Recycled into art

Issa Sow breathes new life into scraps of wood in Hoboken Historical Museum exhibit

They say one man’s trash is another man’s treasure. This old adage couldn’t be truer for local artist Issa Sow who, in his latest exhibit, recycled old pieces of wood into canvasses for his colorful works of art.

The exhibit, “Hoboken, from Old to New” in the upper gallery of the Hoboken Historical Museum, features over two dozen paintings by Sow painted on cabinet doors, shutters, and unused pieces of wood found in town.

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The exhibit

“Everything is art in my mind,” said Sow. “When I saw it, I just got inspired by it.”

Sow said his goal was to make the wood more beautiful.

“My first thought was someone did a lot of work on it to make that material what it is,” said Sow speaking of the shutters and wood he used. “I see something beautiful and I thought, ‘what can I do to make it even more beautiful?’”

Sow said he is constantly inspired by the world around him and that every moment of the day is full of creation, whether it’s getting up to make breakfast in the morning for him and his family, or sitting in the studio.

He said he  wanted to show that many things can be repurposed and recycled.

“Everybody has to do something to help the world,” said Sow. “If we leave them there will just be more and more trash. We have to figure out a plan and do what we can. If everyone just did one thing the world would be cleaner faster.”

Sow said it took him only 15 days to create the pieces in the exhibit. The works of art, created with brightly hued oil pens, express a lot of different imagery including shapes, faces, and animals.

He said the faces show how all living things are connected.

“We are all the same. We are like the birds, the dogs, the cats, the mice and all human beings,” said Sow. “We all have two eyes and nose. It’s very important for me when you see birds and so many animals and don’t know what they are saying or where they are from, but yet we all live together.”

Artistic rebirth

Sow moved to Hoboken roughly eight years ago and opened his own gallery in the Neumann Leather Building at 300 Observer Hwy. nearly six years ago.

Sow, who is originally from Senegal, said one of the reasons he opened the Issyra Gallery was to learn English.

“I came here and I didn’t speak English,” said Sow, who had tried taking classes in the city before deciding to immerse himself in the language through everyday life at the gallery. “I didn’t have one teacher, I had 20 a day and this made me so happy. Everyone became my teachers. I made so many great friends.”

Sow said he had never done art formerly before he came to Hoboken but moving here he was “born again.”

“I was born again here to start a new life here. It’s a new book,” said Sow. “I am so happy to be here and to understand myself on another level. To understand myself in a different way through art and culture.”

“Everybody has to do something to help the world” — Issa Sow.

Issyra Gallery represents work from local and international artists from Africa as well as his own pieces.

It also hosts events which feature a variety of musicians, artists, and poets once a month in ONE ART-Hoboken.

“Hoboken, from Old to New” is on display in the Upper Gallery of the Hoboken Historical Museum, 1301 Hudson St. until March 10.

Museum hours are from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Thursday; 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Friday; and 12 p.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $5.

For updates on this and other stories keep checking and follow us on Twitter @hudson_reporter. Marilyn Baer can be reached at




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