By LILLIAN REESE — If there wasn’t a stoplight at Route 1 and Hamilton Street, the blue-faced, blue-eyed woman in a gold headdress would stop traffic on her own. At the March 16 ribbon cutting ceremony, the artist behind this bold piece officially celebrated his display.
The woman’s name is Niqabi, and her piercing blue eyes are almost impossible to overlook. Designed by Rashad Ali Muhammad, “Niqabi” wraps a traffic light signal box.
Organized by Muhammad’s mother, the ceremony brought together friends, family, community members and elected officials to honor her son’s achievements for having not one, but two designs chosen to be printed on traffic boxes in Hyattsville.
“Niqabi” and Muhammad’s other submitted piece, “I Am Not Your Target,” were both highly sought after during Hyattsville Community Development Corporation’s (HyCDC’s) artist search back in 2016.
“When we did the jurying … [Muhammad’s] two works were the highest rated in the panel,” said HyCDC Executive Director Stuart Eisenberg.
The HyCDC is one of the entities behind the city’s several arts and community beautification projects. According to Eisenberg, the organization strives to put art in public spaces to revitalize and stimulate the community. Printing designs by local artists on vinyl and wrapping traffic boxes in them is one way they do this.
This project was designed to use small scale murals to address blight and enhance the visual landscape along the city’s commercial corridors. This installation comes on the heels of the program’s pilot installation of 11 cabinets throughout the county. The HyCDC chose seven designs to cover 15 traffic box locations.
“We are excited to have [“Niqabi”] in a very prominent location on Route 1. Everyone that drives by is going to have something that is eye-catching, beautiful, engaging, and unlike other cities that do some traffic box art like this, the work that we do in Hyattsville … they’re original pieces,” said Mayor Candace Hollingsworth.
“Niqabi” is leading the charge for the traffic box initiative, despite Muhammad’s humble way of approaching art.
“I haven’t had the opportunity to put my art in a public space like this,” Muhammad said “so when the opportunity came, I jumped at it.”
Muhammad began his artistic journey just for fun. He said he initially didn’t have any overarching goals, and art was just something to do. However, after receiving so much positive feedback and recognition, the artist, photographer and graphic designer’s sights are shifting.
“Now that I have seen a career take form, my goals are set on presenting at premiere art festivals or showcasing at other festivals like AFROPUNK,” he said.