Jalani Lion crafts memories.
A recording and visual artist in Kingston, Lion is the creative force behind the 2015 “In Memory of Adam (Jeff) McQueen, Kaireem Meeks, Jr., Dante Crump, Jonte Clark, and Jeffrey D’Aguilar” mural on Franklin Street. In that work, he pays tribute to the city residents who lost their lives in car crashes in the Hudson Valley. It was his first major mural in the region, and one designed to celebrate and mourn the individuals portrayed while allowing their memories to live on through family and friends.
Now, he’s back at it with a mural dedicated to the Black Lives Matter movement and its impact on the Hudson Valley. Led by Kingston-based community organization O+, the recently completed mural at 695 Broadway is a collaboration between Lion and fellow O+ Festival alums Dina Kravstov and Mat Schulze. It decorates the exterior of the building that will soon become a community and performance space for Radio Kingston.
“O+ reached out to me about a week after the murder of George Floyd and wanted to embark on creating a mural representing anti-racism and ending police brutality,” Lion recalls. Because O+ already had the building and resources required for painting, Lion and fellow artists were able to get started quickly. They had complete creative freedom in terms of design.
As part of the collaboration, the trio of artists divided the design based on their respective skillsets.
“I handled the portraits, Dina Kravstov handled the flowers, and Mat Schulze handled the lettering,” Lion explains. “The chemistry flowed naturally, and it was an enjoyable experience.”
One week after beginning work on the project, the mural was complete. Now available for all to see, the painting memorializes Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and George Floyd. Along with the portraits, the work also includes Kravstov’s depiction of medicinal, resilient local plants like chicory, cosmos, dandelion, mullein, and St. John’s wort. While the subject matter was a challenge to tackle, Lion is hopeful that the mural will act as a starter for conversation and change in the region.
“It is my hope that this mural can provoke thought and emotion on this country’s recent events,” he says. “I hope it can serve as a symbol for positive change in the country, as well as the City of Kingston.”
While the bulk of reactions to the mural have been supportive thus far, Lion admits that he has heard from frustrated individuals with comments about “white lives matter” or “that’s racist.” Overall, however, he points out that the mural is a foundation for conversation among all parties. While such discussions are never easy, he notes that they are critical for lasting progress.
“Looking ahead, I can’t imagine what the future holds,” he observes. “Less than a month ago, this was just another building on Broadway in Kingston. I’m grateful and humbled by all the positive feedback. With all the love and support that I have received lately, I’m confident that many good things will come out of it.”