Friday, July 9, 2010

☞ SEE: Fifth on the Park Public Art

So those new statues at the towering condos at Fifth Avenue and 120th Street now seem to have made a mark in some of the local news. DNAinfo has an interesting video on the reaction to the Rubenesque forms that have surprised many folks in the area: LINK. Thoughts? Statue photo courtesy of DNAinfo. Facade photo by Ulysses


  1. Pass by this frequently (especially now on the way to and from the pool) and personally think people are working themselves up needlessly. It's a nice piece of sculpture. I reckon we should welcome public art wherever we find it and say thanks to those who commission it.

    Desperately needs a proper plinth, though. Wooden skid ain't making it.

  2. Modern day version of the Negro Lawn Jockey. These are "Nanny's on Break". They're not individual, actual humans with their own characters and traits. All Big Robust Africans women as we know all African women are big and robust, one size. No. They're dressed the same, wearing uniforms, they look the same in face & body, their hair is the same, there are entirely and completely "uniformed" as they are there to symbolize the NYC "Nanny". Again, modern day Negro Lawn Jockey caliber stuff. I call this, "Happy Negro Nanny's". The only thing missing is a Watermelon. Yes, I know the artist is Black. So. It's still total and complete modern day "Coon Art". And what a fitting location, in front of the well heeled. There are people that argue the merits and dignity of the Negro Lawn Jockey, and I am sure people will again argue the same merits of this version of the Negro Lawn Jockey.

  3. Anony 9:58 is spot on. My wife and I walked by there a couple weeks ago stunned. Its not nice at all - I mean WTF!!

  4. I like the sistas more than the towers.

  5. At least it has people talking!

  6. Damn. My nanny looks nothing like this and would probably be offended at the comparison.

  7. I call this "Mammy, Aunt Jemima, & Precious. Fat Black house cleaners deserve being immortalized in statue, no?

    Why, especially in Harlem, reinforce in art that Black women can be fit, educated, and empowered when you can conjure all the classic stereotypes and historic depictions of the Black woman? Fat, Black Servants in uniform!

    I say Bravo to the artist! It's very difficult to manage installing pejorative portrayals of Blacks in Harlem. Usually a few pesky Blacks with self esteem and dignity put a stop to it. Yet miraculously in 2010, this one got in. Just don't let Al Sharpton or Blacks with dignity and esteem catch wind of this. They might actually see how offensive this is and object to it, mount a protest, and this art will have to be shipped off to Bensonhurst, Mississippi or Pretoria.

  8. People give my babysitter shit constantly on the streets in Harlem to the point of where I wonder if she'll just up and quit one day. I always wondered why people would give someone who is just trying to earn a living such a hard time, plus I cant believe they'd say the things they say in front of a small child, who doesn't understand why he's different than her. (he's white, she's black) And now I know it's you assholes! Great to know. Spread the hate. Create yet another generation of racists. How proud you must feel after demeaning a hard working black woman and making a 3 year old feel scared and upset.

  9. PEOPLE......PLEASE !!!

    It is ART ! Art is supposed to represent everybody. Where do folks get the idea that these Sista's are maids ??? Where do you see children ? pots and pans ? Did I miss something ?? And if they were maid what is wrong with that ? I am sure that all of us African Americans have folks who were Doctors, bankers, teachers , unemployed and yes maids! When well we be able to look ourselves and LOVE ALL ASPECTS ? I am never ashamed of people in my family that had to do what they needed to to to survive.If it wasn't for them where do you think you would be ? Or if you WOULD be !?

    We come in all shapes, sizes and colors as black folks...Why do we have to tear down a prospective our our lives we don't like. Celebrate it ! These woman are sitting together talking enjoying their bond..And folks walk by criticizing because they "represent a negative stereotype" ? Please ! Do you criticize Picasso because he was fond of fuller forms ? Do we criticize Vandersee because he preferred sepia toned photos..Or Chanel because she liked suits ? PLEASE ! and lastly just because you have issues with weight doesn't mean everyone else does ! Art represents all of us !

    I for one want to sit with these ladies and talk !

  10. Art -- at least good art -- is bound to be provocative and to strike people in sharply divergent ways. That seems to be the case here...

  11. @Sanou's Mum - just yesterday someone said "You know that had to be a white kid in there the way you're walking around all high and mighty. Just wait till they fire your black ass and see how superior you feel then!" and that was just yesterday. She was literally just pushing him in his stroller to the subway.

    Worst one she's ever told me about (and she doesn't always tell me) was someone calling her a house n****r. My son asked her, and then later us, what that word means (the n word). It's all really confusing to him as you can imagine. But I worry more that we'll lose her because she doesn't want to deal. She's worked in a million NY 'hoods and never had anyone say anything to her.

  12. Anon @ 12:18pm...I rarely use this term...but WTF?! That did not make any sense AT ALL. With all due respect, the only people I have heard using the N word in Harlem are the black people. If that isn't confusing for a young kid, I don't know what is. What are they supposed to think at that age?

  13. @12:34

    House jigger as opposed to field jigger.

    @11.14. Wow. Sorry. Don't know what to say. Speechless.

  14. MsCiara, these women are not individual humans, nor meant to be. There is nothing in their portrayal to separate them and give them their own personalities or distinction. Not in face, hair, shape of face, features, all with no jewelry, no shoes, same hairstyle, look, and body. They are in the same uniform. They have the same boob size. I've never seen 3 people look so exactly the same, in such detail, other than in oppressive environments (prison, servants, religious cults, citizens living under dictators in China, N Korea, Burma etc.). These women are not expressive in any way, separate from each other, consistent with how Cult Leaders and Dictators subject the people people they control to be. That in and of itself speaks to these woman as art are "automatons". That's obvious and clear, they are basically automatons. That's not free, vibrant, lovely, or pretty. These women are not allowed to be their individual selves. One cannot have a necklace, the other a ring, the other a bow in her hair, the slightest bit of distinction is not allowed. These women are in an oppressive situation, one wherein they are not allowed to be human, individuals, they have to be the same.

    Placing art like this in front of a high rise exclusive to upper income people, in a community where the average income COULD NOT QUALIFY to rent or buy at the building, but they can work there as servants, housekeepers, and nanny's is a bit too obvious. It's the "Haves" and the "Have Nots". Those Black women are the underclass, the automaton, they are widgets and at the service of the machine (The Haves that dwell where they sit).

    This art, placed where it is, speaks to the division of Harlem, the "HAVES and the HAVE NOTS". These women are not in a good way, not empowered, not healthy, not in a place anyone would like to be.

  15. Uh, didn't mran to type jigger. Wrong key.

    Well, saved me from having to type actual word.

  16. The biggest racists in Harlem are old black men! I am sick and tired of being told to get out! I love the neighbourhood and I love Harlem!

    These people know nothing about me or my (immigrant) background. But because I have white skin I am not suppose to live north of 96th Street? You guys sucks!

    PS: Young people tends to be alot more friendly and open minded! Thanks guys!

  17. Anon 9:58,

    "They're dressed the same, wearing uniforms, they look the same in face & body, their hair is the same.."

    Did it ever come across to you that it could be the same person? Maybe it's a snap shot of her at different times of the day? Stop bitching.

  18. The artist is studying for an MFA degree, which means he knows the 1920s work of Picasso, who created voluptuous female form to touch something more transcendental than had been the case in his immediately previous work. Think: Earth mother ? Primal female ? There are other interpretations of Picasso's return to classicism, of course.

    The figures are not "individuals" because they are meant to be transcendental, across time. It does not mean that the artist is asserting that black women are not individuals ... On the contrary, he probably means to celebrate something enduring.

    Check this out:

    A Largeness of Soul

    Okonkwo, who depicts women in much of his artwork, said his rotund figures also symbolize "The abundance of life and an outward manifestation of a largeness of soul." He likes the fluid lines and simple, elegant shapes embodied in the female form, and in the arrangement of their large, round shapes he finds his ideal of order, balance and beauty.

    Okonkwo’s unique depictions of women are also influenced by his native culture. "In Nigeria, womanhood is venerated. The varied emotions that my sculpture captures reassure the keen viewer of the depth and the beauty of the human experience."


  19. 12:50 said, "The biggest racists in Harlem are old black men!" " I have white skin I am not suppose to live north of 96th Street?".

    That's because old Black men have been called N*##er countless times in their lives and told not to live below 96th Street. This may shock you but there are Black people alive today that have been discriminated against here in New York City for over half a Century.

    I know "Old Black Men" whose friends were lynched, who could fight for the USA in war but could not go to certain schools or be allowed in certain hotels or restaurants in the USA, all because they were Black.

    If you were on he receiving end of discrimination and all sorts of sh*t for several decades, you too would probably hate symbols of your historic oppressor.

    I know lots Jewish people who would never buy a German car, or a German product, or German anything and they hate Germans in general. I can understand that. I am not saying it's right, it's just how they feel due to real life matters.

    So the next time and Old Black Man tell you to get the F*ck out of Harlem, it's just a reflection of what society has put in that man. He's basically saying, "You White Sons of Bitches have screwed me over in all sorts of ways for 50 years and I am sick of it". It's not right, it just is. It is what it is. Frankly I am amazed more Blacks have not gone completely Colin Fergueson and flat blasted more Whites down.

  20. 2:35, you completely blow your case with the spectre of Colin Ferguson. You have some serious anger issues my man. I don't think you are in any position to be speaking for others.

    And weren't we discussing Art with a cap A?

  21. Never had a problem with the old black guys. They have actually been really friendly. In fact, I haven't had a problem at all over the past year and certainly haven't been told to get out.

  22. This conversation is interesting, Thanks for bringing it up. There so many Anonymous' on the blog I can respond !(side point, why do some many folks on this site not name themselves ??) One had the wisdom to find the artist's description. A Largeness of Soul.....I LOVE IT.. Another said that were not meant to represent human's that there is no features, etc..They are in the human form, please ! Someone brought up that they could be the same person. Possible....My thing is they represent a part of us. I link from yesterday to today. Any anyone who is ashamed of seeing round humans holding each other , leaning on each other and caring for each other...has got some SERIOUS issues !

    Thanks Sanou's Mum, you rock too !

  23. This is racist and offensive? Pfui. It is clearly in the school and style of Fernando Botero. To call is racist (or anything else political) is to be ignorant of contemporary art.

  24. Oh yes, we are discussing art ;) Felt awful for the guy when I heard he was in tears about the deluge of criticism for the piece. Not an art expert by any means, but why try to dig and find a problem when there really isn't one? My looks like a celebration of togetherness, bonding, relationships...all that good stuff.

  25. Many of Diego Rivera's figures resemble these women as well. That would also be a "public art" connection. Rivera was a muralist. The Bottero observation is good but he uses the voluptuous form for different reasons, I think.

    Question: To the people who find or found the work offensive, what would "good" representations look like ?

    Is there a connection between representing in art and actual lived conditions for people ? How does that work ?

    I am not being sarcastic at all. I am interested in people's opinions.

  26. Something tells me that the individuals who are upset, would be upset regardless as to what was represented. If the figures were thin, they would complain that they don't embrace the fullness of the African-American and Latino women of the Harlem community. That could say that the pieces were trying to appeal to a European asthetic. As someone pointed out, most people in the area can't afford to live in the building in which this pieces sits so, if the figures were obviously of the affluent class (which I personally can't tell class from this piece) then people would say that they looked down upon the working class of the nabe. Point is: If you look for a problem (no matter how large or small) you will almost always find one. Some people are just in the habit of searching out things to complain about.

    There is plenty of insulting "art" around Harlem in the form of liqour ads and profanity laced graffiti in the train stations and on the walls of abandoned buildings that deserve outrage more than this piece.

    Art is supposed to provoke. It is a tangible representation of the artist's world view and self expression. The artist has placed this here to inspire or provoke. The reaction it gets is primarily based on the receiver's specific POV of the world at large. If you see the world as largely racist (be it from personal experiences or those of others) then that's how you'll interpret a piece like this. If you are someone who tried to extend the benefit of the doubt first, then maybe you won't view the piece as racist. But either way, your response is more telling of your POV than the artist's.

    As for those individuals who feel as though Blacks in Harlem are being racist towards them, realize that you can't take it personal. There have been huge injustices committed against minorities in this country in the past and yes still in the present. Racisim is not dead. It has made strides, but it still lives. And there are people who still live with the demons and side effects of those terrible acts committed against them for no more than the color of their skin. Moving to a community largely made up of minorities who have collectively been discriminated against (and still are in this very city in certain stores and neighborhoods) as well as not having truly equal access to great schools and public services, you have to expect there will be some level of difficulty with fitting in. Not saying you don't have a right to be in Harlem, I'm just don't take it personal. Understand that people come from a place of past experiences (all of us do) and sometimes from those hurt places, we lash out at others.

    If each of us endeavors to be an investor in the community by using our time and resources to give back and not simply be a consumer and live here for the more affordable rent/ownership as compared to the rest of the city, maybe some of these issues would cease to exist.

  27. Uhgg.. I do not know where to start first, so I will try to keep it simple.. I think those people who are seeing something in this sculpture that is not there are reflecting their own feelings and insecurities. Art by definition is the feeling it incites in the viewer. I dare say art that can manifest such social reflection to bring one to the completely arbitrary, and I might add delusional, conclusion that these women are wearing maids uniforms digs deep. The reality is that the sculpture is beautiful, and ugly, and is whatever you want it to be. But wrong, no it is successful and remarkably well executed for an MFA student. Quite your crying Okonkwo, you are actually an artist.

    And.... to defend any racism, young or old, learned or witnessed is a sorry state. Its keep us all from growing.

  28. In no other neighborhood in this city is a businessperson, a developer, a restauranteur, an educator, the parks dept, or a city agency subjected to the "what are you going to do for our community" blather to such an extent as Harlem.
    What has this community done for itself in the past 25 years?
    From what I have witnessed, countless people and entities of enormous good will have invested in every way, shape, and form to make this a better place.
    Stop complaining, accept change, and take responsibility.

  29. I second everything Anon 5:03 just said. Racism is racism, regardless of where it comes from, or to whom it is directed. There is no point defending it (if you do, you're only fostering more racism in the future).

    As a father of a two-year old, I've become very sensitive to the issue, and it makes me furious. Neither blacks nor whites are innocent here; you all disgust me at one time or another..

    P.S. -The debate over this silly statue is ridiculous.

  30. Hallelujah, Anon 5:03 and Anon 6:00!

    I love the increasingly multicultural Harlem! :)

  31. Whatever sculpture Fifth on the Park chooses to display will certainly evoke criticism and claims of racism from some in Harlem, my advise to the artist and the building, take no notice of the angry few, because for some, whatever is associated with this building will always invoke claims of racism.

    Regarding the occasional racism towards new comers, there is no excuse for this and to justify it is really sad. When I came to Harlem I was under the mistaken belief that those hat had suffered racism would be the last to inflict it on others, that I have discovered unfortunately is not always the case.

    Back to the art itself, and this discussion, it has been a very interesting to read peoples understanding of the work, for me it represents a lot of the warmth and neighborliness that makes Harlem special and is a positive contribution to the street. I think is great that fifth on the Park has chosen this positive addition to the neighborhood.

  32. This African American woman thinks it's a beautiful and soulful piece of art. My heart aches that we have suffered so much as a people that we find negativity and demeaning messages almost everywhere. God help us.

  33. Ulysses, it would be nice if you could find a way to forward the messages of support to the artist. There are some wonderful responses here. After all of this, I would hate for him to go away thinking that he or his work is not wanted in Harlem, when in fact, I think the vast majority of those who have taken time to reflect upon his work, think it is a wonderful piece of art.

  34. 6:00 said, "In no other neighborhood in this city is a businessperson, a developer, a restauranteur, an educator, the parks dept, or a city agency subjected to the "what are you going to do for our community" blather to such an extent as Harlem".

    That's because Harlem is largely a community of expected entitlement and benefactors of social welfare galore, cradle to grave. It's the White people's fault. If you just honored your end of the agreement, 40 acres and a mule, none of this would be necessary, we would have been "square".

    But you did not, you once again F'ed over the Black man, failed to honor your agreement and the consequence is lifetime entitlement. You did it to yourselves. Housing, Food, Medical, you name it, it's all coming out of your pocket! We're entrenched, our numbers vast, we ain't going no where!

  35. Anon 2:03 :
    If I am not mistaken the most successfull old black man on planet Earth is a certain guy in South Africa bearing the name Nelson Mandela! He has been through far greater challenges in life than probably any black person living in Harlem today, and still he is able to put justice, forgiveness and reconciliation before revenge, hate and unjustified cries of racism.

  36. OK....

    I'm going to put an "END" to this...

    All you people do a Google search on an artist
    named (Fernando Botero) and determine if his
    art is offensive!!

  37. Botero's work contains political commentary or satire, though. I do not think this artist uses the monumental forms with the same intention.
    Here, I think the monumental female form is meant to convey warmth, solidity, strength, dignity, as enduring values that are very present.
    While Botero probably intends to offend, subtly but firmly, I do not think this is Okonkwo's intention.

  38. And if Fifth on the Park had chosen a sculpture of white people instead, the same people would be denouncing it as racist. Can't win.

  39. anonymous 8:15: You are the reason harlem is still entrenched in remaining crime and violence. I walked side by side with people of all color to be educated and prosper in in todays society. Every person has the anility to treat one another with love and be succesful and prosper today. It is unfortunate that was not the case in an earlier time. But that is not the case today. Until we get over this latent entitlement and racism we will never grow as a community. You make me sad, and you suppress the ability for both white and black people to flourish.

  40. What's offensive is the monstrosity next to the sculpture and all it represents. The sculpture is art, you can love it or hate. The other is an ugly symbol of the chasm between the classes; a place where only the wealthy can reside.

  41. Anonymous 9:00pm said, "All you people do a Google search Fernando Botero and determine if his
    art is offensive!!

    Okay, I did. Yes, in Botero's Abu Ghraib collection, the painting with the man face down on the floor, blind folded, hands bound, facial expression of despair and fear, ass exposed, and a ferocious dog on top of him appearing to be ready to f*ck him in the ass, literally doggy style. I am not big on zoophilia, beastiality, and rape and to answer you, yes, I find this work of Botero offensive. If you hung this painting in front of Posh Paws on 115th & 8th Ave. most of the public would also find this "art" offensive.

    Your point is??????

  42. Anonymous

    Fernando Botero is NOT THE ARTIST whose sculptor we are talking about !

    Look at THIS link From

    Okonkwo is the artist, after reading about him do you honestly believe his objective is a negative one ?

  43. I understand Nnamdi Okonkwo to be a card carrying member of the The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - the Mormons.

    (1) Now how on earth does any Black person on the planet get down with Mormonism? That in itself merits debate on the Black person's intelligence, awareness, esteem, self-identity, etc.

    (2) Many well reasoned, bright, well schooled people, historians, etc. consider The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints - the Mormons to be a cult anyway. Google it, whether they indeed are a cult is clearly open for debate.

    The point? Yes, you show me a Black person that's a card carrying Mormon and I'll show you a Black person lacking in self-identity, esteem, awareness, history, of their ethnicity, just out of touch culturally.

    I completely believe a MORMON is CLUELESS on how offensive this art is, placed where it is. A Fat Black woman or women (take you pick ) of labor, a house laborer or a Nanny's (no jewelery, no expression, just the appearance of fatigue, nothing but a generic uniform, etc.) greeting all the wealthy people in their out of place wealthy building. It's a joke. It's modern day Negro Lawn Jockey Caliber stuff.

    Yes, the fact that this Black artist is a Mormon is relative as it speaks to their lacking in their own ethnic identity, esteem, awareness, and history. It's crazy for anyone to buy into the cult of the Mormons. For a Black person to is simply crazy x 2 = Nnamdi Okonkwo, talent artist, but clueless as a Black man.

  44. Poster at 2:17: There is no such thing as "black" identity that all of a certain race must assume or be wrong. A statement that too often follows, in this kind of essentialist thinking, is, "He think he white ..." I have heard this many times. There are many factors that work out to form identity - class, nationality, religion, level of education, and so on.

    That people can somewhat freely choose to be whatever they want is actually a good thing. You can criticize Mormonism, if you want, but it is highly unethical to state that as a BLACK person, this guy is wrong to be a Mormon. This is precisely the thinking behind racism.

  45. My son’s Godfather became a Mormon and he’s from Congo. Go figger. To me, an odd choice but his choice. Does it make him any less Black? I don’t think so.

    So unless you know Mr. Okonkwo personally I respectfully suggest you refrain from judging him other than as an artist.

  46. 2:55 said, "..(in reference to the artist) it is highly unethical to state that as a BLACK person, this guy is wrong to be a Mormon.

    Unethical?, more like accurate, appropriate, and clear. In case you forgot, according to the Mormons, Black-skinned people are of inferior origin - mormonism teaches that the spirit beings that did not fight valiantly for God come to earth as blacks, while those who fought valiantly come to earth as whites. Until very recently blacks could not become priests in the mormon system of worship for reasons related to this and other demeaning doctrines. This is why I say Black people aligning with an organization of this foundation clearly lack in their own Black identity, esteem, integrity, awareness, you name it.

    The fact that Nnamdi Okonkwo is a card carrying Mormon says a lot to me. If some considered a piece of art as "anti-semitic", and you later learned the artist was a card carrying member of an organization that viewed Jews inferior people, you would not argue the possible influence of the artist and the nexus.

    What's the difference here?

  47. Poster 5:06 says: "Until very recently blacks could not become priests in the mormon system...Black people aligning with an organization of this foundation clearly lack in their own Black identity, esteem, integrity, awareness"

    Well from that you would have to extrapolate that all women (of any race, creed, or color) lack integrity, esteem, etc. given their treatment at the hands of organized religion...

    So poster 5:06, whoever you are, stop being so focused on your own crap.

  48. Hey, we Episcopalians have women priests and bishops. And gay women priests and bishops.

    But yeah, this thread began as a discussion of the sculptor's art and ended as a personal attack on the man and that just ain't right.


    At 9:58 Anon proclaims how racist the sculpture is in its depiction of black women as "a one size fits all" and that "the only thing missing is a watermelon"

    THEN at 2:17 the very same poster bashes the artist's religious beliefs and declaring that all Mormons are clueless as Mormonism is a cult religion, dumping all of it's members into a one-size-fits-all category.

    Doesn't this sound familiar? (It's the same commenter given the encore use of the "Negro Lawn Jockey" phrase.)

    You've just pissed all over you're original argument by showing your hypocrisy. Thank you for wasting our reading time with your bogus input.

  50. wow, it sounds to me like people who take offense easily are people who have issues themselves and will find offense in anything.

    But back to the topic at hand, If you do a little research you'll find that this came from very humble beginnings himself, learned to play basketball to pursue the dream of coming to America. Then continued with that dream and earned a bachelors and masters in fine art and has created something from his heart to depict how he feels about "friendship" and ironically there are many people out there being unfriendly about it.

    This artist just won Best of Show this weekend at the Buffalo Grove Art Festival in IL. Good for him!!

  51. I'm Nnamdi's mother-in-law. I'm a "fluffy" white woman--Mormon, too. Nnamdi's wife is thin blond woman, sweet and kind and "color-blind". Our grandchildren are lovely and bi-racial. We are family. Now someone find fault with that!

    I saw Nnamdi labor over that work of art for two years! No one knows what he put into that piece. It's beautiful and moving. Remember, "we see the world not as it is but as we are". Thank you for seeing beauty in this sometimes ugly world, Nnamdi.

  52. I am appalled at the anger and hostility expressed over this peaceful, loving piece of art. To me it represents sisters who are totally comfortable with each other and non-judgemental. What a rare and wonderful thing!

    What we see in art represents who we are, and obviously the people who are complaining have issues to resolve which are truly unrelated to the art. It is arrogant in the extreme to attach a different motive to the artist than the one he has expressed himself. Many of these comments have been hurtful and demeaning and are unjustified. I've appreciated those which have been thought provoking and insightful.

    I applaud the artist who sees beauty in the woman who does not fit the model expected today. Let's look for beauty, folks, and let's be kind.