Brushstrokes of peace and hope
Amitabh Sharma, Contributor
"The only time I feel alive is when I'm painting," said Vincent van Gogh. His feelings transcended into a yard in downtown Kingston, once a discarded warehouse, now transformed into a gallery al fresco.
Fleet Street, by no means the media district of London, is a narrow tar-paved road dotted with zinc-roof houses glistening in the tropical sunlight.
Embedded in the street is an abandoned warehouse, where a flurry of activity caught the attention of a lot of folks.
"This is a labour of love," said Marianna Farag, who conceptualised 'Paint Jamaica', an art and social-intervention project to beautify and transform spaces in the inner cities.
The idea, Farag explained, is to bridge the fission that distinctively divides Kingston. "The reality is that there are more good people than bad in these places," the former executive who hung up her crisp, corporate attire said, adding that through Paint Jamaica, she wanted to dispel the stigma attached to inner-city communities.
Farag, armed with the idea,
garnered support from friends, and turned to crowd funding to secure some financing and set out, with paintbrushes and paint cans, to add creative dimensions to the mundane surroundings of this inner-city community.
The artwork, developed and designed by local artists Taj Francis, Matthew McCarthy, and Kokab Zohoori-Dossa, was a result of the discussions with the residents of the community.
"For more than a month, prior to bringing brush to wall, the Paint Jamaica team had been talking with residents to understand their needs and aspirations," Farag said. "And their feedback translated to art on the walls."
And so began the journey of transformation, where the artists chose a section of the wall in the open space, and put their creative touches, people from the community - especially children - joined the process, lending their hand imprints to a white wall with 'PEACE' and 'LOVE' painted in cool blue, to leaving their footprints on the concrete floor ... a sign that a divine force had transcended to that space.
"Art has a singular language of love, and this (the Paint Jamaica project) aptly demonstrates it," said Matthew McCarthy, as he meticulously dabbed his paintbrush and gave finishing touches to a mural.
The rectangular discarded space, which once had garbage bags piled up, is telling stories and fables and is becoming a playground for children of the community.
"We did not want to come in and 'impose' our vision," Marianna said. "This is their community, after we leave, these walls belong to them ... so they had to drive our creative vision."
Some of the popular themes, she informed, were around unity, peace, and boosting self-esteem among the black female population.
In the process, she transformed herself from a visitor to the island to a friend of the people, and becoming one among them.
"Jamaica and the sandy beaches of Negril or Ocho Rios may be a dreamy travel destination for many," she said, "but I was moved by the smiles and warmth of the people in these communities."
The volunteers, artists, friends, associates even included visitors from the United States and the United Kingdom, Farag informed.
People of different backgrounds, who might have not come across each other, pooled their expertise to beautify the walls of this neighbourhood.
"We can use art to change people's perceptions about these areas and help bring more beauty and pride to those who reside there," Farag said.
This phase of Paint Jamaica, which concluded August 4, garnered following, both on social media and support from Tuff Gong Worldwide and Ziggy Marley.
Furthermore, Farag said, changing the visual landscape has helped reduce crime and littering.
"People have told us that when you beautify a street, locals are more likely to want to protect and preserve it... hence keeping criminal minds away from the area."
The artistic endeavour continues ... .