Hunts Point is an interesting neighborhood, as it
is part residential and part industrial. Most of the food markets
feeding New York City are in Hunts Point, which brings in jobs,
but also brings its share of problems, such as air pollution from
truck traffic, as well as noise pollution. The neighborhood is
one of the poorest congressional district in the country (the
15th Congressional District of the South Bronx). It is also in
a flood zone, and was heavily impacted by hurricane Sandy in 2012.
It remains very vulnerable should another hurricane hit the city
in the future.
The residency's goal was to have artists do outreach
in the neighborhood about resiliency, and find ways to connect
with residents about climate change and pollution. My past installations
had all involved the community which I like to engage in the art-making
process. The biggest lesson I have learned from these projects
however, is that the most vulnerable populations will not seek
out art-making, and may not have the time and energy to think
about creativity as part of their daily lives.
So I went looking for them.
I made a mobile art workshop, which was essentially
a shopping cart equipped with a table, an umbrella, two chairs,
and art supplies that I rolled around the neighborhood. I stopped
anyone who looked stationary, adults and children alike: people
on their stoop, people sitting on public benches seeking cooler
air, families waiting for their laundry to dry, and asked if they
wanted to do artwork for the Bronx. After the usual quizzical
look of amusement, I would explain that I had picked up street
litter, made simple tiles out of the trash, and was going around
asking residents to make artwork on the trash tiles, which would
later be assembled on a mural.
Essentially the idea was this: could we as a community
turn negative experiences into something positive? The results
were stunning. People sat with me and readily created artwork
on the street, and told me their stories, which were most often
heart-breaking. They created tiles about their lives, living in
an urban environment, loving nature, and missing their home country.
I hope that the experience has given a little bit of positivity
and power to the participating artists, and that maybe, just maybe,
it has given them a little bit of the happiness and peace of mind