NYCity Visions , May 2016

If you are in NYC come and visit the show !!!

Opening reception May 22, 2016  from 3:00pm to 6:00pm

at Julio Valdez Studio, LLC / Project Space  176 E 106th st. New York, NY 1009

 

 

NYCity Visions
By Veronica Lawlor
Parsons School of Design

Every spring and fall semester, the islands of the Dominican Republic and Manhattan become connected, as students from Altos de Chavon come to Parsons School of Design in New York to study. One island culture visiting another: to learn, to experience, and also, to contribute. 

The images in this NYCity Vision exhibit bring the two cultures together through the eyes and the illustrations of these Altos de Chavon students. Some of those who came to study at Parsons stayed only for a semester; others have remained in New York for years. The combination of the two cultures is at once familiar to any New Yorker who has visited the traditionally Dominican neighborhood of Washington Heights, but this exhibit may also offer a better understanding to those NYC natives whose main knowledge of Dominican culture may be where to find the best mofongo in Manhattan.

One hates to generalize when talking about places or people, but certain differences between New York and the Dominican Republic are evident. New York in winter can be cold and grey, and we see in several of these pieces a reflection of (and perhaps, a longing for) the warmer climate and sunnier skies of DR. One piece combines the hot colors of the rainforest with the cool square shapes of an urban environment; another illustration depicts a tropical world hoisted in the arms of Atlas. One can imagine the longing to hold on the soul of the Caribbean in the midst of Rockefeller Center. (Or maybe this is only the projection of this New Yorker, who is very tired of snow.)

We may also read into these illustrations the daily realities that Dominican students must face when trying to thrive in a city with different cultural norms and lifestyles. In one piece, the stitch marks inside a figure create the waters from which that same figure struggles to emerge: perhaps illustrating an intense homesickness. In another illustration, we see the philosophy of the Dominican ahorita meeting the fast pace of the New York minute, depicted by the free flight of a bird constrained by the famous timepiece of Grand Central Station. Others show the icons of the predominantly Christian country of DR surrounded by the brick and mortar religion of Manhattan, and the shapes of a midtown skyscraper turned into a new kind of cathedral. These illustrators use their art to make sense of a new culture through the icons of a familiar one.

But also, we see the people of New York adopted by their visitors, through a visual representation of the greater sense of the human family that seems to be such a Dominican attitude. Characters from the streets of New York City are depicted in illustrations of joyfulness and love, with a celebration and an implicit acceptance of all personalities. This is a New York of dancers, lovers, musicians, and players; a New York of the very old as well as the very young. The city bustles and teams with life and a range of people from the most fashionable to the homeless. It is a celebration. One of the most playful images in the exhibition depicts a Manhattan island made entirely of the faces of its inhabitants. This is the new family adopted by its Dominican visitors – some who stay for a semester, some who’ll stay for a lifetime.

Traditional Dominican culture elevates the family, and Dominicans seem to create family wherever they go. In teaching at Parsons and having the pleasure of working with many Chavon students over the years, I have found myself drawn into the family circle. Students I have worked with at Parsons in the past now teach in the DR send me their own students, who enter my classroom shyly announcing that Orling or Jonathan have sent them to study with me. Like care packages of artistic dreams, they arrive at my door with a heart full of hope and a portfolio full of drawings. And they work! I love to see the determination and drive of the students of Chavon, and they often infect a class with their happiness to be here in this city making art. Their excitement and love for their adopted home may be best expressed by the sweetness of the illustration of the Statue of Liberty enjoying a bouquet of tropical flowers.

As a native New Yorker, I welcome these additions to a city I love, and I hope that some of these Chavon students will stay with us for a long time to come. They bring more than art with them – they bring their unique contributions to the melting pot of cultures that give New York its beauty. 

Perhaps you will see what I see in this exhibit: a celebration of our cultural differences, our commonalities, and our greater human family. (And by the way, in my opinion, for the best mofongo you should stay on the 1 train a little bit longer, and go to the Bronx.)