A recent street stencil work by John Fekner, Don Leicht, and Brian Albert is a reprise, a sad reminder that the legacy of racism in the country has been with us for what seems like forever. During another chapter of Fekner’s creative life on New York streets he sang a visual HYMN to the civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in the wake of the murderous brutality of white New York teens in Queens. Now thirty three years later the viciousness of police violence against black citizens on display can make you think nothing has changed fundamentally, even though we know it has.
We asked the artist how this HYMN at the Welling Court Mural Project this summer is a counterpart to the HYMN project more than three decades ago – a collaboration by John Fekner and Brian Albert.
“HYMN was a collaboration by John Fekner and Brian Albert. The project constructed on an embankment overlooking the Grand Central Parkway in Queens was intended as a call for peace, an immediate response to the growing racial tensions over the death of a young black man in New York City. A gang of white youths in the Howard Beach neighborhood of Queens brutally beat three black men whose car had broke down in the neighborhood, chasing one of the three, 23-year-old Michael Griffith from Bedford-Stuyvesant, to his death when he was hit by a car crossing the Shore Parkway on December 20th, 1986.
The piece consisted of a tombstone-shaped concrete electrical power box painted black with the word “HYMN” stenciled in 12-inch high white letters. Flush with the ground, in front of the ‘tombstone’ was a translucent 40” x 50” photographic print portrait of Martin Luther King, Jr., illuminated from a light source in the ground. The electricity necessary for the underground lighting was tapped from a streetlamp, which switched on at sunset.
Hymn was installed for Martin Luther King Jr. Day on January 19th, 1987. Passing motorists could see the work both during the daytime and at night when it transformed into a subtle glowing image of harmony and peace. The illegally sited work remained for a few weeks and was eventually removed from the parkway embankment.”
John Fekner (with Don Leicht and Brian Albert) Hymn 2020 (Rest In Power) (above) is intended to be a solemn reflective message to show empathy and compassion to the local community and beyond, during this time of protest, police reform and positive change.
(Installation by Dante, Roman & Dave Santaniello at Welling Court Mural Project NYC)