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Street Signs Become a Map to the Soul

Outside of a laundromat in Bed-Stuy, Aisha Cousins is asking young residents to create public artworks inspired by their past

Aisha Cousins. Photo Credit: C. Zawadi Morris
Aisha Cousins. Photo Credit: C. Zawadi Morris

Aisha Cousins, the creative mind behind The Story Skirt Project and Br'er Rabbit Day is at it again. But this time, she’s “Mapping Soulville."

Mapping Soulville is a live art project inspired by Malcolm X Boulevard that runs north-south along the eastern edge of Bed-Stuy, in which Cousins challenges children to make street signs and build public artworks that herald important historical figures who have shaped who they are today.

“We don’t have a lot of publicly funded artworks in Bed-Stuy, so the vision I had was a public artwork made out of street signs,” said Cousins. “I wanted the project it to be ‘re-mixable,’ and flexible so that people could build upon the idea that the boulevard was a walking timeline of his life.”

Mapping Soulville is the latest in her “Say it Loud” series of projects she has endeavored over the past two years geared toward children—supplementary cultural exercises for parents and instructors that push students to envision unconventional ways to think about the world around them.

Thursdays and Fridays, from 6:00 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. through the month of August, Cousins sets a table outside of Marmy Laundromat on the corner of Putnam and Malcolm X Blvd., along with some drawing utensils and other art tools and basically invites the public to lend a few minutes out of their day to participate.

The decision to use Marmy’s Laundromat as the location is owed to its sponsor, The Laundromat Project, a non-profit organization that helps fund community-responsive artists across the city to use local “coin-ops” as a venue and art as a medium as a way to empower communities of color to dream new visions for their own neighborhoods.

Cousins was chosen as a resident artist by The Laundromat Project to execute her current project in Bed-Stuy. And throughout the remaining month of August, you can find her at Marmy’s talking to neighborhood residents, asking them to take part. And she documents all of their contributions through photos.

This and next week, she’s asking people to build a map of streets and contribute to a timeline of important events that have happened in Malcolm X’s life through workshops on map making, silkscreening, button making, and mural design.

“Malcolm X was always committed to his personal evolution,” said Cousins. “He said, ‘You know, I know other people are looking at me and thinking this is who I should become, but I don’t believe this is who I really am; this not my full potential. And I think that’s why people care about him so much.

“And evolution is important to me. I hope my projects also continue to evolve over time and adjust to whatever is going on in society.”

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