21. Alphabet City Mural
NOAH JEMISIN & NORA JEMISIN
1985, 18’ x 13’
NOAH: In summer 1985, my daughter Nora was making her annual visit to New York City and I thought collaborating on a mural might provide a good lesson and learning experience... a way to take art directly to the public by avoiding the middle man. I also hoped that working together would foster a close camaraderie and interrelation with my daughter, an artist in her own right.
Alphabet City Mural honors the many activists I worked with during my days in Birmingham and Montgomery, AL, fighting for civil rights and opposing the Vietnam War. The mural served as an abstraction for all those brave souls who struggled to get the community’s attention, who fought against the many inequities and miscarriages of justice occurring around the world.
I was a member of Artists Against Apartheid and fought vigorously for Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island. [Mandela was imprisoned from 1962 to 1990.] I also protested Reagan’s secret wars in El Salvador and Nicaragua through PAD/D (Political Art Documentation/Distribution) and was the executive director of the Bronx River Art Center and Gallery which served as a catalyst for cleaning up the Bronx River and reviving the South Bronx.
NORA: That summer was hot as hell, and the only thing worse than staying inside and sweating was going outside in the sun and sweating. I remember ‘hating’ going to work due to the heat. I did it anyway, because Dad needed the help, but man, I earned my daughter points that summer. I remember walking over the Williamsburg Bridge. Back in the 80s, the city was falling apart... and there were giant rusted holes in the pedestrian bridge, big enough for a small child to fall through. I remember standing for hours in a weedy lot, handing Dad tools while he worked. l remember climbing a ladder and carefully painting within lines he’d drawn, and the smell of paint which I still love. I remember seeing a poster with the slogan ‘La Lucha Continua’. I looked up lucha in my Spanish textbook, and did not find it. I did not learn the word for ‘struggle’ in school. I remember running though the spray of open fireplugs. When we had an especially productive day, I would persuade Dad to take me to this little place under the train that sold fatty, crispy Cubano sandwiches. I remember nights walking back across the bridge, forgetting about the holes that could have killed me, because... I was so consumed with the creative thoughts that spilled out of me. Dad suggested I become a writer then, but I laughed it off. I didn’t think it was possible, practical, however much I enjoyed it. But you know... I don’t remember the mural itself. Isn’t that strange?
Residing in Brooklyn, Noah describes himself as an “artist, professor, and world traveler.” His works are in private and public collections including the Metropolitan Museum of Art. He wrote and illustrated with 25 gouache paintings Buried Treasure: The Story of the First African Americans in New York, published in 2015.
Nora lives in Brooklyn and is an author of speculative fiction short stories and novels. Often nominated for Hugo, Nebula, and World Fantasy Awards, she won a Locus Award for Best First Novel. In 2016 she became the first black writer to win the Best Novel Hugo for The Fifth Season. nkjemisin.com