In 2019, New York Magazine voted visionary artist Paul Deo’s renowned, mixed media mural, “Planet Harlem” as one of New York City’s Best Places to Visit. Fast forward to 2022 and the very same piece of art, located on the northwest corner of Malcolm X Blvd and 126th Street, is partially covered up by the new restaurant ZZ which is located across from where Harlem’s Trader Joe’s is scheduled to open, located at 121 W. 125th Street between Lenox Avenue and Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Boulevard.
The goal is to have the “Planet Harlem” mural declared a protected, New York landmark.
And what qualifies as a landmark? That’s a great question. Here’s the answer. In modern usage, a landmark includes anything that is easily recognizable, such as a monument, building, or other structure. It is the main term used to designate places that might be of interest to tourists due to notable physical features or historical significance.
The reason for saving “Planet Harlem” for future generations is clear, to most, who live in these historic meccas and are personally surrounded by gentrification. They tell us that gentrification is something we cannot stop and toss back words like diversity and inclusion at us forgetting this history of why our people are walking on these shores in the first place.
So when I discovered that Paul’s mural was not being respected, well I felt a certain way about it.
Kicking it with him in Harlem, where we are separated by only a few blocks, we connected because he’s actually teaching art to a group of spirited senior citizens at the local church. Paul’s a man who understands the world of grants and because of one provided by the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (https://lmcc.net/resources/manhattan-arts-grants/) he’s teaching art to a group of Uptown, Harlem senior citizens.
My first impression of Paul was that he was very tall. Basketball player tall, which fits because he grew up playing fast and hard ball downtown, in the Village at “the cage”—West 4th Street, where legends are born and weak moves to the rim are publicly ridiculed. It’s said that the cage rewards those who can squeeze off shots in narrow windows of space. In looking at this artist’s growing resume, you can feel the competitive nature that pulsates through his body, like sparks, squeezing off those “opportunities” just like a flying basketball whooshing through a hoop.
My second impression of Paul is that he’s sentimental, fondly remembering his beloved aunt who was a teacher and Harlem resident who instilled in him a love of creating from an early age. “Can I talk about my aunt in this article? She loved the Amsterdam News. It’s the Amsterdam News,” Deo said. How can I not throw that statement into the mix? His heartfelt requests stepped perfectly into the point that I am trying to make, which is, that Deo honors the past. Something gentrification does not do. In fact, I would venture to offer that the act of gentrifying a cultural space is to seek ways (seen and hidden) to destroy those vestiges of history in an effort to erase from memory the people they forced out.
Deo’s resume is impressive. At the age of seven, he started painting street gang jackets to earn his pocket money. Perpetually curious, his thirst for learning led him to immerse himself in the world of designing 3D virtual reality spaces. Deo earned a degree in Information Technology and continued to explore the connections between the left and right brain in an effort to tap into infinite creative potential.
Inspired by his work with refugee orphans from Guatemala and Honduras, Deo developed MyndTeam, an Intelligent Personal Assistant which allows users to create personalized teams of advisers in cyberspace.
As artist-in-residence at Harvard University, Deo worked with students and local Native American tribes to merge an understanding, teaming with Augmented Pictures and creating the first augmented reality mural on the campus.
Note, Harvard University is located on the traditional and ancestral land of the Massachusett, the original inhabitants of what is now known as Boston and Cambridge. And this stolen and occupied land still remains sacred to the Massachusett People.
In 2019, Deo was selected by visionary director Spike Lee to paint the official mural for his 30th anniversary celebration of the film, “Do the Right Thing.”
Currently, through his StuDeo company, Deo continues to teach and spark inspiration to students including incarcerated, at-risk high school teens, and young people from elementary to college level.
Most recently, he received the prestigious Carnegie Hall NeON Arts Grant and used it to start StarSeed Art and Technology, a digital arts entrepreneur school.
“There’s so much an artist can do inside the virtual space,” says Deo. “You can sculpt in the three-dimensional space, create your own worlds, and have people pay to enter it. Artists can create their own intellectual property.”
Here’s what I discovered about Harlem’s Paul Deo and his work.
AmNews: Paul Deo, I can’t believe we are neighbors. Where have you been?
Paul Deo: Painting. Teaching. Trying to circulate a petition to turn my mural “Planet Harlem” into a landmark.
AmNews: So, in other words, you’ve been busy.
PD: Harlem busy.
AmNews: Describe your art?
PD: I create art that evokes the collective, drawing upon ancestral oral tradition as well as threads of modern mythology in order to establish a space for communal dialogue.
AmNews: Deep, like jumping around in a space suit, deep. Paul, break that down, bro.
PD: (laughing) Essentially, the murals, multimedia projects, sculptures, and canvas works are crafted with the vision of telling a story that seeks to engage and inspire absolutely everyone.
AmNews: Tell me about your ties to Harlem, and aunt Auressa Moore.
PD: My aunt Auressa [Moore] is my inspiration. Growing up, I lived between New Orleans and New York City. My aunt is my inspiration; she was a fine arts artist and taught me various art techniques while she was a student at the School of the Visual Arts in New York City.
AmNews: Paul, the love flowing is real. Your aunt, Mrs. Moore really had an impact.
PD: She did, exposing me to the culture of Harlem and the Apollo Theater, and my art aesthetics were born. I saw art and the Apollo Theater experiences as one in spirit. I remember James Brown entering the stage already sweating. Was he dancing backstage getting ready to take us to the cosmos? I think so. I wanted to be James Brown. I wanted the ability to take people to their highest joyful feeling, giving and over-delivering that love with effort and imagination.
AmNews: What are you doing now?
PD: I’m working with formerly incarcerated people in the Bronx, to help them learn how to build worlds using virtual reality. You can literally build a virtual world and invite people inside and make money. It’s the artist’s creation. Their intellectual property.
AmNews: Using what?
PD: Using an Oculus [Quest 2]. It’s a VR headset and you download an app. You. Can. Create. Your. Own. World.
AmNews: Do you teach this alone?
PD: No. I teach with Will Roberts ( https://www.augmentedpictures.com), who was an Oculus Launch Pad Fellow in 2018. His solid technical knowledge is a perfect balance for my abstract, spiritual, and right-brain thinking.
AmNews: That sounds like a winning combination to me.
PD: (laughing) Thank you. Experts say we only use 10% of our brain. What is in that remaining 90% of our brain? What is beyond light? Infinity.
To learn more about how to use virtual reality to create intellectual property and NFT, go to https://www.augmentedpictures.com/.