like many of the residents–the final product won him over.

“I think it is cool. I like it but I don’t like it. It doesn’t look like me, it’s the smile. I am not a smiling person,” Rico joked.

Rico stands in front of his painted counterpart on West 17th street. Photo by Dean Moses

When Residents of Elliott-Chelsea Houses like Phyre were asked to pose, her eight-year-old daughter‘s love for painting inspired her to get involved. 

“I did for my daughter. She really likes art and pictures, so I felt this would blow her away. What the artists did was amazing, it really brought energy and life to the community,” Phyre said, gazing upon her painted effigy.     

The artwork will be available to view until June, still, when it comes time to remove the display, it will continue to live on. According to artists Bharoocha and Lupianez, they will be gifting the portraits to those of their real-life counterparts.   

The mural at West 26th Street between 9th and 10th Avenue. Photo by Dean Moses

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