The lived experiences of the people in a community should ideally be reflected in public art displays. But that is not always the case in Bayonne, where commercial statues forged in a faraway warehouse stand along Broadway and a monument dedicated to the victims of the 9/11 attacks, although breathtaking, was created by an artist living in Russia.
Several Bayonne artists are starting to turn the tide for a project that made its way to Bayonne from Newark at last year’s Bridge Arts Festival. The colorful, tall art pieces were magnets for festival-goers, who posed for photos with the art in front of the Bayonne Bridge. Now, several Animodules created by Bayonne artists will go on display at the Bridge Arts Gallery on May 14.
Animodules, first created at the Barat Foundation in Newark, are colorful eight-feet tall animals cut from flat pieces of wood and painted by youth artists. The project started as a means of expression for Newark youth. The art pieces are on display at the Newark Airport and other locations around Newark. Former mayor and now presidential candidate Sen. Cory Booker named the Animodules the city’s “official peace ambassador.”
“They are called peace ambassadors because of their ability to bring people together and to start conversations,” said Chandri Barat, who founded the Barat Foundation with her husband Gary. “There’s always a story about them. To be representative of community and have the community’s voice honored in the public landscape encourages civic engagement.”
Smaller aluminum versions of the Animodules, painted by Bayonne artists, will go on display at the Bridge Art Gallery on May 14, followed by the Nassau County Art Museum, and then the Bridge Arts Festival in the fall.
“I’m taking a little bit of my culture and my own ideas of doing art to paint the Animodule,” said Nestor Uruga, a Mexican-American Bayonne artist who painted the Chuck Wepner mural on Broadway and the art mural outside BCB Bank on Avenue C.
His Animodule is not supposed to look like any one kind of animal, but rather a sort of amalgamation of different animals in spirit of the Mexican folk-art form, Alebrijes. His Animodule will resemble a dog, but with the face and hands of a boy.
“My culture is very colorful, especially in the state of Oaxaca. I’m not trying to make him look like an animal. I’m referencing my own Alebrijes,” said Uruga. “I’m mixing all my art and graffiti. So I’m doing something really modern, and at the time, classical from my culture.”
Maria Lupianez, who grew up in Bayonne and studied fine arts at NJCU, painted an Animodule that resemble a swan.
“I always put myself into my work. I look at myself. If you see me, I appear like a normal person. If you know my life story, I break all the norms. I’m very out of the box,” said Lupianez.
“Maybe the swan is like me. I want it to look like a normal stained glass piece, but have this glass shattering to show how I can be elegant, graceful, but also strong and not normal. I picture swans to be strong animals. People always forget that, although they seem graceful, they’re really strong.”
Another Bayonne artist, Nupur Nishith, is painting a lion. Her art is inspired by the Indian folk-art form, Mithila.
“Animals are generally a central part of my art form,” said Nishith. “You’ll see a lot of animals and birds in my paintings. I chose the swan and lion because, for me, they are the symbol of strength and vulnerability at the same time. They represent emotions and relationships that often aren’t found in humans.”
“When I first saw the Animodules in Newark, I became obsessed with them,” said Cheryl Mack, co-founder of the Bridge Arts Gallery with her husband, Christopher. “I thought it was such a unique public art display. I thought the artists could take the project to another level with the caliber and creativity of artists like Maria, Nester, Nupur, and Christopher. Here in Bayonne, it will be an innovative approach to public art.”
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