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Southeast Queens organization debuts outdoor art exhibition at Flushing Town Hall

SEQAA's "Out Front 24/7 Banner Project" on Flushing Town Hall’s garden fence on Northern Boulevard will be on display until Sept. 3. (Photo by Jacqueline Herranz-Brooks)

When the Southeast Queens Artists Alliance (SEQAA) was established five years ago, its mission was to nurture local talent and to support cultural programming by artists who want to share their work with people in the community and beyond. 

This month, SEQAA, which includes a group of visual artists and writers, debuted its “Out Front 24/7 Banner Project” that is installed on Flushing Town Hall’s garden fence on Northern Boulevard, and will be on display until Sept. 3. 

The project showcases the works of 14 Queens-based artists, which evolved organically from ideas and sketchbooks the artists kept during the pandemic and sometimes shared with each other over Zoom calls. 

(Photo by Jacqueline Herranz-Brooks)

“We have always been interested in doing public work, especially this year in particular, since a lot of indoor spaces and cultural spaces were shut down during the pandemic,” said Rejin Leys, an artist, and one of the co-curators of the outdoor exhibition. 

The original works, reproduced on weatherproof vinyl banners, encompass a variety of mediums and styles reflecting the diversity of contemporary artistic practice in southeast Queens. The exhibition captures the loneliness of the pandemic, daily rituals created to dispel the solitude, and a turn toward nature and transcendence as a source of comfort.  

Artist Lisa Wade (r.) speaks with a visitor about her artwork entitled “Mercy” which speaks to the theme of compassion. (Photo by Jacqueline Herranz-Brooks)

During its in-person exhibition walkthrough held on Wednesday, Aug. 18, SEQAA’s participating artists reflected on how they coped during quarantine while the city was shut down to curb the spread of the coronavirus. 

Artists and visitors gathered on the Flushing Town Hall patio. (Photo by Jacqueline Herranz-Brooks)

According to Leys, for some artists, it was an opportunity to regroup and focus on what was important to them. 

“The art world is very career oriented and to go to a lot of events and keep up with what everyone is doing, it was an opportunity for us to slow down and focus,” Leys said. “As artists, we tend to work alone or work from home much of the time.” 

For Leys, who uses a language of symbols and images of personal significance and combines them in different ways in her drawings, she was comfortable working alone in her studio creating art. 

With an ongoing interest in dream number books, which some people use to play lottery numbers, Leys made an updated dream number book (in Kreyol and English) so readers could look up images related to COVID-19 from the anxiety and dreams so many of them were experiencing, she said.

Leys’ artwork, “Glow/Emerge” is a digital collage incorporating text from that dream book with an imagery meant to serve as a reminder that although we were apart, we were never alone despite the isolation of the lockdown period.

“Glow/Emerge” by artist Rejin Leys. (Photo courtesy of Leys)

“For this banner, I combined some of the words and numbers from the dream book with a butterfly image, which is kind of a hopeful symbol of re-emergence and warm colors that symbolize a sense of optimism and hope,” Leys said. 

Other artists’ works featured in the exhibition includes capturing the haunting emptiness of New York City’s public tables and benches, an abstract composition of interior spaces to reflect the claustrophobia of staying indoors for a long time period, and a painting representing a community working together. 

Artist Natali Bravo-Barbee’s “The Day No One Showed Up” was inspired by the shelter-in period during the pandemic. (Photo by Jacqueline Herranz-Brooks)

For the exhibition, SEQAA also invited their friends from the Flushing community to expand its circle and extend the opportunity to those artists to share their work with the community.

Flushing artist Naomi Kuo’s “My YouTube Algorithm Says I Can Be Self-Sufficient” is a digital collage of screenshots from YouTube videos that have been her companions through the pandemic. (Photo courtesy of Kuo)

While SEQAA will continue to present outdoor artwork for the public’s viewing pleasure, Leys said she hopes that events will still be accessible to an online audience after the pandemic. 

“It’s good for people, such as parents who couldn’t make it to events, disabled people who are unable to access venues and those who live far away, to be able to access these events and it helps to reach a wider geographic audience,” Leys said. “We hope that the work we were able to keep doing and keep sharing brought comfort and enrichment to people who might not have been able to go to venues or concerts or experience the cultural events they would have in-person.” 

The outdoor exhibition will be accessible day and night at Flushing Town Hall and will then be moved to the fence surrounding King Manor Museum in Jamaica from Sept. 8 to 24. There will be a closing reception on Sept. 18 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. at King Manor Museum, located at 150-03 Jamaica Ave. 

SEQAA’S “Out Front 27/7 Banner Project” is coordinated and curated by Leys, Shilpi Chandra and Elizabeth Velazquez. The project is funded by a grant from the Queens Council on the Arts. For more information on the exhibition, visit seqaa.org.

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