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Emotions on Display
Private feelings, public streets
Andrew Ng
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I heard distant honking from the car of an angry commuter. The faint hum of a crane moving slabs of metal. The slabs clanked against each other as they were lowered. My slow, steady footsteps were soft claps against the concrete.

I looked up, and sunlight burned my eyes. But the street was only partially lit by the scorching sun. The looming buildings cast dark shadows that reached across the alley. The faded red bricks of the buildings looked ancient. I heard the step of heels against the concrete. A woman whirred past me, mumbling into her phone in a language I didn’t know.

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I continued to walk along the street until I saw, on a metal grate next to a small shop with a faded awning, a mural of many faces, all screaming. The faint white outlines of the faces stuck out against the shaded background. I could almost feel their despair, anguish, and yearning for a better tomorrow. I thought of families in poverty and children facing hunger. My heart ached as I stared at the twisted faces.

What had made the artist create this piece? What had they seen to inspire them to paint this anguish? What conditions do they live in now?

Another man walked past me with his eyes glued to his phone, nearly bumping into me. I felt his jacket brush my arm. I frowned. He had not seen the art. From that day forward, I paid more attention to the hidden jewels of street art in the city.

Sometimes, the art is spread across towering buildings for the public to easily see. Other times, it is harder to notice in small, dirty alleyways.

image by YC-Art Dept

Stories Without Words

Some of the pieces aren’t the most skilled, but still convey powerful messages and emotions. Murals give a voice to underrepresented communities that need a medium to express themselves and give unique glimpses into the artist’s perspective on an issue. I may have read about the housing crisis, conditions in foster care, and how hard it is for immigrants to live in the city, but the murals let me visualize and feel the pain and hardship more powerfully than words can.

I often express my own strongest emotions in art, ranging from self-hate to love. In middle school, when I was bullied, sometimes I would draw while tears stained my cheeks. I would let go of all restraints and just draw until I felt calmer. Drawing helped me express my pain and enabled me to tell a story so someone could understand me.

One day I had been teased at school, and at home on my bed I felt tears building up. I grabbed a pencil and paper and I started scrawling away. I arched thin lines across the paper, faint scratches along the pale surface. My tears stained the paper light blue.

I let the tears run. I stared down at my hands as they gripped the pencil. I saw one small droplet on my hand. I stared at it for a moment, and then wiped it against my shirt.

My feelings had reached a plateau, and then I suddenly felt calm and serene. The sadness faded to melancholy. I finished the drawing. A sophisticated spider web, with a fly trapped against the winding silk. The next day, I stuffed the drawing in my drawer. It had too many tear stains, and I didn’t want anybody to see it.

Art will always be an empowering way for me to express myself. Next time, when you see a piece of artwork, whether it’s a beautiful, enormous mural or a small drawing, stop for a while, and see if you can feel the emotions of the artist.

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(NYC-2017-11-09)