Mona Chalabi: Gray-Green Divide in New York Highlights Environmental Issues

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The grand building of the Brooklyn Museum, New York.

Mohammad Yusuf, Feature Writer

British-Iraqi artist and journalist Mona Chalabi has teamed up with the Brooklyn Museum in New York, the World Health Organization and CULTURUNNERS to create a site-specific installation highlighting the impact of climate change and inequality environmental impact on Brooklyn communities.

In a time of pandemic and rising temperatures, The Gray-Green Divide asks which neighborhoods lack vegetation and at what cost. The Gray-Green Divide was installed on the imposing steps of Brooklyn Museum Plaza.

Chalabi’s playful drawings show why trees in New York are an environmental justice issue in how they impact the physical, mental and social health of a community; Not only do trees create shade and shelter, reduce energy needs, and remove air pollution, but access to trees also affects physical and mental well-being.

When many New Yorkers were confined to their homes due to COVID-19, extreme heat and uneven proximity to cool green spaces became — and remain — heightened public health concerns.


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Drawings of the hundred most common trees in New York City, based on data from New York City Parks, can now be found on the steps of the museum.

By illustrating each of New York’s hundred most common trees and their leaves, Chalabi invites viewers to admire the surrounding greenery.

On the adjacent wall, maps of Brooklyn show average temperatures and the location of trees. A graph reveals how tree density correlates with neighborhood wealth.

Together, the works tell hard truths about the inequities of the borough’s green spaces, exposing the links between income, trees and heat.

Chalabi comments: “About a year ago the World Health Organization asked me to do art in response to Covid-19, and I started thinking about the trees in my hometown of Brooklyn .

“I used data from NYC Parks where volunteers had recorded ‘everything’ about the 666,134 street trees in NYC. I filtered the data to only include live trees and ended up drawing 100 trees; then I drew their leaves to help you identify them. Mona Chalabi: The Gray-Green Divide is curated by Lauren Zelaya, Director of Public Programs at the Brooklyn Museum, and supported by The Future is Unwritten Artist Response Fund in part of Healing Arts, a global cultural call to action in response to the pandemic.

Mona 1 Mona Chalabi is a British-Iraqi artist and data journalist.

Healing Arts 2022 is produced by CULTURUNNERS and Arts + Health @ NYU under the auspices of the WHO Arts and Health Program.

The Artists of the Future Is Unwritten Response Fund was established by CULTURUNNERS in 2020 as part of the United Nations 75th Anniversary Program (UN75) and World Health Organization Solidarity Event Series.

The Fund has provided financial and production support to artist-led projects that contribute to improving mental, social and environmental health in the wake of COVID-19.

Stephen Stapleton, Director of CULTURUNNERS and Co-Founder of Healing Arts, said: “Selected artists like Mona have used their platforms and practices to enact healing, communicate critical health prevention messages, interpret response of humanity to crisis and further mobilize the global public towards recovery and act in new, creative and deliberate ways to improve the health of individuals, communities and society as a whole. The Fund has prioritized projects on the “frontline” of the pandemic, where the crisis has exacerbated pre-existing threats to the environment, economy, public health, political stability and human rights. ‘man.

‘Artists on the Frontline’ were among the first to respond, uniting in solidarity and showing compassion for those most vulnerable and at risk, amid the greatest health challenge for the race human for a century.

Considering both the physical and psychological cost of the current health crisis, the Fund aimed to empower artists working with marginalized communities and whose projects represent models that can be scaled up to contribute to a paradigm shift on global health and sustainability issues.

Tapping into a generational wave of activism and the growing call to “build back better” after the pandemic, the projects challenge recent fear and division to champion a “decade of action” in support of UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Chalabi is a writer and illustrator whose work has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, The New York Review of Books, New York Magazine, and The Guardian, among many others.

She has written for radio and television, including NPR, Gimlet, Netflix (The Fix), BBC (Is Britain Racist? Radio 4 and The Frankie Boyle show) and National Geographic (Star Talk).

Before becoming a journalist, she worked with big data in jobs at the Bank of England, Transparency International and the International Organization for Migration.

She studied International Relations in Paris and studied Arabic in Jordan and was born and raised in London.

The Brooklyn Museum is an art museum located in the New York borough of Brooklyn. At 560,000 square feet (52,000 m2), it is New York’s third largest in physical size and holds an art collection with approximately 500,000 objects.

Founded in 1895, the Beaux-Arts building, designed by McKim, Mead and White, was to be the largest art museum in the world.

It initially struggled to maintain its building and collection, only to be revitalized at the end of the 20th century, through extensive renovations. Significant areas of the collection include antiquities, particularly the collection of Egyptian antiquities, spanning over 3,000 years. European, African, Oceanian and Japanese art also constitute remarkable collections of antiquities. American art is strongly represented, from the colonial period.

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