Conversation-sparking art installation in Queens represents the power of COMMUNITY

Photos courtesy of José Carlos Casado


Politics and art have always been intertwined. Inject community into the mix, and you never know what pops up.

A thought-provoking, interactive public art installation by multi-media artist José Carlos Casado, in partnership with Queens Council on the Arts, has recently popped up in Jamaica’s Rufus King Park.

Come by soon and check out these conversation-sparking ArtSite sculptures now on view through April 2020. Titled, “Community: you never know your own language until you study another,” the work is about “who we are as individuals in this society, but especially who we are within a community,” according to the artist, who noted, “The sculpture represents traditional protest posters made for different public manifestations. Where protest signs normally reflect someone’s opinion on a matter, my sculptures become unique portraits of people from within the community.”

Casado lives in Harlem but spends most of his days in LIC, where his studio has been located for nine years. He is originally from Malaga, Spain, and has lived in NYC for the past 20 years.

Collaborating with ten local volunteers, the artist captured macro images of the palms of their hands and ran these photos through 3D imaging software, creating an abstraction of the hand. Each piece, which is a portrait of an individual in the richly multicultural community of Queens, has four elements: the front is an image of their hand; the color of the post is a Pantone color match of their individual skin color; the written message on the poles are words they used to describe themselves; and the final element can be seen with an augmented reality app designed for the artwork and is their response (using an emoji) to the question, ‘What do you think of the current situation of this country?’

“I want to represent the variety of people who live in Queens: all ages, races, genders and sexual orientations. I am unifying them by the distinctive way of representing them, but they still retain their uniqueness,” Casado explained.

He added: “I’m very interested in technologies and how they affect the way we interact, communicate and live. My artworks are always created through a combination of traditional and new media techniques.”

Participation is a key theme throughout his public artwork. The volunteers he worked with became an important part of the project and he plans on donating artwork to them as a sincere thank you.

On choosing Rufus King Park (named after Rufus King, one of the signers of the U.S. Constitution), Casado said, “It’s a beautiful park that plays an important role in the Jamaica community; a great location to hang out, relax and interact with neighbors. Unfortunately, parks outside Manhattan do not receive as much attention from public art institutions.”

As part of QCA’s 2019 Queens Arts Fund program, Casado will be creating a series of art performances around his “Community” sculptures: one will take place this summer and another in the fall.

The artist currently has another installation in a NYC park. His sculpture in Harlem’s Marcus Garvey Park titled, “I Don’t Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, Ah Me…” opened in October 2018. Casado said he took inspiration from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s poem “Sympathy,” which also inspired the title of Maya Angelou’s classic autobiography, “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings.” On view through Fall 2019, this

Interactive work also has an accompanying augmented reality app.

QCA helped Casado with funds, administrative and curatorial support. Through their ArtSite program, QCA activates spaces throughout Jamaica and Jackson Heights with a series of temporary public art installations, thus showing how art can transform a community. A key goal of ArtSite is to empower local artists to engage on a local level, understanding that they can be a catalyst for change.

Casado has created several public art projects, including at Socrates Sculpture Park and Castle Williams on Governors Island. His work has been shown in multiple solo and group shows internationally and has won numerous prizes and recognitions, including two grants from QCA and a grant from Picasso Foundation. He has participated in more than 20 international New Media Festivals, including Sundance.

“I believe public art has the power to make us think, feel and change the world. In my experience creating several public art projects, the deep value lies in the conversations they create and how they can change the way we view our surroundings,” Casado said, adding, “I have used my artwork to raise funds to build two schools in a small village in India. I think the impact of art is rarely so clear, but that doesn’t deter me from my belief that art matters and can affect change.”  

Unfortunately, the Rufus King Park sculptures were recently vandalized. One was broken and two were stolen. But Casado said he’s working on replacing them in the coming weeks.

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