Real street art: Painted pavement beautifies Tribeca street

Photo by @EricMTownsend
Artist Imani Shanklin Roberts spent a week paining a block of Franklin Street between Varick Street and West Broadway with a design inspired by iconic South African artist Esther Mahlangu.


An artist labored for nearly a week beautifying a stretch of Tribeca pavement with a massive on-the-street mural, using vibrant colors and tribal imagery to evoke the work of one of South Africa’s most celebrated indigenous painters.

Imani Shanklin Roberts looked to artist Esther Mahlangu — who made a career channeling the creative traditions of her native South Ndebele people — as inspiration for her more than 2,200-square-foot mural, “XOLA,” which uses images that are at once specifically South African, and universally feminine, she said.

“I’ve inserted in the piece a divine feminine symbol, which embodies the idea of inclusion and connectedness and fullness, and invites everyone to kind of step into a feminine kind of mind frame,” the artist said.

The mural was officially unveiled on Sept. 13 in celebration of a partnership between Citi Bike and South African Tourism, but pedestrians and curious office workers had nearly a week to grow acquainted with Shanklin Roberts and pry into the unexpected alterations she was making to the familiar block of Franklin Street between Varick Street and West Broadway.

“You’re met with a lot of intrigue,” Shanklin Roberts said. “If you’re doing something that’s semi-permanent in a neighborhood they live in, they’re interested in knowing what happens and what it will look like.”

The intricately angular mural proved to be a mathematically exacting work, with large, reoccurring patterns that required impeccable planning and measurement to execute.

“I really massaged my geometry brain, and just understanding shapes, I did a lot of math in this process,” she said.

And being her first pavement painting, Shanklin Roberts can’t say exactly how long it can be excepted to last, although it seems safe to assume it will suffer a shorter lifespan than her vertical murals, and will probably start fading away sometime around its third birthday.

Ironically, the main trouble facing the mural may be from its sponsor, Citi Bike, and locals are concerned a nearby docking station may be the ruin of the neighborhood’s new addition, with hordes of bike-renters trampling it to early obliteration.

“Some people treat the work as if it’s precious, and I receive comments about how the Citi Bike will speed up its leaving,” Shanklin Roberts said.

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