As the sun began to slowly set in Jersey City, Elianny Rodridguez was painting in bright colors on an eight foot panel lined up on a fence, surrounded by old-but-converted industrial factories in the Marion Section of the city.
With the sound of music playing, as well as the occasional whizz of the PATH train nearby, she put touches of yellow onto a blue and green mural depicting her grandma cooking Sancocho, a traditional Dominican Republic stew, as well as a cacao farm that her family owns.
It’s her first time participating in the Jersey City Art and Studio Tour, also known as JCAST, now running in its 32nd year.
“It’s special for me this year, specifically because I’m growing every day as an artist and I feel like this year I definitely made some breakthroughs,” she said. One of her breakthroughs was creating a few tables for a restaurant called “Emma’s” at the Journal Square PATH station.
“Everything that I’ve been doing so far, it’s more to add to the art in Jersey City, which is growing super fast,” she said.
Under the lights of Mana Contemporary and the Canco Lofts, Jersey City officially kicked off this year’s JCAST festivities, featuring musical performances, community galleries, as well as the current exhibitors in Mana.
Kimmy Sumony, a drag queen born and raised in Jersey City, MC’d the kickoff, saying that art is everything that they do, and it’s “extremely important” to be able to come, culminate and see all different types of it.
“I am a full time drag queen, so I am my own master,” they said. “I get to make myself up every time, so it’s extremely important to what I do. It’s my bread and butter. It’s how I pay my bills, how I make a living.”
Further emphasizing the presence of performance arts at JCAST was a Japanese ward drum performance by Taiko Masala, where the beat of the drums vibrated throughout the surroundings, as well as musicians at the nearby Canco Park.
Also taking part in the festivities was Mana Contemporary, an art gallery located in a former industrial factory, where many people were roaming the basement level halls to see the many exhibits on hand.
Physical Graffiti, who’s real name is Krystell Garcia, has been at Mana for a year. Having done music for 13 years, she said that she had a fascination with visual aesthetics, and decided to create a “creative ecosystem” called “Words Shapes and Colors.”
“It’s definitely abstract,” she said. “I like to call it intuitive painting, learning to abstract. I paint very intuitively, so for me, it’s a feeling. A lot of times I’m working through emotions, and I try to stay rooted in the solution of my life experiences, and so that’s what all these artistic expressions convey.”
Another artist, Mark Anthony McLeod, has also been at Mana for about a year, and focuses on mental health. “All my work is about self love and overcoming negativity, and I’m fighting to get to your best self, and it’s always functional,” he said.
One example of his works is a portrait of the poet Maya Angelou, with a Bluetooth speaker over her mouth that says “power”. “She always spoke power into words,” said McLeod.
One of the aspects of having JCAST at Mana for a number of artists was the community coming together. “I definitely feel part of the community,” said Osmeli Delgado, who had paintings on what she described as the “illusion of movement.”
“I think JCAST was a kind of glue on that, because it makes it easier for everybody to connect,” she continued. “Even though we are in Mana, you know, it was hard to get out the word than when we were showing our work with JCAST. It’s been easier and you feel supported by the community, you know?”
Physical Graffiti also said that the more she stays on her creative journey, she realized the importance of community.
“I think this is very important for not only artists, but for all the people that live in this area,” she said. “Art can be such a powerful, resourceful thing. So I think it’s just important to have these things in the community.”