(Photo by Giray Arat)
“Magnitude and Bond” is a large mural painted on a brick wall on Halsey Street, close to NJIT. I used to pass by it at least once a week when I was living in Newark and studying at NJIT as an exchange student during the 2021-2022 school year. As my time in Newark drew to a close, the mural became a kind of shrine to me, and I went to see it regularly.
To me, it has always represented the spirit of Newark. At the top of the mural, there is an elderly woman with a halo around her head, looking down at the city. The mural is so large that you can see her even when looking up from farther locations on Market Street. The woman ceaselessly watches over Newark, looking out over every building.
During my first few months at NJIT as an electrical engineering student, I could not recognize the figures in local artwork, having come to the United States for the first time. However, I learned so much in a year. Some faces started becoming recognizable, such as the Harriet Tubman mural “A Path To Freedom” on Treat Place, just behind Broad Street, and which has many other pieces of artwork.
Upon reading about the groundbreaking Harriet Tubman monument proposal in the recently renamed Harriet Tubman Square, I learned that the Underground Railroad existed in Newark as well. There was a station located inside the basement of the Presbyterian Church on Broad Street, right at the center of Newark.
Not many students at NJIT know about the city’s abolitionist history, or about the murals honoring its past. Yet the city’s collection of street art murals is so important and is being built passionately and carefully by a growing community of Newark artists. The heart and soul in their art serves as a gateway for us students to interact and connect with the people of Newark, and acts as a portal to their proud history.
One of those artists was Gladys Barker Grauer — the woman pictured at the top of the “Magnitude and Bond” mural. The artwork was created to commemorate Newark artists, and to commemorate the seven decades that she lived there as an artist. Grauer was born in 1923 and moved to the city in 1951; in 1971, she opened Newark’s first art gallery.
She was a prolific visual artist, creating countless artworks weaving together several different materials and methods. Grauer was what I would call an “incubator,” or a catalyst. She created a space in her studio for local artists to hold exhibitions and pushed major projects into motion, turning Newark into a center for art.
Another artist pictured on the mural is Breya Knight. While Grauer watches over the community, Knight, a poet, actress, and singer, stands in front of her as a, well, knight. She was also a busy artist, regularly taking the stage at poetry events in Newark and outside.
Knight was heavily involved in the community, teaching young girls poetry after school. She sang with Newark choirs and often combined poetry with song in her performances; she also published three books. Unfortunately, she succumbed to diabetes at age 30, but became a central figure of the Newark community, just like Grauer.
We paint murals to remember the stories of the past, and pass these down to the next generations, so that they can face the future with purpose. We wish to lend our own knowledge and their ancestors’ support. The people honored in Newark’s murals are our own ancestors too.
As NJIT students, we are also a part of the Newark community, and can learn from its artists, workers, merchants, and revolutionaries. Our work at NJIT, the home of knowledge, of science, technology, and design, grows through its relationship with Newark and its people. By telling their stories, including through street art, we can face the future together.
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