There’s a little bit of Africa on 114th and Broadway, but it’s surrounded by shrubbery.
And if you don’t look closely through the traffic, you might miss it.
This fall, the Broadway Mall Association, a local non-profit dedicated to horticulture in the city, set up an installation of sculptures scattered along the Broadway Mall, the thin island of green that divides the east and west sides of the avenue.
One sculpture, “Dogon”—inspired by African tribal art—sits squarely in the middle of greenery between 113th and 114th Streets on Broadway, just across from several Columbia dormitories.
“Dogon,” an abstract sculpture of metal scraps, is one out of nine pieces by sculptor Carole Eisner, currently placed throughout the avenue from Columbus Circle all the way up to 166th Street.
Eisner said she created the 114th Street sculpture by letting scraps of metal rust, and then afterwards putting the pieces together without any preconceived notions of what the ultimate design would be.
“It’s like a collage, an accumulation of pieces,” she said. “I don’t plan it in advance, and I don’t know what I’m going to find there,” she added.
The Mall Association started offering cell phone tours for Eisner’s exhibit. At each “mall” there is a phone number to call to listen to a recording of Eisner speak about each specific work. After the recording, listeners are invited to record feedback.
Sharon Lopez, the associate director of the association, said that on average, around 30 people call in to hear the recordings per day, and sometimes provide feedback. She recalled one recent call-in comment, in which the passerby was so moved by the art that she started crying in her voice message.
“It gives dimension and appreciation for the work,” Lopez said. “Once you hear what the artist has to say, how she found a metal and scrap and she found some industrial drill and made this sculpture, it puts you into the artists head, makes the whole experience more enjoyable.” Eisner agreed that feedback from random pedestrians was a real plus to the project.
But for some locals passing by or waiting for a bus to arrive, it is easy to overlook.
Local resident Teddi Steinberg—who said she had never seen the sculpture along Broadway even though it is right across from the M104 bus stop where she was waiting—said, after noticing it for the first time, that it was nice, “especially being right across from the bus stop—gives you something to look at.”
Rebecca Clark, CC ’13, who is currently taking an art history class, recently listened to a recording of Eisner’s cell phone tour, and said it made a huge difference in her understanding of the art. “It’s like a poem—you can appreciate the aesthetics, but not until you analyze it can you truly appreciate it,” Clark said.
Eisner acknowledged the hidden nature of this public art. “I understand that people don’t even notice,” she said. “I pass by it myself, and I don’t even know where it is,” she added.
Regardless of the visibility, she said that she hopes that those who do notice it can take something meaningful from it. “It should be such an awakening to people who have never thought about making art out of anything but precious material. You can make it out of anything that’s available to you,” she said.
For organizers and participants in the association, the art and gardening projects are not only opportunities to keep the neighborhood look interesting and dynamic, but the installations also provide a way to have a bit of fun right in the center of the bustling avenue in their backyards.
Barbara Hohol, longtime neighborhood resident on 112th Street, who has been working for the BMA for nearly a decade, said, “I get to play in the mud and use other peoples’ money to do it and basically work on a canvas that’s enjoyed by the entire neighborhood.”