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Artist Eto Otitigbe Wins Commission for Monumental Sculpture Honoring Rapper Heavy D and Mount Vernon’s Hip-Hop History

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Artist Eto Otitigbe Wins Commission for Monumental Sculpture Honoring Rapper Heavy D and Mount Vernon’s Hip-Hop History

Sept. 22, 2020 (ArtsWestchester) White Plains, NY – – New York artist Eto Otitigbe has won a commission for a significant sculpture in Mount Vernon that celebrates the music of rapper Heavy D and offers the hope of tranquility through turbulent times.

Peaceful Journey is a monumental sculpture that represents how harmony and balance can be achieved even in times of change. The artwork was one of fifty considered for this major commission through an open competitive process conducted by ArtsWestchester, a leading public art proponent, for 42 Broad.

“The artwork is inspired by various points of interest such as architecture, physics and hip-hop music. The name is borrowed from the title of a hip-hop song by rapper Heavy D, who was a native of Mount Vernon, NY and who would go on to transform the music industry and global culture,” says Otitigbe, of Brooklyn.

The commissioned sculpture will be a landmark feature of the 42 Broad Street West, a mixed-use luxury rental development. It is scheduled to be installed by year-end. Placed at a highly visible plaza at the corner of Broad Street and Fleetwood Avenue in Mount Vernon’s Fleetwood neighborhood, the monumental work of art will be on view for pedestrians as well as drivers exiting and entering the Cross County Parkway.

ArtsWestchester and 42 Broad, (a joint venture of Alexander Development Group, The Bluestone Organization and institutional investors advised by J.P. Morgan Asset Management), chose Otitigbe from a large pool of artists who submitted proposals for the site-specific sculpture commission. The cost of the sculpture is estimated at $100,000.

Growing up in Albany, NY, the artist was a bit removed from the NYC hip-hop scene that he loved and was always inspired when he heard about hip-hop coming out of places other than the five boroughs. “The sounds coming out of Mt. Vernon with Heavy D, Pete Rock & C.L. Smooth were really unique,” Otitigbe explains. He continues, “I wanted to pay homage to the Mt. Vernon community that had such an important place in hip-hop with this work of art.” The artist, explains that the song the sculpture is named after “offers a thoughtful and complex picture of the lives of Black and Brown people [living] in places like Mount Vernon, the Bronx or Los Angeles,” and that Heavy D’s music was transformative for him in his youth. He elaborates: “This sculpture offers me a chance to pay tribute to Heavy D, R&B music, and hip-hop culture, all of which had an immense influence on me as I navigated my youth.”

Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard says, “Otitigbe’s abstract artwork will add a spectacular focal point to a gateway to the City of Mount Vernon. Heavy D was an integral part of making Mount Vernon the Jewel of Westchester; his influence in the creation of this sculpture makes it more meaningful. Although Heavy D has begun his ‘peaceful journey,’ Mr. Otitigbe’s sculptural arch is a true testament to the pride, resilience and transformation of Mount Vernon.”

Otitigbe says, “When I started this project, over a year ago, I set out to design an artwork that played with the theme of transformation… I was thinking about movement, departures, homecomings, and transitions. Fleetwood, as a community, is experiencing change as new development projects like this one attract people to Mount Vernon. Personally, I was experiencing a major life transition as I balanced the joys and challenges of being a new father”.

Otitigbe adds, “The idea of taking a journey today, is very different than a year ago; it now has a lot more risk in it. It’s not easy, each day, each trip… This sculpture and its invitation for people to pass through its portal is a waymarker for a peaceful journey for people leaving the building or the community and for when they return.” Otitigbe’s wish expressed through stone and metal for Mt. Vernon and for all of us, is doubly gifted to us through his reference to that wish in the lyrics of Heavy D.

Otitigbe worked with the architect, Michael DiCarlo to design Peaceful Journey. The sculpture is made of Vermont Fantastico Marble, Stainless Steel, and COR-TEN steel. The form cycles between stone and metal and appears to continue its path through the concrete. The hive-like steel structure references pointed archways that were in South East Asian and Islamic Architecture.  This style of innovative building technology was later made popular in Gothic architecture throughout Europe.  “The hexagon is a signifier for strength and harmony.  As one passes under the archway and looks up the view of the sky is pixelated by a hexagonal grid. Even the surface of the metal will transform over time as the COR‐TEN steel weathers and changes color. The stone monolith also conveys a sense of balance and affirmation while its surface carries an organic fluid pattern; evidence of the stone’s transformation over time,” explains Otitigbe.

Mark Alexander, principal of 42 Broad, says: “Public art is integral to our development philosophy.  In this particular Fleetwood project, we are allocating a sizeable budget in highly visible art to create a memorable place, promote community pride, and to raise the level of aesthetics and energy in the city.  Great public art should be transformational, and that is our intent with Otitigbe’s monumental sculpture.  Peaceful Journey compliments the metalwork and brick masonry of the building, while inviting the public to walk through its dappled lit archway.”

Janet T. Langsam, CEO of ArtsWestchester and public art partner to the project explains, “Public art like Eto Otitigbe’s sculpture will enhance the downtown offering a bit of the unexpected, a bit of the extraordinary into everyday life. Investment in public art is investment in a community because signature artwork like this helps create more livable, more creative communities and more enjoyable communities.”

Located at a prominent gateway to the city of Mt Vernon, this site-specific sculpture is visible to thousands of people passing by every day.  Alexander says, “Through our partnership with ArtsWestchester, we have sought to distinguish 42 Broad, an architecturally significant building, as an energetic, creative, and distinct destination.”

Janet T. Langsam explains, “This project is part of ArtsWestchester’s long-term commitment to public art and to the arts in Mount Vernon.  ArtsWestchester currently has a Mt. Vernon grants initiative that provides funding for artists working in the city. And, we have been the recipient of two Department of Education grants that brought professional artists and arts programming into the Mt. Vernon Public Schools.  We previously worked with Alexander Development Group to bring artwork into the common areas of The Horizon, another residential building also in Fleetwood. And, most recently, through an ongoing partnership with the Mount Vernon Public Library, ArtsWestchester installed a colorful steel sculpture entitled, Seeing the Wind at the entrance to the Children’s Library on Second Avenue.”

About Eto Otitigbe
Eto Otitigbe is a polymedia artist whose interdisciplinary practice intersects concepts related to Blackness, power, and technology.  His works have been exhibited nationally and internationally for over 15 years. Otitigbe’s exhibitions include Subwaves at the Carver Museum in Austin, TX; Topophilia, as part of the Meetings Festival in Denmark; Bronx Calling: The Second AIM Biennial, organized by the Bronx Museum and Wave Hill. He has participated in residencies at The John L. Warfield Center for African and African American Studies, Austin, TX; 701 CCA, Columbia, SC; Center for Book Arts, New York, NY; and Luminary Center for the Arts, St. Louis, MO. Otitigbe completed several recent temporary public projects that include locations such as Socrates Sculpture Park in Queens, NY and Randall’s Island Park in New York City. His first permanent public project was completed in 2019. Otitigbe received public commissions for FLOW at Randall’s Island Park and the Emerging Artist Fellowship at Socrates Sculpture Park. In 2015 Otitigbe was awarded a CEC Artslink Project Award for travel to Egypt. Otitigbe completed a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship at the National Museum of African Art in Washington D.C., where he investigated the connection between the Urhobo language of Southwestern Nigeria and objects from the museum’s collection. Otitigbe worked with Howeler and Yoon Architecture to design the memorial for laborers who were enslaved by the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. The memorial is a reflective gathering space that includes symbols of libation and liberation. Otitigbe’s role on the design team focused on creating imagery for the exterior surface of the memorial that honors the enslaved laborers. Otitigbe studied Mechanical Engineering at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (B.S.) and Stanford University (M.S.) and earned an MFA in Creative Practice from the TransArt Institute. Otitigbe lives and works in Brooklyn, NY where he is an Assistant Professor in the Art Department of Brooklyn College.

 About ArtsWestchester
For over 50 years, ArtsWestchester has been the community’s connection to the arts. Founded in 1965, it is the largest private not-for-profit arts council in New York State. Its mission is to provide leadership vision and support to ensure the availability accessibility and diversity of the arts. ArtsWestchester provides programs and services that enrich the lives of everyone in Westchester County. ArtsWestchester helps fund concerts exhibitions and plays through grants; brings artists into schools and community centers; advocates for the arts, including public art; and builds audiences through diverse marketing initiatives. In 1998, ArtsWestchester purchased the nine-story neo-classical bank building at 31 Mamaroneck Avenue which has since been transformed into a multi-use resource for artists, cultural organizations and the community. A two-story gallery is located on the first floor of ArtsWestchester’s historic building on Mamaroneck Avenue in White Plains, NY.

About 42 Broad
A joint venture of Alexander Development Group and The Bluestone Organization, 42 Broad is a luxury transit-oriented development (TOD) located near commuter rail in a supply-constrained southern Westchester County submarket. The completed 16-floor project will consist of 249 luxury for-rent apartments, approximately 12,000 net square feet of street-front retail, a newly renovated parking structure, and a broad array of first-class tenant amenities. The world-class tower has been designed to be one of the most energy efficient large-scale apartment buildings in the United States.

42 Broad is located in downtown Fleetwood, a prosperous community adjacent to Bronxville in the City of Mount Vernon. The project site is uniquely positioned to benefit from its proximity to multiple transportation amenities; 42 Broad is situated two blocks from the Metro-North Railroad’s Fleetwood Station, from which commutation times to Grand Central Station in Manhattan are approximately 30 minutes. Convenient access to I-87 and I-95 is provided by a Cross County Parkway on-ramp/off-ramp that is directly across the street from the project site and the nearby Bronx River Parkway.

About Alexander Development Group
Alexander Development Group is a New York-based development and investment company focused on the production of multifamily housing. The ADG team possesses more than fifty years of combined experience as developers and managers of residential and mixed- use properties. They have successfully executed the development of residential asset types spanning a broad spectrum – ranging from single-unit conversions, and townhome developments to mixed-use urban towers. Mark Alexander, Principal of Alexander Development Group, has developed 3,000 units of housing, 75,000 square feet of neighborhood retail and office space, and numerous gardens and public art installations.

About The Bluestone Organization
The Bluestone Organization is a full service real estate development company with experience and expertise in site selection, planning, financing, construction, sale, marketing and management. To date, The Bluestone Organization has built over 5,000 housing units and 50,000 square feet of retail space. Through the creative use of building systems and mechanical components, it has become an industry leader in Green building by creating record-breaking, low-energy consuming buildings within budgets typical for standard structures. The organization has financed, designed, built and managed buildings throughout the greater New York area including luxury condominiums, rental and mixed-use buildings.

About J.P. Morgan Global Alternatives
J.P. Morgan Global Alternatives is the alternative investment arm of J.P. Morgan Asset Management. With more than 50 years as an alternatives investment manager, $144 billion in assets under management and nearly 700 professionals (as of March 30, 2020), we offer strategies across the alternative investment spectrum including real estate, private equity and credit, infrastructure, transportation, liquid alternatives, and hedge funds. Operating from 17 offices throughout the Americas, Europe and Asia Pacific, our 15 independent alternative investment engines combine specialist knowledge and singular focus with the global reach, vast resources and powerful infrastructure of J.P. Morgan to help meet each client’s specific objectives. For more information: www.jpmorganassetmanagement.com