By TRYMAINE LEE, April 19, 2007
Aisse Magassa slowly rolled her wheelchair to the wall of the old building, carrying a can of spray paint and with four of her little girls squirming behind her. The air was cold, and droplets of rain crashed softly onto the hijab that covered her hair. The brightly painted wall, at 56 East Mount Eden Road in the Bronx, lit up an otherwise drab stretch of auto repair shops and dollar stores.
She steadied the chair with one hand, and with the other she gripped the can, jamming down on the nozzle until a stream of bright blue paint erupted and splashed on the wall.
With sweeping strokes she added her touch to the mural that Mohammed Ali, a well-known British graffiti artist and a fellow Muslim, had dedicated to Ms. Magassa’s 10 friends and relatives who died last month after a fire erupted in their house in the Bronx. Five children from the extended Magassa family died, as did four children and the mother of the Soumare family.
“We’re doing a lot better now,” said Ngoundo Magassa, 16, who also helped fill out the wall.
Looking on, Manthia Magassa, Ngoundo’s mother, said softly: “This is good. That is all I can say.”
With each stroke Aisse Magassa, who is still recovering from injuries she suffered in the fire, and Ngoundo Magassa seemed to ease a little more of their collective pain. Soon, with each dash of color, a poignant message became clear: From right to left, in Arabic was written “From God we came,” and then, in English, “To Him we shall return.”
“I hope that this mural will help the families deal with their grief, help them understand their grief,” said Mr. Ali, who had spent two days working on the large mural. “That all of us, Muslim, Christian, whatever your faith, we come from God and to him we shall return.”
The mural, about 20 feet wide, decorates a wall along the side of a building that once housed a restaurant and that is owned by Eddie Mohammed, a member of the local community board.
Mr. Ali was in the Bronx as part of a tour of the United States featuring mural painting, lectures and workshops on street art and Islam and specifically Mr. Ali’s interplay of graffiti art and Islamic calligraphy.
The tour was organized in part by an arts group in England and the relief agency of the Islamic Circle of North America, a grass-roots group. It was to include stops in Chicago, New York, Boston and New Brunswick, N.J., with murals being erected in several of the cities.
This week’s visit to the Bronx, Mr. Ali said, was the most important.
“The children that died in the fire are our family. We should all see our children in them, our brothers and sisters,” he said. “The people who are rich and famous, we hear about them when they die. But what about these children? It is up to us to do something so that they are remembered and the survivors feel special.”
The Magassa and Soumare families, Muslim immigrants from the West African country of Mali, have received a heavy dose of material and emotional support from Muslims and non-Muslims of various ethnicities and nationalities since the fire, one of the deadliest in recent New York history. The mural dedication was no different.
“These are my sisters,” said Malika Bey Rushdan, who works for the Islamic Circle and who is an Irish-American convert to Islam. “These are my sisters in the faith, and they are closer to me than my own blood.”
She said her organization provided the art supplies for the mural and Mr. Ali’s efforts to “uplift the spirit of these families and the greater community, which has been deeply impacted by this tragedy.”
Around 4:30 p.m. yesterday, Mr. Ali sprayed the last of the names of the 10 victims on the wall. Women from the two families wept as they watched their dead loved ones become part of one of the most sacred forms of street art in New York City — a memorial in graffiti.
One. Two. Three. Four. Five.
The names of the children were scrawled.
Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Then 10, the lone adult who died.
“It’s beyond me,” Mr. Ali said, moments later, stepping away from the wall, as members of the two families thanked him again and again. They looked at the wall and back to him, before walking away from the colorful wall into the gray neighborhood.
“Today changed me. Today I truly tasted the fruits of what art can bring,” Mr. Ali said.
“All I could hear was them weeping behind me,” he said. “This is spiritual, taking graffiti to the next level, reaching out to the community. Not just this community, but Muslims and Christians and Jews. This is something really powerful.”
Article Courtesy: NY Times
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