Gatekeepers of Peace
Peace is embedded deep in the soul of Newark. Not always easily seen, heard, or felt, peace beacons over the city and gives our people a reason to keep surviving. Patiently revealing itself, one must take time to seek out peace. If careful you may notice it on an early morning commute, when a young mother walks her daughter to school down the street. She passes small groups of grandfathers gathered at the bodega, waking up with a fresh cup of coffee and small talk. She absorbs countless greetings of "good morning, sista" and "have a blessed day" and reciprocates their wishes with a smile. In that moment, peace is an embrace of the morning sun pouring down on her daughter smiling and waving goodbye to start her school day.
Often disguised by glimpses of decay, trash, and signs of struggle, it becomes difficult for many to recognize peace in Newark. Peace is not easily perceived in this city, as the trauma of riots, brutality, and strife lingers as scars on the generations who have made Newark home, jeopardizing the mental health and safety of our community. New luxury buildings and spaces that seem to offer opportunities for economic affluence and profitability risk rapid displacement of families and their legacies. The allure of the newness is an illusion, conjured by the effects of white supremacy, colonization, and institutional discrimination.
When symbols and systems fail us, we must look to artists who stand as gatekeepers of peace. Newark births artists and creates home for them. Some travel and share their gifts with the world, while others decide to open community centers and galleries, like Project for Empty Spaces and La Casa de Don Pedro. Murals painted in wards by Layqa Nuna Yawar and Jay Golding, and pop-up photography exhibitions by Hycide, express the dignity, beauty, and power that radiates from the people. Bringing forth the excitement and possibility of hope, our gatekeepers of peace empower and represent the marginalized and erased by telling their stories truthfully.
In this moment of a struggle to survive as our full selves, they remind us to be present in the midst of rapid change that seems like progress. Always striving, Newark’s artists become the everyday superheroes we look to in order to find identity, solace, and understanding. We see ourselves in these champions and changemakers, as they work tirelessly to capture the intricate moments that are special to our diverse, rich, and passionate city. From poetry readings in the park, t-shirts that correctly pronounce NORK, the studios of Index Art Center, and soulful Vibe Sessions of BYHAZE, peace does not merely exist in the city of Newark. Rather, peace is the heartbeat that makes Newark a timeless and revolutionary city.
Alliyah Allen is an Artist and Curator, whose work focuses on the experiences, narratives, healing practices, and transformational image practices surrounding blackness, spirituality, and womanhood. Allen is based in Newark, New Jersey and is a graduate of Haverford College. Upon returning to Newark, Alliyah co-founded LAND Collective, which is an art collective aimed to revitalize and unify the creative community in Newark. Alliyah currently works as a Program Coordinator for New Arts Justice housed in Express Newark and an Assistant Curator for Monument Lab.