Here Goes Something: Brooklyn Navy Yard

This project was a collaboration between the Brooklyn Navy Yard’s BLDG92, PS 307, and NYC youth. The project was executed in two parts; the first half was conceptualized and executed by fourth graders from PS307, and the second half was conceptualized and executed by youth artists employed by Groundswell.

Artists: Mensen, Esteban del Valle, and Joel Bergner
Youth Artists:  (Fourth and Fifth Graders from PS307) Brandon Manual Yurnett, Ashley Rivera, Teiara Debra Afful, Prince Haynes, Princess Haynes, Makaiya Grant, Jada Wood, Sherlyn Pinada, Nazir Inniss, Darrell Mcleod Eljin, Darien Chalmers, Madison Guzman, Deon Reid, Andre Colazo, Baraka Hackett, Quindon Malone, Sharay Hannah, Carla Rios, and Ashanti.  (SLI participants): Nyasia Victor, Kassandra Trinidad, Aaron Ruiz, Alexander Battle, Jasmine Benitez, Jake Ganpat, Gabriella Grafakos, Alyssa Lau, Gary Johnson, Alexis Meza, Oluwatobi Oyinde, Keyla Rijo, and Nathaniel James.

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Overview:  “Here Goes Something” is an imaginative archive-based historical narrative that illustrates 300 years of symbiotic sociopolitical exchange between the Brooklyn Navy Yard and the multi-ethnic, multi-cultural workers in its surrounding community. While the emphasis is on highlighting craftsmanship, manual labor and service, the mural also depicts technological innovations in communication and shipbuilding.  This project was inspired by the work of historian Howard Zinn, who cut his teeth as an organizer at the Brooklyn Navy Yard prior to becoming a bombardier in WW2. While the history is specific to the Yard, each era refers to a larger American socio-political narrative. If you look closely at any industrial space in this country, you will find the story of the working class and working poor people whose labor this country is founded on. By framing the history of the yard from a people’s lens, we intended to transform the wall of the Navy Yard from what was once perceived as a barrier by the community into a porthole that reveals their ownership of the space through time.

Working with PS307:  The mural team worked closely with archivists, tour guides, historians and administrators from the Brooklyn Navy Yard to research the history of BNY and the surrounding community from the 1600’s-early 1900’s. We toured the yard, visited the museum and engaged in investigative research. The youth engaged in a number of collaborative drawing, writing and collage exercises, referencing historical archival photos and translating their knowledge of innovations in technology, the history of the Yard and the role of work into whimsical imagery.

Working with SLI: For this half of the mural, the emphasis is on the relationships between workers, community members and present-day tenants of the Navy Yard from the WPA era to the present day. The mural includes allusions to future visions. In order to fully explore the dynamism of the present-day industrial park, youth participants were trained and acted as oral historians to interview contemporary
people of interests with diverse relationships to the yard.  Some of these people included local principals, community organizers, business owners, yard workers and a couple that met at the yard many decades ago.

Narrative:

PS307: The design reads from right to left and is divided into 5 historical periods, interspersed with dynamic compositional elements. The palette loosely references WPA era murals. Each section is anchored by a purple figure in a fanciful boat based on drawings done by the youth referencing era-specific shipbuilding technology. The interior of each “porthole” is rendered in grayscale and neutral blues. The wall begins with the text, “Here Goes Something”, based on the quote from Eugenia Farrar who, in the early 1900’s, famously prefaced the first-ever wireless broadcast by stating “Here goes something into nothing.” A homing pigeon carries a message toward the rest of the mural, indicating that the wall should be read from right to left. The first section represents the first inhabitants of this area, the Lenape people, who used the bay to fish for sturgeon and collect oysters. A sturgeon brings forth rolling waves of water that transitions into a millwheel, representing the harnessing of the bay and river by early farmers and villages. The next section shows a farmer in a wind-andsail boat, holding wheat to remind us that Brooklyn was once New York City’s bread basket. Behind the field in the porthole we can see the British Prison Ships, where more Americans died during the Revolutionary War than on the fields of battle. A large gold anchor, playfully referencing the anchor BLDG 92 was built around, indicates the beginning of the modern Navy Yard in the early 1800’s. The steam and sail ship shows a worker looking at a plan, and inside the porthole, which is the center of the piece, we see large hands tying a symbolic reef or square knot and a wooden ship being built, bringing attention to the central role of skilled craftsmanship and the legacy of labor done by hand. The rope being tied by the reef knot connects the 1700’s, a time when the surrounding lands were being harnessed, tamed and developed, with the late 1800’s, when the industrial revolution radically altered the relationship between workers and labor. The section depicting the 1800’s shows a worker in a steamboat holding tight to the rope that connects to the boatframe. Inside the porthole, we see large mechanical structures, the first crane, a horse and buggy from Wallabout Market and the iconic pyramids of cannonballs used to defend the yard. Gears turn to the left, and the wave patterns begin to get lighter, referencing the age of steam. The final porthole depicts a black construction worker, referencing the Great Migration, aboard a steel warship. Inside the porthole, a nurse assists a WW1 amputee, and a line of workers weaves its way toward a paycar. The mural ends with a broadcasting tower.

SLI: The first section shows how workers actually built the infrastructure of the Navy Yard during the WPA Era. The WW2 section depicts the rise of women and people of color in positions previously held exclusively by white men. The second wall is a dramatic transition, depicting the turmoil created in the working class by deindustrialization. First, they are cast off the legacy of shipbuilding by the decomissioning of the yard in the 60’s, and then find themselves underwater after the closing of SeaTrain, which was one of Brooklyn’s largest employers of men of color. In the rubble at the bottom of the sea, we see the detritus of industry alongside signs carried by workers fighting for their jobs in the protests that surrounded both the decomissioning and closing of SeaTrain. This is followed by a depiction of individuals representing the Black, Latino and Hacidic communities that came together in an historically unprecedented effort during a time of great racial tension in New York. By agreeing to find common ground within the actual common ground they shared, these communities organized to successfully fight the installation of a trash incinerator at the yard, which would have decimated the health of the surrounding areas. Together, these groups push open a door that leads to the present day, because if it were not for this organizing, the current renaissance at the yard simply would not be possible. The present depicts a series of workers and tenants of various skill and craft flowing in on the wave of history into the yard as an Employment Center. In the sky and background, we see visions for the future. This includes the nearby housing projects benefiting from the cutting-edge green technology being incubated at the yard, families having access to healthy, affordable food, potential future use of the waterfront, and the continuation of innovative technology at the yard.

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