The pandemic has resulted in countless changes to North Brooklyn — including businesses coming and going, an uptick in mutual aid efforts, apartment vacancies, and a fundamental change to how and where the neighborhood socializes, to name a few. And amidst the unpredictable chaos, Barking Lizards Art & Design (152 N 4th St.) owner, Wanda Correa-Drake, has been inspired to showcase the Williamsburg she remembers best with the gallery’s latest “Finding Williamsburg(h)” art show.
“Finding Williamsburg(h)” tells the story of the neighborhood then versus now through a visual depiction of the past 50 years.
“As we think about the changes already occurring due to pandemic life, I am reminded of the unsure, yet exciting times during the early artist migration into Williamsburg. This thought inspired our newest show,” Correa-Drake explained. “We invited photographers from Williamsburg’s past to show us a glimpse of its history. I couldn’t be more excited about the work and the potential of where to go from here.”
And when it came to selecting which photographers and artists to showcase, Correa-Drake — who has been in Williamsburg for nearly 40 years — admits that the process was more happenstance than a matter of picking and choosing.
The show features Mara Catalan, a fine artist and photographer, at its helm. Catalan was connected with Correa-Drake through a friend, and the idea for the show grew organically once she showed Correa-Drake her book, Williamsburg, A Place I Once Called Home, a coming-of-age monograph depicting her experience in the neighborhood in the ‘90s.
“Finding the photos was difficult, then Mara walked in with her book and I said ‘This is the show,’” Correa-Drake recalls of her early collaboration with Catalan.
“Wanda is really part of how this neighborhood grew … she just knows the history a lot,” Catalan said. “I decided to include some of my most iconic photographs that are places or buildings that no longer exist, but I think are really important for people who lived here at that time, and also to gather the mood of how it felt.”
The show also features Brian Rose, Jeffrey Allen, Lito Portela, and Nicole Pilar. Pilar, in particular, had an existing relationship with Barking Lizards due to her ceramics work being featured in past shows.
“[Wanda] had remarked to me that she wanted to do a show on Williamsburg and wanted to check out old photographs from back in the day,” Pilar explained. “I told her that I had been shooting since I was there, and I moved into the area in ‘96.”
In her work, Pilar aimed to highlight the visceral energy of the Williamsburg waterfront, which at the time served as a creative haven for artists and musicians.
“People would come down to the waterfront whether they’d be tagging graffiti or creating sculptures, just creating art out of what they found down there,” Pilar remembers. “For me, it was that every time i walked down to the waterfront, there was always something new that someone had created that just changed the landscape. It had this grittiness that really had a great energy behind it.”
Throughout the course of the show, which launched on February 11, it has been peppered with surprises, including a blog post that complements Catalan’s photo of Kokie’s corner and other memorabilia like an invitation from a party at the Old Dutch Mustard factory and spring from one of Williamsburg’s old train cars now serving as a planter.
“The more you open it up to people, the more pieces come together; it conjures up that kind of conversation,” Correa-Drake said about finding more early-Williamsburg artifacts to include.
The show, which tentatively runs through April 4, is set to be Barking Lizards’ last.
As of late, Correa-Drake has been meeting with merchants to find potential new tenants for the Barking Lizards space, while also remaining optimistic about the future of art in Williamsburg as the pandemic continues to change the neighborhood landscape (and as things start opening up again).
“I’m seeing that there’s an art movement coming to town; it’s younger, more modern. Different,” Correa-Drake admits. “It’s their turn.”