Neil Chiragdin reviews Carl Hazlewood’s “Traveler,” a 52-foot wall commission on view through July 16, 2017, at the Knockdown Center (located at 52-19 Flushing Avenue) in Maspeth, Queens. [See previous post Carl E. Hazlewood’s Traveler.] Hazlewood’s mural is part of Knockdown’s “Fifty Two Ft” series of wall-based artworks. Here are excerpts from the Queen’s Chronicle:
Flecks of gold foil sprinkle down from above, like summer rain. Oceans of blue divide a pattern rich in red, yellow, green, black and white. [. . .] But the mural has a deeper meaning for the artist, who considers his own position in the world as a “boundary-crosser of sorts … not only that of an immigrant but also as black, poor, older” in a brief text accompanying the piece. Hazlewood is an artist of Guyanese descent, which is somewhat unique in the art world, even in New York, home to a number of Guyanese communities. The population of Guyana, a former British colony, is a prime example of the Colonial era: descended from slaves and indentured servants from Africa and India and taught English on a continent where the primary language is Spanish. Although loath to describe himself or his work as sociopolitical in nature, the project led Hazlewood to draw upon this history.
“It occurred to me that movement for a lot of us — people like me — from one place to another, from one social/political situation to another, is an inescapable part of our existence; from the enforced travel of the Middle Passage, and now in North America where one dreamed of escaping the vicissitudes of Colonialism and poverty,” said Hazlewood. [. . .]
Yet this work stands out for Hazlewood, who concedes that the concept shaped the form of his work more so than usual during his process. It’s no mistake that the colors of the Guyanese flag have made their way into the mural. But, with the exception of white and gold, the red, green and black are also, according to Hazlewood, a reference to Marcus Garvey’s Pan-African Black Liberation flag — a statement of pride. On the great wave of blue in the mural, Hazlewood noted that it is another great sweep of movement, one large enough to dominate the wall.
Reflecting on how his identity has shaped his work, Hazlewood laments that many Guyanese may not embrace art for practical reasons. “Who has need for an artist in a place where it is much more useful to be a doctor or lawyer or politician,” sums up Hazlewood. The artist credits his mother for allowing him to pursue his interests in art and literature from a young age, and never telling him that they were unworthy goals.
In addition to his own work, he has created a space for others like him. In Newark, NJ Hazlewood and another Guyanese artist, Victor Davson, established Aljira, a Center for Contemporary Art in 1983. “Guyana has world-class writers, and artists (in and out of the country), though these facts may be little known even among other Guyanese,” said Hazlewood. [. . .]