NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ – A woman leaned on her carriage and watched.
A girl tried to pull away from her parents to see what was happening.
A man with hands on hips turned his head to the side and squinted.
They were all curious about the piece of street art taking shape at the intersection of George Street, Livingston Avenue and Liberty Street.
Their stop-in-their-tracks surprise is precisely the reaction Luis-Miguel Caraballo is hoping to evoke.
Consider it a temporary 30-foot by 50-foot brightly-hued symbol of peace and unity in downtown New Brunswick.
“I really wanted this piece to make an impact,” Caraballo said. “I chose very bright colors for that exact reason. I want you to just stop. I want someone who’s just walking or jogging down the street to just stop and actually take a look and dissect what’s going on.
“The message I want to get across, whether the color of your skin or ethnicity or background, it shouldn’t matter. We should all come together as a society, as a human race. That’s the kind of message I want to put forth – coming together and doing good by each other.”
Since George Floyd’s death after being pinned to the ground by a Minneapolis, Minn., police officer for 8 minutes, 46 seconds, protests and rallies have filled streets in municipalities across the country. Here in New Brunswick, protestors literally declaring that Black Lives Matter have filed down George Street at one protest and up College Avenue at another.
Caraballo, an artist in residence at the Premiere Residences at New Brunswick Performing Arts Center (NBPAC), said those protests had an impact on him and his art. It made him reflect on his own experiences with racism and injustice.
The piece that was taking shape Monday afternoon didn’t focus on the raw pain and anger felt by many in the wake of Floyd’s death on May 25, but instead conjures the spirit of unity he saw at rallies where people from divergent backgrounds, ethnicities and skin colors banded together.
“I felt that since that event took place, I saw the community, the people you really wouldn’t see coming together, come together as a whole,” said Caraballo, who is Puerto Rican. “You see people from the United Kingdom and other countries, protesting for the same cause of unity and justice. It’s something I think is beautiful – unfortunately, it had to take years of this happening and somebody’s untimely death on camera for things to change or start to change.”
Monday’s project brought many people together, too. His mom, dad, brother and best friend were there. So were many students he had taught during his time as art instructor at Perth Amboy High School. Even one woman who lived locally, who had come across Caraballo’s project, asked if she could help. So, they handed her a brush and some yellow paint.
The original concept was for the street to be filled with chalk art, but Calaballo chose a water-based paint instead. The multicolored Pan-African flag serves as the border. In the middle (spoiler alert) will be an African American woman with flowing hair. The yellow background print will be imprinted with butterflies – part of a theme other Middlesex County-sponsored art projects have used.
The project was almost complete when the brushes, rollers and paint were put aside late Monday afternoon. Just a little bit more to finish up on Tuesday.
“The paint will probably start fading away in a few weeks, with all the rain and the traffic,” said Calaballo, with splotches of red, yellow, green and blue paint on his shirt and shorts.
The message will take much longer to wash away.