And finally: 177 portraits of ‘Ms. Arline’
Growing up in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the 1980s, the artist Kambui Olujimi had a fulfilled childhood in the span of a single block, on Quincy Street.
Families shared cultural roots in the South and the Caribbean. The children played together, using the biggest tree on the block as home base for games of hot-peas-and-butter and freeze tag. Parents kept an eye on all the kids.
Bed-Stuy in those days was a patchwork, Mr. Olujimi recalled. Some blocks were derelict and dangerous. But Quincy Street between Patchen Avenue and Malcolm X Boulevard was the other kind: vibrant with family and community life.
“This block was tight,” Mr. Olujimi said. “This was a block.”
Mr. Olujimi’s work is eclectic — spanning sculpture, installation, drawing, photography, video — but it often addresses collective memory and how it blurs or gets erased.
For the last six years, he has turned that attention to the block that forged him, where he spent most of his childhood and then returned for 20 years of adult life, until 2015. His tribute to the block takes the form of repeated portraits of a single person at its core: Catherine Arline, the longtime block president universally known as “Ms. Arline,” who died in 2014 at age 77.
“Walk With Me,” his series of 177 portraits in ink on paper, is now on view at the nonprofit Project for Empty Space, in Newark, and in an online tour. Based on a single source image — a photograph of Ms. Arline at age 18 — they are at once uniform and endlessly varied.
Jasmine Wahi, the co-director of Project for Empty Space, who curated the exhibition with Rebecca Jampol, called the series a kind of alternative monument. “What does it mean to create a monument for someone who is so impactful at a micro-community level?” Ms. Wahi said. “In examining multiples of a single person, the series speaks more than any statue could.”