Art and Activism Comes Together in Hudson Valley

By Miranda Reale

TIVOLI – What began as a modest porch sale in Tivoli is now sited in a new brick-and-mortar building on Broadway. The Thrift 2 Fight Thrift Store started as a series of pop-up clothing sales to raise money for social justice organizations, but quickly developed into a model for supporting grassroots social change.

Fusing fashion and action, founders Masha Zabara, Jillian Reed, and Collin Lewis, have dedicated the mission of their business to social change and advocacy. With the erection of a physical space, the ability to utilize the space as a platform for the community has expanded the movement’s reach.

Opening its doors for business in January of this year, the first event hosted in the store by the Thrift 2 Fight team commenced last Friday. The space was transformed into an art exhibition for the night with works by incarcerated artist Dhoruba Ayinde Shuaib.

Dhoruba Shuaib's portrait of George Floyd. All of his paintings are for sale and customized drawings can be made for order and purchase.
Dhoruba Shuaib’s portrait of George Floyd. All of his paintings are for sale and customized drawings can be made for order and purchase.

Put in touch by the Bard Prison Initiative, Thrift 2 Fight’s walls were lined with Dhoruba’s paintings. Mostly being portraits, he often chooses subjects whose identities and stores have been limited and misrepresented. The caption attached to a vibrant portrait of George Floyd read: “I couldn’t find a picture of Floyd anywhere that didn’t show him looking old, miserable, defeated, and dark… So in my painting I attempted to show a different side of him. A side of him I know he had because of all the beautiful stories I heard about him narrated by his friends and family… the side of him the media chose to neglect.” Dhoruba goes on to say that the colors he chose were intentional, symbolic, and an effort to reclaim the dignity the police attempted to steal that day.

The exhibition allowed his works to be displayed and publicized, but the opportunity to hear the artist behind the paintings came from Dhoruba’s girlfriend, Chelsea Quayenortey who helped organize last Friday’s exhibition with Thrift 2 Fight founders. A speech written by Dhoruba and read by Chelsea expressed the experience of becoming an artist while incarcerated, rendering some control and power back to Dhoruba. “All of the things I saw and felt within these walls started to weigh on me. Without a conduit to express those emotions in a meaningful way I often crashed, finding myself in solitary confinement for months on end. I believe that the paint brush saved me from this. It gave me a voice to express the pains, horrors, and feelings associated with prison in a beneficial way”, Chelsea dictated.

Asking spectators to not just view, but analyze and look past the portrait itself; He wants people to think deeply about the experience of the person in the portrait, and the artist behind it. Dhoruba described himself as a rebellious spirit as each decision that goes into his paintings command a response from viewers and are inspired from the people around him. “Ultimately, think about all the imporsones, oppressed people that are the inspiration for these pieces surrounding us today,” his letter concluded.

Last Friday was the first of many in-store gatherings at Thrift 2 Fight.The store will launch an opening celebration on May 14th at their location at 48 Broadway in Tivoli.

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