Southeast Queens iconic figures celebrated on new public art exhibit in St. Albans

A group of artists created a block-long collection of murals that pay tribute to cultural icons of southeast Queens. (Photo courtesy of JCAL)

A block-long public art beautification project was unveiled Wednesday, Aug. 17, at the Daniel M. O’Connell Playground in St. Albans featuring portraits and inspirational quotes from famous icons associated with Queens across history and popular culture.

Queens Reflections fulfills the vision of former Councilman I. Daneek Miller, who assigned the project to the Jamaica Center for Arts & Learning (JCAL). Cambria Heights artist Eric Black was selected through a citywide open-call process. His murals depict LL Cool J, Q-Tip, Jackie Robinson, Count Basie, W.E.B. Dubois and even former U.S. Open tennis star Naomi Osaka, who learned the sport by playing on public courts in Jamaica.

“The cultural and intellectual icons and luminaries we’re honoring with this mural did not just help to shape the artistic legacy that defines who we are as a community,” Miller said. “They also worked to shape and intricately define our values. We now have an opportunity to recognize the sheroes and heroes of southeast Queens, control our own narrative, and tell our story not only in our own backyard but with the world.”

Miller thanked his successor Councilwoman Nantasha Williams for keeping his vision alive and seeing the project through to fruition.

“Beautification projects like this one in our district are incredibly important,” Willams said. “They not only allow for residents to take pride in their community but also embrace the rich history of southeast Queens. I would also like to thank the artist, Eric Black, for his artistic creativity in reimagining this block that truly reflects Queens.”

Black put together a team of young Queens artists including his best friend Adrian Brown, Nicole Wang, Justice Levenson and Levenson’s younger brother Tyler Blau, who is also an actor about to attend the LaGuardia School for the Performing Arts in Astoria.

“Queens Reflections is a visual trip down memory lane, paired with notable quotes that should inspire and motivate the viewer,” Black said. “It’s more than a collection of images. For me, it’s a museum outside that should take people through the rich and inspirational history of this part of Queens. I wanted to have a healthy mix of people from all aspects of life — some figures that people instantly recognize, to some that may be overlooked. These creative portraits should spark people’s memories and remind them of the power that we all have as individuals and as a collective.”

Exhibited through NYC Parks’ Art in the Park program, JCAL Manager of Special Projects Wendy Arimah Berot described the process of selecting Black.

“Competition was tough for this project,” she said. “Our objective was to select an artist who not only understood the roots of the community but has a personal connection to it. Eric, who is from Cambria Heights, possesses an artistic expression that fulfills both. His chosen balance of sensibilities and iconic figures speaks volumes to the richness of southeast Queens. We are extremely proud of the work he’s doing.”

A group of artists created a block-long collection of murals that pay tribute to cultural icons of southeast Queens. (Photo courtesy of JCAL)

JCAL Artistic Director Courtney Ffrench praised all involved in seeing the project through to completion.

“Like a well-trained 4×400 relay team, the baton started in the office of then-Council member Miller, then passed to JCAL, then to NYC Parks, and finally into the masterful hands of Eric Black,” Ffrench said. “What started as a dream has arrived.”

JCAL executive director Leonard Jacobs called Queens Reflections an eye-popping triumph of boundless imagination and endless pride.

“It proves yet again that right here, living among our families and friends and neighbors are some extraordinarily expressive and fiercely imaginative artists with the power and skill to draw all of New York City’s attention to the O’Connell Playground,” Jacobs said. “From the start, Eric Black showed that he was just such an artist — with the results now for all to see. How blessed are we to celebrate his work as he lifts up the legends of our community across time.”

A group of artists created a block-long collection of murals that pay tribute to cultural icons of southeast Queens. (Photo courtesy of JCAL)

Councilwoman Selvena Brooks-Powers was raised in the neighborhood.

“As someone who grew up around the corner from Daniel O’Connell Park and spent many summer days there, I am excited the community will be able to celebrate and memorialize a visual representation of Black excellence and recognize the contributions of our sheroes and heroes through this mural,” she said.