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The Art Of Change: Graffiti Show In The South Bronx Amidst Development Concerns

British Artist Nick Walker poses with his favorite painting of the show.

British Artist Nick Walker poses with his favorite painting in the show.

Art collectors with deep pockets are expected to trickle into the South Bronx over the next few weeks in hopes of buying from a 20-piece collection of street-style paintings featured at Wallworks Art Gallery. The show titled “the last ride,” features the stencil graffiti of British art-icon, Nick Walker, most famous for his “gentleman vandal” motif highlighted in street art around the world.

“I’ve always been inspired by New York City,” said Walker. “Ever since I started coming here, the first time was like 1992, I used to come here to basically feed off of it.”

Several paintings on display at the gallery, located along the Harlem River in Port Morris, depict the gentleman vandal – a man in a suit and a bowler hat – interacting with the word “Bronx” painted in bold red. These Bronx-specific paintings were sold before the show even opened on Sept. 17, both earning four-digit receipts of sale, according to gallery director Anna Matos. Walker’s featured paintings are selling for $1,500 to $3,500, more than many people in the area pay in monthly rent, a harbinger of the rapid and controversial changes taking place along this section of Bruckner Boulevard.

One of two Bronx-specific paintings sporting four-digit price tags.

One of two Bronx-specific paintings featured.

At the show’s opening event, Walker mingled with guests, many of whom were visiting the Bronx-based gallery for the first time. He signed his book for excited up-and-coming artists and young enthusiasts with purple hair, long beards, and tattooed arms, while simultaneously negotiating with middle aged collectors.


Walker said his favorite piece at the show was one of a silhouette of a man in a boat rowing away from the viewer. The silhouette is painted on top of an image of a red butterfly meant to symbolize change.

“They have an ephemeral existence in a way,” Walker said. “It’s about change. Whether good or bad. It’s just one of those things. It just kind of talks to me.”

Change is a poignant theme in this area of South Bronx, slated by developers to become “the next Brooklyn.” Bronx-native Naiomy Guerrero, founding editor of the blog Gallery Girl NYC, said she enjoyed seeing iconic artwork by a famous artist so close to home. But she also had concerns about having an out-of-towner featured at the only art gallery of its kind in the Bronx, especially given that the Bronx is home to so many artists.

“It’s not like you have to be a native to make work about a place,” said Guerrero. “But this is sensitive, because the Bronx is undergoing a revolution right now.”

One block from Wallworks is the site of a controversial multi-building residential development project proposed by Somerset Partners LLC. The development, set to break ground in the next few months, will include up to six market-rate luxury riverfront apartments. Somerset has also partnered with several local restaurants and shops, boosting the commercial appeal of the once neglected riverfront. Somerset founder Keith Rubenstein’s hospitality and residential plans are part of an effort that he says will “reinvent” parts of the neighborhood, which has historically struggled with drugs, violence, and poverty.

Stencil-painting featured at Wallworks.

A Walker stencil-painting featured at Wallworks.

“They’re going to bring back this part,” said art collector Arthur Katz, who came to show’s opening with his wife hoping to buy a Walker painting. “I hope it works. I was born and raised – we were born and raised – in the Bronx, so it means a lot if they could bring it back.”

In a promotional video, Rubenstein refers to the Port Morris area as “authentic, edgy, and undiscovered.” Yet the surrounding area, known as Mott Haven, is home to over 50,000 people. Rubenstein also attempted to re-brand the neighborhood the Piano District, in a move that protesters said whitewashed the vibrant history of the South Bronx.

“The Bronx is here,” said Guerrero. “And there’s art in the Bronx. And it never left. And there is no such thing as bringing it back because it’s always been here.”

Hip Hop music and graffiti-style art trace their roots to the Bronx from a period long before big developers or collectors thought the area or the art were interesting. But times have changed and what was once considered vandalism in the South Bronx is now a lucrative art form around the world. Walker’s Moona Lisa sold in 2006 for over $70,000, showing just how much street art has evolved.

“It’s kinda funny ‘cuz here you are talking about graffiti, and I grew up with that,” said Julio Barea, who attended the opening. Known to this day by his artist name 2Mad, Barea grew up in the Bronx where he started “tagging” trains and buildings as a kid. “It was a way of life.”

Wallworks is owned and operated by another renowned graffiti artist from the Bronx, John “Crash” Matos, a friend of Barea and Walker. Matos said he founded the gallery in 2014 on a whim, after recognizing that most Bronx residents didn’t have easy access to art spaces.

“I wanted to just bring people in here – artists who I like – whether it’s 18-year-olds from down the street or friends of mine from Europe,” Matos said.

John (Crash) Matos poses with friend Nick Walker.

John “Crash” Matos (right) poses with friend Nick Walker.

Matos said he continues to search for ways to engage members of the Bronx community. He is one of several business owners in the area who is not partnered with Somerset, though he said Rubenstein approached him about working together. While he said he is not opposed to progress, Matos believes that the Somerset development down the street will price out long-term residents of the neighborhood.

“And that’s a crime,” he said. “I walked up to a hornet’s nest. When we got the space, the whole gentrification thing was just starting here. But I didn’t know, to what extent, how deep it was.”

Matos’ refusal to participate did not prevent Somerset from capitalizing on the gallery’s presence in the neighborhood. The mural painted on the outer wall of Wallworks is featured in Somerset’s promotional video. And the gallery shows continue to bring new people to the neighborhood.

“I do think it’s ironic that in one way it’s kind of helping [Rubenstein],” said Guerrero, about Wallworks gallery’s success. “Because it makes the neighborhood look —”

She paused.

“But it is f***ing cool. And it is hip,” Guerrero continued. “But it’s been that way.”

Walker signs his book for art enthusiast at shows opening.

Walker signs his book for art enthusiast at the show opening.


Posted in Bronx Beats, Bronx Neighborhoods, Culture, Featured, Front Page, Politics, Southern Bronx0 Comments

More Healthy Food Options From Cold-Press Juice Bar Coming to Mott Haven

A cold-pressed juice bar called Born should arrive at 137th Street and Third Avenue by the beginning of next year, said Henry Obispo, who is spearheading the business. It will be located in the epicenter of the South Bronx’s gentrification debate, in an area that has already seen the arrival of a new coffee shopsushi restaurant and fashion boutique.

Full article at:


Posted in Newswire0 Comments

Naloxone: A Life Saver in a Neglected World

Organizers passed out purple candles at St. Ann's Corner of Harm Reduction in the South Bronx Aug. 30 in memory of those who have died of heroin overdose.

Community members lit candles Aug. 30 in memory of those who have died of heroin overdose in the Bronx.

MOTT HAVEN–Walking through the streets of the South Bronx one afternoon in July, Tino Fuentes, 53, said he sensed trouble across the street.

“You get this little gut feeling like something’s not right,” Fuentes said.

He found a man on the ground, unresponsive, drawing faint, shallow breaths. Bystanders said the man had been unconscious for several minutes, and his breathing was getting weaker as time passed. Amidst the chaos, a woman leaned over and whispered, “He did a bag.”

Fuentes, who knew she meant the man was likely overdosing on heroin, said he sprung into well-rehearsed action. An ambulance had already been called, but in the case of an overdose, every second matters. An injection of the drug Naloxone can reverse the effect of opioid overdose, but the success rate depends on rapid response.

Fuentes had a Naloxone kit across the street. After retrieving it, he removed the orange top of the vile, filled the syringe with its contents, and plunged the two-inch needle into the sinewy part of the man’s shoulder. Fuentes said he was rolling the man over to begin rescue breathing when he came to — brought back by the medication Fuentes injected.

“It’s such a selfish feeling, but I feel great. I just saved someone’s life,” Fuentes recalled.

Fuentes claims to have saved more than 75 lives with Naloxone since 2006, though he said he has lost count. He is not an EMT or doctor. He just makes sure he always has a kit on him when he is walking around New York.

“I do this because I came from these streets,” Fuentes said. “I gotta find a way to give back, you know?”

Fuentes serves as the co-director of the Syringe Exchange Program at St. Ann’s Corner of Harm Reduction in the South Bronx, where he also trains other people to administer Naloxone. Under New York State law, anyone can carry the medication after undergoing the twenty-minute training and earning a blanket-prescription.

“There is really no reason not to get trained,” Fuentes said. “We’re reaching out to try to train everybody.”

Between 2014 and 2015, Mott Haven and Hunts Point had the highest rate of heroin overdose in New York City by a significant margin. The death rates have steadily increased in recent years. Joyce Rivera, founder and executive director at St. Ann’s, said socioeconomic status and race cause people to ignore this public health crisis in the Bronx.

“The only people who really pay the price for using drugs are poor, working class people,” Rivera said to a crowd on National Overdose Awareness Day at the end of August. But she said harm reduction programs and Naloxone are saving lives in marginalized communities. “Every life matters. Who’s life is expendable?”

Across the country, heroin is becoming increasingly deadly. New reports confirm that heroin is now commonly cut with prescription Fentanyl, a drug 100 times stronger than morphine, causing users to underestimate the potency of what they inject.

“[Dealers] put whatever they put in heroin to stretch it out, to make more money,” Fuentes said. “Not too many people know what’s being put in there.”

According to Fuentes, the man he saved in July was a frequent user, injecting up to five bags a day. The day he nearly died, he was only on his first bag, which he had sniffed rather than injected. Since those are not the conditions that generally lead to overdose, Fuentes said he suspects Fentanyl was present in the mixture. Naloxone is still effective against Fentanyl-laced heroin though experts say in those cases it might take more than one dose to revive the person.

Since the Naloxone program began at St. Ann’s in 2006, awareness around heroin overdose has increased dramatically in New York. Now, all police officers in Mott Haven carry Naloxone. Overdose response trainings are being held in local prisons. Laws around prescription to carry have changed to give easier access to the life-saving medication.

Organizers at St. Ann’s say the shift in awareness and action was influenced by the changing demographics of heroin use and abuse throughout New York State. In 2013, more white New Yorkers than black or Hispanic New Yorkers died of overdose statewide.

“The progress we have made, the general tipping point we have passed, has to do with all of the white people who have overdosed,” said Bill Matthews, clinical director at St. Ann’s.

For Fuentes, it’s frustrating to believe nobody cares about the Bronx. But he said the most important thing is that progress is finally being made, and it’s helping people and saving lives.

“This is hurting everybody,” Fuentes said.

Posted in Health, Southern Bronx, The Bronx Beat0 Comments