Baobab: Tree of Life

By Tijay Mohammed and Beam Center

Van Cortlandt Park is proud to be the temporary home of Baobab: Tree of Life, an art installation that comprises a colorful mosaic centered around a wood and metal Baobab tree. 

Native to Africa, the Baobab tree is considered a symbol of life. Ghana-born artist Tijay Mohammed created this original work, incorporating Adinkra symbols, traditional African colors, and recycled Metrocards, to pay tribute to his own African ancestors. 

Working with NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program, Mr. Mohammed identified Van Cortlandt Park as the ideal location for his newest work because of the enslaved African legacy in the park. While touring the park with Park Administrator Stephanie Ehrlich, they agreed to site the installation on the lawn across from the Enslaved African Burial Ground to promote a dialog between the ancestors and the art. 

Location: Located adjacent to the Kingsbridge & Enslaved African Burial Grounds in Van Cortlandt Park. 

ABOUT BEAM CENTER

Beam Center aims to help New York City kids and teens set and achieve ambitious goals by making mentorship, creation, and collaboration central to their in- and out-of-classroom learning and college or work-preparatory experiences. We teach young people more than just technical skills; we support them as they grow as individuals and community leaders. We provide creative and collaborative opportunities across NYC for more than 3,500 youth every year. We do this through ambitious, collaborative project-making as in our work on Tijay Mohammed’s Baobab: Tree of Life, which was funded in part by the National Endowment for the Arts, the New York State Council on the Arts with the support of the Office of the Governor and the New York State Legislature, the Jacques & Natasha Gelman Foundation, and the William Talbott Hillman Foundation.

ABOUT ART IN THE PARKS

For over 50 years, NYC Parks’ Art in the Parks program has brought contemporary public artworks to over 200 of the city’s parks, collaborating with arts organizations and artists to produce over 2,000 works by 1,300 notable and emerging artists. For more information on works currently on view, and for tips on how to exhibit with Parks, visit nyc.gov/parks/art.  

 

THE REASON BEHIND ITS LOCATION

The location for the installation, Baobab: Tree of Life, was selected for its close proximity to the Enslaved African Burial Ground.

On Juneteenth 2021, the Enslaved African Burial Ground was consecrated and officially renamed to honor those who worked on the Van Cortlandt plantation. The contributions of the enslaved Africans were essential to the development of Van Cortlandt Park as it is known today. The Van Cortlandt family plantation relied heavily upon the labor of the enslaved people as they performed tasks such as building roads, constructing houses, and damming streams. Their efforts in creating sites such as the Van Cortlandt House Museum can still be seen throughout the park hundreds of years later. 

The installation of Baobab: Tree of Life is another step in the continuous effort to acknowledge the true history of Van Cortlandt Park and honor the enslaved Africans that shaped the landscape of the park.

Thank you to Tijay Mohammed and Beam Center.

 

  • A sign on a fence in a wooded area.
  • A group of people posing for a photo in front of a sign.
  • Two men standing next to each other in a wooded area.
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