Growing up as a kid in Queens, then-budding artist Zeehan Wazed noticed at a young age that the visual arts weren’t represented in his community as they were in other boroughs. “There’s a lot of food and culture, but Queens is lacking in the arts. There just isn’t a lot of art in the neighborhood,” says the Bangladeshi-American multimedia artist, who now lives in the Astoria area of Queens.
When he initially heard that Innovation QNS would be reactivating a corner of Astoria dominated by parking lots, underutilized industrial buildings, and vacant spaces, Wazed reached out to find out if they were offering any artist-in-residence programs. The response? Even better: Innovate QNS asked Wazed to create a Welcome mural that represents the character of the neighborhood and incorporates technology to share information and get the community involved.
“I thought, ‘Here is a developer trying to bring artwork to the neighborhood and taking responsibility to beautify the neighborhood,” he says.
As an immigrant himself, Wazed wanted to capture the diversity of the Astoria neighborhood, using his colorful signature style to incorporate the colors of the different flags represented by the people, along with movement and momentum to convey the neighborhood’s jubilant energy.
“It’s always felt like such a privilege to be here,” he says. “I wanted to create work that really resonates with the community since I’m one of its residents.”
Over the course of two months last fall, Wazed brought his ideas to life on a 175-foot wall at 35-18 Steinway St. The resulting “Welcome to Astoria” mural pays homage to the community and local landmarks while incorporating augmented reality (AR) — When the art is scanned using the free Artivive app, the work animates and welcomes passersby in 37 different languages. Moving forward, Wazed is working to establish a network of murals that can update neighborhood residents using the AR feature.
As he was painting, Wazed enjoyed interacting with the local community and exposing them to his work. “Some people came by every day and said ‘thank you,’” he says. “A lot of people passing by would never set foot in a gallery. A whole second grade class came by and were trying to find different motifs in the mural.”
For Wazed, it’s been a dream to be part of the changes he imagined for Queens as a kid. “I appreciate change that is positive, and art is a way to see that change,” he says. “I think we’re due for it.”
Innovation QNS is a community-driven plan to build upon Astoria, Queens’ rich cultural fabric and reactivate a dormant corner of the neighborhood as a vibrant, mixed-use creative district. Learn more about this project here.