Cypress Hills Housing Commission

Cypress Hills, Brooklyn, NY

These paintings were created for a new affordable housing complex in Cypress Hills, Brooklyn.

The following is the text that accompanies the paintings:

These paintings are inspired by proverbs from a book I illustrated called Lifelines: The Black Book of Proverbs, written by Askhari Johnson Hodari and Yvonne McCalla Sobers. In the book, the 2400 proverbs come from all parts of the African Diaspora. Here, we have chosen 6 to share with your community. The proverbs can be very specific and relate directly particular situations, but they may also connect us universally to the lives of people all around the world. I hope these paintings, these small meditations on life’s joys and struggles, small acts and defining moments, will bring you the same peace and contemplation they brought me as I painted them.

Cypress Hills - Sushana

“A tree cannot stand without roots.” – Democratic Republic of the Congo

In this painting, a young girl, symbolic of a strong and growing tree, stands proud and strong, facing the viewer with calm and confidence. Her body is made of the faces of her loved ones, those loved ones representing the nourishing roots of her strong foundation. She stands before a peaceful city at night, one where the natural world of the sea and trees live harmoniously with the urban landscape of crowded homes and skyscrapers. Both the city and its residents reliant on strong ‘roots’ to grow and progress.

"Youths look at the future, the elderly at the past; our ancestors live in
the present." - Kenya

“Youths look at the future, the elderly at the past; our ancestors live in
the present.” – Kenya

This image shows a young boy, his body a dreamlike sky, looking towards the future, his flower in full bloom, facing the sun. Behind him, an elderly man watches as his own flower, a dandelion at season’s end, spreads its seeds towards the future. The seeds represent the wisdom of his life experience blowing ahead of the boy to take root and be planted along the boy’s path. In the background, the ancestors maintain a constant, loving presence with all those looking both forward and back.

"Not until we have fallen do we know how to rearrange our burden." - Nigeria

“Not until we have fallen do we know how to rearrange our burden.” – Nigeria

In this painting, a man carefully carries his home through a flood, his home protected by a nest that symbolizes the many ways men and women protect their home and family from hardship. The man’s face and struggle represent both the inevitable pain that sometimes crosses our path, but also the dignity and determination to protect and rebuild. The flood, symbolic in ancient Egyptian art for rebirth, also represents new beginnings that often are born from times of hardship.

"A good deed will make a good neighbor." - Central, East and Southern Africa (Bantu)

“A good deed will make a good neighbor.” – Central, East and Southern Africa (Bantu)

This image represents loving acts of neighborly kindness. With the simple gesture of bringing food and company to a neighbor, possibly and elderly or lonely neighbor, the image shows the other things we can bring; sunshine in a dark night, the warmth of one’s homeland, and memories of life’s migratory nature, symbolized by the butterflies.

"However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source." - Nigeria

“However far the stream flows, it never forgets its source.” – Nigeria

This painting shows a woman, both in her successful adult life and her life as a young girl. The young girl is working on her writing, studying the great poet Langston Hughes and his poem, The Dream Keeper.  The idea is that no matter how successful and admired we become, we all started somewhere; in this case, with a dream and the diligence to sit down, nurture it and focus on it. The words to Hughes’ poem are as follows:

The Dream Keeper
Bring me all of your dreams,
You dreamer,
Bring me all your
Heart melodies
That I may wrap them
In a blue cloud-cloth
Away from the too-rough fingers
Of the world.

"Talking about fire does not boil the pot." - United States

“Talking about fire does not boil the pot.” – United States

In this image, a mother and her young son take the subway to work and to school respectively, in the morning. The image is about the mother leading by example; her calm reflected in the calm of her son, her love of reading also shared by her son. The image is simply about small daily moments of work, character and leading by example. The image represents how sharing daily acts of a loving and hard-working life with young ones steadily build strong character and the free lives (symbolized by the birds) to which we all aspire.