Photographed by Kay Hickman; Fellows Final Activations, 2023

How Create Change Fellows Use Urban Agriculture and Art to Uplift their Communities 

Our communities can be sites for love and mutual support—when we have summer cookouts together and till our soil together, we can create collective memories that last a lifetime and empower us to create sustainable change. Sharing resources and building bonds is especially important to Black and Latinx New Yorkers living within modest means, where it can be difficult to find adequate access to fresh produce, green space, and other needs. However, several artists and community organizers are using tools such as city gardening and environmental justice movements to improve our local communities. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, urban agriculture produces 15 to 20 percent of the world’s food supply, increases green spaces in historically disadvantaged areas, decreases issues associated with pollution, and provides education on climate change.

Given the advantages of urban agriculture, many socially conscious, Brooklyn-based creatives are drawing connections between art and these community movements. Madjeen Isaac and Iram Sadaf Padder are two such cultural workers who have used their skills in art making, curation, and organizing to reimagine what their neighborhoods can look like. 

Portrait of Madjeen Isaac. Photographed by Dennis Metoyor

Isaac—who was raised in Flatbush, Brooklyn—is an artist and educator who uses painting and collage to explore her identity as a first-generation Haitian-American woman. Foliage and agriculture remain central tenets of her work, and her oeuvre shows how visual media can conjure new places and possibilities. Isaac’s pieces splice together depictions of friends, relatives, plants, buildings, and animals to create nuanced portrayals of her upbringing in Flatbush. And these vibrant, multicolored representations raise poignant questions about urban land and our relationship with it; in doing so, these images show how we can tend to the Earth in a way that resists displacement in historically marginalized communities. 

“A lot of my practice involves me combining worlds that I occupy,” Isaac—who was also a recipient of The Laundromat Project’s Create Change Fellowship in 2022—said. “I think about Brooklyn and Haiti and other things that I value, such as urban agriculture, more and community aid.”

One of her works, What it Took to Feed the Village (2023) skillfully weaves together disparate images to show how communities can build environments for themselves across generations. The piece shows a man tenderly pursing his lips together, a woman catching a giant red fish with a rod, and a large apartment building looming in the background. When crafting the composition of the piece, the artist included the edifice because it is a structure that the painter, along with many other Caribbean immigrants, inhabited. Another canvas of hers, The Presence of Gran Bwa (2023), speaks to the history of Prospect Park and how Haitian immigrants have made their home there. The painting depicts a sculpture of Haitian migrant and Brooklyn resident Deenpz “Gran Bwa” Bazile during the 1980’s. But the reference to Gran Bwa serves two meanings in this picture: Gran Bwa is also known as a vodou loa who is often invisible; instead of being seen, the deity often manifests itself in nature and overgrown foliage.

What It Took to Feed The Village
Painting by Madjeen Isaac, 2023.

“My paintings are a mixture of my lived experiences and ones that are reimagined,” Isaac said. “I’m always taking photographs throughout my commutes, or whenever I am with loved ones. They serve as images that I could use for my process for collaging.” 

However, Isaac also explores these themes of ancestry, history, and ecology outside of her studio practice. She’s previously worked with community centered organizations, such as Haiti Cultural Exchange and Phoenix Community Garden, a local community garden in Brownsville. And during her tenure as a Create Change Fellow with The Laundromat Project, Issac hosted a class called Re-Imagine Your Hood, which was “an on-going art making workshop for all ages to utilize collage as a tool to envision their own abundant neighborhoods and community wellness.” 

“Collage is a tool that I often use in my practice as a way to deconstruct and reconstruct images that I take,” Isaac said. “I love giving folks that option because it’s very accessible, and they’re able to really dive into their imagination.”

Padder also uses social practice to uplift her community. The polymathic curator, writer, activist, educator, and artist works to “excavat[e] under-recognized contemporary art movements and histories related to the South Asian and Caribbean diaspora,” as she wrote on her website. 

Portrait of Iram Sadaf Padder. Photographed by Diane Wah.

Her creative practice draws parallels between art, ecology, and migration: as an independent curator, Padder founded the Alpha Arts Alliance, an arts agency that mentors and supports creators of color, and co-directs Grown in Haiti, a reforestation organization that works towards ecological sustainability and community development in Haiti. Recently, Grown in Haiti has “established a seed library, built a second water system, and the community’s first water cisterns,” Padder said. Eventually, Padder and the team at Grown in Haiti want to work towards building an artist residency on the island where creatives with a social practice will have unrestricted time to create work and contribute to the development project. This may be especially important for artists of color living in urban spaces because they often don’t have the chance to work in such close proximity to nature.  

 “A lot of us have inherited memories or stories about the connection our families once had to land, agriculture, and growing our own food,” Padder said. “In the work I’ve been doing at Phoenix Community Garden and Grown in Haiti over the last year, I have really come to see how many artists are engaged with those same principles. Unfortunately, they have had so few opportunities to put them into practice.” 

Photograph of Phoenix Community Garden.

In addition to her work in Haiti, Padder is also an active member of Phoenix Community Garden and uses her role there to educate others on harvesting crops, making art using organic materials, and creating textiles using natural fabric dyeing. When she was a 2021 Create Change Fellow, Padder used The Laundromat Project funding to host donation-based community Yoga sessions at Phoenix Community Garden and to facilitate a youth photography program. She hopes that exposing adolescents to these opportunities and creating a space for urban residents to connect with the land will enable those around her to create newer, more ecologically sustainable realities. 

“I think our universal language, art, gives people the ability to connect,” Padder said. “What I’m really interested in is how art will be a catalyst for learning and for transcending, and for expanding our imaginations of what’s possible.”


Isis Davis Marks

Isis Davis-Marks (b.1997) is a multidisciplinary artist, educator, and writer based in New York City. Her artwork has been exhibited nationally and internationally in venues including the Yale School of Art, the New York City Culture Club, and La Loma Projects. Her visual work has also been featured in the Rumpus and the Nation.

In her writing practice, Isis focuses on covering contemporary art, and most of her written work draws from philosophical and art historical texts to discuss issues including representation and contemporary visual culture. Her articles have been referenced in the New York Times ​and published in Smithsonian magazine, Cultured magazine, Phillips Auctions, Artsy, Frieze, the Art Newspaper, Hyperallergic, Communication Arts, King Kong Garçon, the Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She is also a member of the Association Internationale des Critiques d’Art.

Madjeen Isaac

Madjeen Isaac is a first generation Haitian-American artist whose practice is rooted in home, communality and belonging. Isaac reimagines and hybridizes landscapes to center boundless Black and immigrant existences that depict joy, leisure, and liberation, ultimately challenging the constraints of reality. She is heavily influenced by her upbringing in Brooklyn, surrounded by Caribbean culture, and especially informed by her observations that both are strongly family- and community-centered. Isaac aims to develop work that serve as blueprints to guide, metamorphose, and upheave society. By reimagining and suggesting ideal worlds of access and autonomy, she inspires viewers to internalize and claim their right to a better reality.

Isaac is currently an artist in residence at Smack Mellon. She has had residencies/fellowships including BRIClab: Contemporary Artist Residency Program, the Laundromat Project Fellowship and Lakou NOU Artist Residency Program at Haiti Cultural Exchange. She has exhibited at Swivel Gallery, Jenkins Johnson Projects Gallery, The Frost Art Museum, The Art and Design Gallery at FIT among others. Isaac has collaborated with KITH to create an Artist Series Capsule Collection in Honor of Black History Month in 2023. Her awards include a Women of Distinction Award from NY Assemblymember Rodneyse Bichotte Hermelyn and the City Artist Corps Grant from the New York Foundation for the Arts. She received a BFA degree in Fine Art from the Fashion Institute of Technology and an MA in Art + Edu & Community Practice from New York University.

Iram Sadaf Padder

Sadaf Padder is a Brooklyn-based independent curator, writer and community organizer focused on excavating under-recognized contemporary art movements and histories related to the Global South. She has curated across the country, from Philadelphia to Los Angeles to Martha’s Vineyard, focusing on themes of social justice, futurism, radical liberation movements, caste abolition, climate change and neo-mythology to weave connections between various communities.

Padder is uniquely informed by her background as a public school educator and administrator of eight years. She maintains a dedicated community-based practice where she develops youth arts programs and internships. Her curations have earned mentions in LA WeeklyHyperallergic and Art News and resulted in acquisitions of BIPOC women artists by the Baltimore Museum of Art, Northwestern University and the Nion McEvoy Foundation.

Padder has contributed writing to Visual AidsARTSYUp Mag and Hyperallergic. She also serves as a board member for the Chickweed Alliance and ArtBridge; is lead fundraiser for Grown in Haiti, where she is building a community center and artist retreat in Jacmel, Haiti; and is a member of Phoenix Community Garden, where she runs community events and youth programs. She is a Create Change alumna with the Laundromat Project as well as a 2022–23 Emily J. Hall Tremaine Fellow via Hyperallergic.