Read the story of this mural’s installation.
About the Bird: One of North America’s most familiar birds, it seems unthinkable that the American Robin may one day fail to be ubiquitous across the landscape. Its habitat ranges from lawns and suburban parks to forests and farmland across the continent. The robin’s rich, caroling call, blue eggs, and predilection for earthworms have all come to define many people’s perception of birds. However, the robin may be a harbinger of environmental health. As the climate warms, it stands to lose nearly a quarter of its breeding range in a band spanning the center of the United States from north to south and middle of the country from east to west. Spring heat waves and wildfires, both exacerbated by climate change, also pose a threat. Climate models show that keeping warming in check—to just 1.5 degrees Celsius over preindustrial levels—will also help ensure the robin remains common.
About the Artist: Jessica Maffia is a visual artist born and raised in New York City. She works across a wide variety of media to celebrate the familiar and honor the natural world of the city, through repetitive, meditative processes. Her work has been exhibited throughout the United States and is currently in the Flat Files of Pierogi Gallery in downtown Manhattan. She created the artwork for musician Childish Gambino’s two singles “Summertime Magic” and “Feels Like Summer.”
For her first mural and the Audubon Mural Project’s first abstract installation, Maffia created a mosaic from glass bottle pieces foraged and upcycled from Highbridge Park, along the Harlem River in the Washington Heights neighborhood where the mural is located. The clear glass lines in the middle of the clouds represent the birdsong of the American Robin in the form of a spectrogram—a visual representation of sound frequency. Maffia describes these two “soundclouds” as “little celebrations of the beauty of the robin’s song.”
Video: Mike Fernandez/Audubon
The robin itself is intentionally absent from the work. “Our hunger for burning fossil fuels is heating our planet to the point that even these most populous of birds are threatened,” Maffia says. “The mirrored pieces surrounding the mosaic are intended for us to see ourselves as both the creators of the problem and the agents of change responsible for finding solutions.” Maffia cast the robin’s-egg-blue hands from those of local, present-day Washington Heights residents, both students and adults, who are actively engaged in fighting for environmental justice. She asked each participant to envision offering sanctuary to the robin in their hand gestures, as a counterpoint to the displacement that climate change threatens.
Entitled “Listen with Me,” the mural is an invitation to slow down, tune in, and connect to the magic and wonder of the robin and her song, Maffia says. “It is also a call to terminate our reliance on fossil fuels to protect all living beings, wild and free.”