Newark’s Women & Their Essential Role on Full Display in the Multi-Facade Mural ‘The Golden Life’ by Armisey Smith + Rachel Fawn Alban




The Golden Life ~ Portraits of Denise Toney, Antoinette Ellis-Williams, and Tamia Thomas. Photo credit: Rachel Fawn Alban

Project for Empty Space, in collaboration with the City of Newark’s Division of Arts and Culture, created by Newark-based artists Armisey Smith and Rachel Fawn Alban, has transformed the intersection of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd and Interstate 280 off-ramp in Newark, New Jersey and presenting their latest mural titled “The Golden Life”. This came together after the two creatives hosted a free art making workshop in the spring of 2023 that invited women and girls of all ages to participate in the creation of the artwork.

When our friend, Rachel Fawn Alban told us about this project, we couldn’t resist a leap across the Hudson for a view of The Golden Life, just in time for Women’s History Month.

The Golden Life (Adele) ~ Rachel Fawn Alan. Image courtesy of the artist.

This project is supported by Bloomberg Philanthropies Asphalt Art Initiative, which responds to the growing number of cities around the world embracing art as an effective and relatively low-cost strategy to enliven and improve safety in their streets through interventions on crosswalks, plazas, and other transportation infrastructure. The location was identified as it is a major intersection of travel (pedestrians, cyclists, motor vehicles, and those commuting through Broad Street Station.

The Golden Life installation of Portraits of Denise Toney, Antoinette Ellis-Williams. Photo credit: Rachel Fawn Alban

The Golden Life highlights women, from youth to elders, who live in the neighborhoods near the intersection. Each portrait, presented as a large-scale black and white photograph with a radiant gold nimbus, illuminates the greatness of Newark women and their essential, multifaceted roles. Floods of color and weaving lines share the story of our collective vibrancy and linked energy- our sisterhood. In addition to the mural, an audio component will be presented that shares the voices of participating femme identified Newark voices.

The Golden Life installation of portrait of Zora Stover. Photo credit: Rachel Fawn Alban.

This public art cuts through the sounds of our city and speaks clearer than any sidewalk conversation through its profound, shared experience…It unifies us around our awareness of how Newark’s women and girls propel the whole city into a place of peace, power, and prosperity. It’s fitting that these larger-than-life collages were crafted in artmaking workshops by Newark’s larger-than-life women and girls, who themselves are a living collage of Newark’s spirit.” …. Newark Mayor Has J. Baraka

The Golden Life~Participant Adele Rae Hayes Harris and her father Randy Hayes Harris look at the portrait of Adele featured in the new mural. Photo credit: Rachel Fawn Alban

“Joyful stories of women and girls of color are too often left untold and unseen due to systemic racism and other inequalities in our society. As artists, we want to reinforce women’s and girls’ strength, beauty, and purpose through the public lens, where we can effectuate change via public art. The Golden Life mural pays homage by portraying larger-than-life portraits crowned with a gold nimbus honoring each person’s radiant individuality. The painted elements of the mural offer various blues, symbolic of serenity, stability, inspiration, and wisdom, amplified with the intensity of the photos. The use of blue also symbolizes the vastness of the sky and the richness of the ocean, both associated with the power of womanhood. The lines in each blue motif represent time and the linear connections of sisterhood and the community. Honoring their individual stories, combined with the interconnectivity of the elemental power of womanhood, is the impetus of the collaborative creation of the “The Golden Life” mural.”….. Armisey Smith and Rachel Fawn Alban

The Golden Life~Portraits of Reine Campbell, Quincy Campbell, Klymora Smith. Photo credit: Rachel Fawn Alban

“Project For Empty Space has always been a fierce advocate for femme narratives in public space, and this mural is a testament to that. We will continue to advocate for those without a voice through the arts and various artist-led projects. We are only just getting started,” …. PES Co-Directors Jasmine Wahi and Rebecca Jampol

Portraits include Adele Rae Hayes Harris, Antoinette Ellis-Williams, Brenda Stover, Denise Toney, Kiymora Smith, Laila Gillespie, Luna Garcia, Lola Garcia Itzel Garcia, Reine Campbell Quincy Campbell, Rocio Magana, Tamia Thomas, and Zora Stover.

The Golden Life (Family) ~ Portraits of Rocio Magana,, Luna Garcia, Lola Garcia, Itzel Garcia. Photo credit: Rachel Fawn Alban

This work was created with the support of assisting artist Jo-El Lopez; workshop leaders Angel Bellaran, Kween Moore, Mouna Moussa, and Tiffany Salas; and installation team Randy Hayes Harris, Luis Lopez, Mark Hartmann, Ralph Jungo, and Renaldo Montan.

The Golden Life Mural was completed in late January 2024. The project joins a series of Project for Empty Space-led murals that center female visibility and vigor.

The Golden Life ~ Artists Armisey Smith and Rachel Fawn Alban with portrait of Klymora Smith. Photo credit: Randy Hayes Harris

About the Artists

Armisey Smith is a native of Brooklyn, New York, living in Newark, NJ. Armisey earned a BFA in Illustration from Parson’s School of Design and an MPS in Arts and Cultural Management from Pratt Institute. Armisey is an arts administrator, educator, working artist, and muralist. Her amalgamation of skills has afforded various opportunities to collaborate with essential stakeholders and community-based organizations in New York and New Jersey, serving marginalized communities for over 30 years. Her artistic practicum is consistently expanding into areas that delve into aspects of systemic oppression. Her prominent subjects illuminate the plight of black women and other women of color from past to present. She believes the production and exhibition of her works are an inherent part of her moral obligation to herself and the public. Her most recent murals are A Question of Time at Paul Robeson Galleries/Rutgers and Cherry Blossom Junction, NAC, at the Newark Public Library.

Rachel Fawn Alban is a photographer, arts educator, and writer based in Newark, NJ. In all of these roles, she sees herself as a collaborator in memory making, storytelling, and community care. Primarily known for documenting arts and culture, her photos, articles, and interviews have been published on many outlets including Discover Jersey Arts, State of the Arts NJ, Street Art NYC, ArtBreakOut, and Untapped New York. Recently, Rachel’s photos were exhibited at the Newark Museum of Art for the 2022 exhibit, “Artful Healing,” and she was the project photographer of the inaugural phase of the Newark Artist Collaboration presented by Audible Inc. As an arts educator, Rachel works with organizations including Paul Robeson Galleries, Abrons Art Center, Scholastic’s Alliance for Young Artists and Writers, and Arts Ed Newark. Rachel holds degrees from the School of Visual Arts: a BFA in Art Education with a double major in Graphic Design and a MPS in Art Therapy.

The Golden Life~Portrait of Denise Toney. Photo credit: Rachel Fawn Alban

About Bloomberg Philanthropies
Bloomberg Philanthropies invests in 700 cities and 150 countries around the world to ensure better, longer lives for the greatest number of people. The organization focuses on five key areas for creating lasting change: the Arts, Education, Environment, Government Innovation, and Public Health. Bloomberg Philanthropies encompasses all of Michael R. Bloomberg’s giving, including his foundation, corporate, and personal philanthropy as well as Bloomberg Associates, a pro bono consultancy that works in cities around the world. In 2022, Bloomberg Philanthropies distributed $1.7 billion.

About The Asphalt Art Initiative
The Asphalt Art Initiative responds to the growing number of cities around the world embracing art as an effective and relatively low-cost strategy to enliven and improve safety in their streets through interventions on crosswalks, plazas, and other transportation infrastructure