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Photographer Alex Harsley Created An Artists’ Hub In the East Village—And Now He’s Trying To Save It

Alex Harsley and daughter Kendra Krueger in the 4th Street Photo Gallery (Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

All the roads in Alex Harsley’s life have led him to photography (many of these roads he traversed as a young man keen on tearing up the streets of New York on his sweet motorcycle). Specifically, what he calls “information photography.”

“I like discovering things nobody knows. And that’s how I got into photography…I had this way of seeing things before they happen. And then getting there as it was happening.” He gestures to a photograph on the wall near him, where a man and woman stand under streetlamps on a New York night. Two drops of blue from the streetlights—almost like splashes of paint—stand out from the yellow and black hues of the photo. This is a signature technique of Harsley, who’s spent much of his life experimenting with the ultraviolet spectrum by pulling different colors out and plopping them where they normally wouldn’t be seen. But Harsley is fixated on a different detail at the moment. “The way that woman’s heel is, for instance. Minor things in the image that say a lot…I’m always looking: ‘Well, how can I push this medium even further now?’”

A New York street photo shot by Alex Harsley.

I first came upon the 80-year-old founder of the nonprofit Minority Photographers Inc. while wandering around East 4th Street and seeking to escape the 90-something degree heat on a ruddy June day. He was resting on a chair outside of his narrow storefront, above which was painted, in charming print, “The 4th Street Photo Gallery.” Harsley invited me inside, where I met his daughter, Kendra Krueger, who had recently moved back to New York to help her dad with the gallery’s needs. These include archiving and digitizing countless photos shot over a lifetime and monitoring a GoFundMe campaign that they had set up to meet the demand of rising rents, hefty property taxes and loss of storage space as the East Village gentrifies.

Despite the efforts of nonprofit Cooper Square Mutual Housing Association—who rents the space to Minority Photographers and supports affordable housing in the area—to keep costs down, their rent has jumped from $1200 to $1400 a month and another ten percent hike is expected in the coming years. In order to stay afloat and keep the gallery—which has been a collective for artists of color for the past four decades—going until at least its 50th anniversary, Harsley has reached out to the community for support by asking for donations and giving participants a photographic print of their choice in return.

“There’s enough people out there that I have invested heavily in that, now, they can start paying something back for what I have helped them. I’m looking at hundreds and hundreds of people out there, saying, ‘I need some help now. Help me,’” says Harsley.

When I return the following week, Harsley—surrounded by a backdrop of hundreds upon hundreds of photos hanging on the walls and connected by clothespins—narrates his life story, which is enough to fill a half-dozen books, let alone a short article. Harsley grew up in a multi-generational household of 15 people in South Carolina, headed by the patriarch—his great-grandfather—who took care of him when he was born. Being born in the late 1930s, Harsley saw most of the young men of his era go off to war, but he was raised for the farm life. “I was basically brought up and taught everything I needed to know about running a farm. Horses. Vegetables. Fruits. Different seasons for different things. Making specific objects in case something broke. Like welding, for instance, with just a hammer. So, I had these interesting skills.”

From a young age, Harsley was tinkering with different objects, which foreshadowed the extensive exploration he would do in terms of researching photographic techniques. A key moment was when his mother took him to a photo gallery for a family portrait as a child, and he spotted the black photographer taking their photo. “And it was like this magic stuff was happening in this box. Did all these funny things and gave this tiny little picture. And I was like, ‘How’d you do that?’” Harsley says, mimicking his sense of wonder as a child, which he still possesses in abundance.

But Harsley never felt at peace in the South. As the child of a Baptist father born into a Methodist household, the family marked him as an outsider. “That’s when my mother was asked to come and get me and take me out of that environment. They could no longer handle me, as the saying goes,” recalls Harsley with a knowing smile. So his mother, who had been working in New York to support her family, brought him up to the big city in 1948. Harsley hung out with a bunch of kids who had survived the hardscrabble years of the war on the streets of New York. He also inadvertently sneaked into museums—one of the gatekeepers of the art world—thereby absorbing the strange dual nature of life in the city.

As a young man in the 1950s, he used to ride down to Washington Square Park. One day, a fellow in the park sold him a $15 camera, which he promptly took apart and examined. He was hooked. Not many years later, he would become the first black photographer in the New York City District Attorney’s office. He had first got a job working as a messenger in the district attorney’s office. “That was the beginning of equal opportunity. And the white structure was bringing in us folks,” says Harsley. “They had a photography department, and the person up there, I got to be friends with [him]. And realized he wanted to get a job working in the clerk’s office. So it was a good opportunity for me to take his job.” Harsley laughs, his voice crackling slightly.


But being drafted into the army in the early ‘60s derailed his plans. He re-enlisted, as he thought he would be able to use his service as a way to enter photography school. But the army had other plans for him, and he was unceremoniously shipped down to Alabama. Back to the “negative reality that I escaped many, many years ago as a child.” He stayed in his post and refused to go into the main town, and described being taught “very bad technology” which could be used to chemically kill or maim people. He was subsequently sent to a new posting in Massachusetts. After he returned from his service in the army, he realized it was time to get serious about his photography. He freelanced for a variety of publications and committed to research in a less destructive chemical technology than what he had been taught in the army: photographic techniques, which he honed as a supervisor in the Color Lab.

Meanwhile, he was also a bit of a self-admitted “playboy” when he moved into a place over on 11th Street called Paradise Alley in 1964 (Bedford + Bowery previously interviewed Harsley for a piece on the complex in 2013). “Paradise Alley was notorious. I didn’t know that. Where artists come and create troubles for everyone else.” He lets out a light laugh. “To me, it was like moving into paradise, literally. They had all these beautiful women. They had parties every night. Nobody complained.” It was around this time that he met Shelagh Krueger—Kendra’s mother and Harsley’s wife.

The photographer became acquainted with a lawyer in the office where Shelagh worked as a secretary. The attorney was irate that a building on Madison Avenue, which had a connection to Winston Churchill’s family, was being torn down for a high rise. Moreover, the appellate division of the New York State Supreme Court was also next to the building, and Harsley said the lawyer felt this new high rise was going to “cast a shadow on this important institution.” Literally. So the lawyer struck a deal with Harsley: take a photo of the building and preserve its glory, and I’ll help you set up a nonprofit art organization.

And that’s how Minority Photographers Inc. was born in 1971. The gallery came along not long after in 1973. The gallery hosted workshops over the next four decades and cultivated artists from communities of color like Dawoud Bey— a 2017 MacArthur Fellow that Harsley lauds for his writing ability as well as photographic talent—and David Hammons, who “was important to the [art] culture because he knew how to make fun of it in the most ridiculous way.” Minority Photographers also provided guidance to women photographers like Cynthia MacAdams. Harsley exhales deeply when describing her work. “I shiver when I look at that woman’s work. Wow. Techniques that she came up with. Difficult techniques. She’s the best. Ever. Ever.”

Harsley takes me on a tour of his life’s works. Photographs of celebrities like Miles Davis and Muhammad Ali scatter the walls and old-school cameras line the desks. But most of the people in these photos are ordinary New Yorkers, like a girl standing in a snowy landscape in front of a laundry sign. Some of the individuals Harsley have photographed have even spanned decades of contact, such as a series on his neighbors in the Village and Lower East Side. And yet, Harsley makes them appear extraordinary through his lens and often captures them in heated moments of history, such as during the riots in Bedford-Stuyvesant in the ‘60s. He had been heading to Bed-Stuy to put up placards advertising Minority Photographers when he crossed paths with a black photographer he knew who was working for The New York Times. “He said, ‘Don’t go in that area. The people’s going crazy rioting!’ I didn’t have the camera, so I had to rush back here and rush back out there,” says Harsley.

Besides displaying his work in the 4th Street Photo Gallery, Harsley has exhibited in numerous other galleries from New York to the Netherlands. His creative experimentation also extends to the audiovisual sphere, including videos that his daughter Kendra describes as “hypnotic” and “deprogramming experiences.” And he also loves installations, he says, pointing to what may be his most eccentric work to-date hanging from the ceiling. “Anti-Gravity” consists of fiber board from which lollipops dangle. “I was in the hospital for a while and they had bad news about lollipops. So I decided I could stick the lollipops on the ceiling,” says Harsley. The installation moves in accordance with the sounds in the room, and it took him 18 years to complete.

Why is it so important for the legacy of Minority Photographers to live on in the 4th Street Photo Gallery? Harsley wastes no time in answering. “I figure it’s important in terms of history. Their history, mainly, that’s here. And they have something in place that they can come back to and recognize. More and more people are starting to come back and say, “He’s still here?!” He chuckles before stating the gallery’s unofficial purpose. “It’s become like a museum now…the first museum [of photographic technology] in New York City.”

The 4th Street Photo Gallery is located at 67 East 4th Street. Store hours are Tuesday-Thursday and Sunday from 2-8 pm and Friday and Saturday from 3-10 pm (closed on Mondays). You can find their GoFundMe here.

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BK Wildlife Summer Festival Is the Labor Day Bash You Won’t Want To Miss

(Image posted by Brooklyn Wildlife on Facebook)

The Brooklyn Wildlife Summer Festival returns this Friday for a triumphant sixth year. The festival, which according to Brooklyn Wildlife founder Christopher Carr, is the “largest independent art and music festival in Brooklyn” with no corporate sponsors, features a lineup of more than 150 performers over the course of 10 days. It touts not only summer music jam sessions, but also “fine art shows, multi media presentations and tech meet ups” per their Eventbrite page.

In lieu of receiving corporate, non-profit or government funding, Carr, a full-time photographer who runs the Gamba Forest art studio with his partner (which is also hosting the festival’s Saturday lineup), funds the entire festival out of pocket–with the exception of a $10 application fee that he charges first-time performers seeking to play in the festival. The out-of-the-box music fest seeks to be the “new CMJ, the new WMC, the new SXSW” according to their Facebook event page. But doesn’t that sort of big tent, mainstream vibe run counter to the festival’s purpose as a gathering of indie artists? According to Carr, whom Bedford + Bowery spoke with by phone, not necessarily. In the early days of SXSW, Carr recalls smaller or mid-sized venues that brought people together in appreciation of solid indie music. He approaches his music festival in a similar way.

Photo from last year’s festival at Gamba Forest Gallery in Greenpoint (Photo: Nick McManus)

“I’m going for that middle ground where it’s large enough that it’s worth the time of the venues and individuals that put in the effort, but not so large that it cannibalizes itself,” says Carr. “I also enjoy Afropunk…but there’s an irony about a festival [that] punk kids can’t afford. We want to find that nice little area where we get some coverage, but we don’t need to cater to the media.” Carr also notes that this year’s festival stands out from previous years in two ways: “magnitude” and “decentralized performances” AKA events hosted in private residences with the help of the website artery.is. With so many events and performers, it can be hard to know where to start, but Carr suggests paying particular attention to metal band No Clouds, esoteric rapper Akai Solo (performing on the festival’s opening night at Trans-Pecos), and reggae/hip-hop artist D-Andra.

You can scope out the links to the performers’ music on the festival’s website and find more information about the various events on Facebook.  Tickets ($50) are available here. The 10-day summer fest runs from Friday, August, 31 through Sunday, September 9.

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Pablo Conejero López Is The Spanish Poet Haunting the Lower East Side

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

A slender man draped in a long coat and sporting coiffed dark hair descends a set of stairs, strolling along the South Street Seaport in a faded video sequence that seemed straight out of a dream. The man narrates in Spanish while English subtitles roll underneath: “There are things and dreams that disappear by not thinking them/And lovers whose pain is forgotten during each successive sleep.” The man is Pablo Conejero López, a Spanish artist that has haunted the Lower East Side with his introspective poetry and eclectic multimedia music collaborations.

The poem in the video is an excerpt from Lopez’s third book, Cuerpos (“bodies” in Spanish), which will be released in December with Paradigm Publishing. But although López has been prolific on social media—his Instagram boasts 12,300 followers and growing—that’s not how I was introduced to the curious artist. In a way, I first encountered López while I was walking around Great Jones Street and a ragged piece of paper stuck atop a Minnie Mouse sticker caught my eye. The haunting opening lines resonated with me: “Come/take me with you/by the hand down melting pathways/and store windows/so we can see our reflection.” So I looked up hashtag #PabloCL to learn more about my mysterious street poet.

When I met up with López in person a few weeks later on a bench on the outskirts of Seward Park, he recounted the story of how his “sticky paper” poem adventures began. “It was sort of an accident that happened. One day I was printing stuff up, and I used sticky paper instead…so I realized it could be a sticker…Like, why didn’t I do this before? Because if you’re an artist or poet, it’s the fastest way to get your words out there.” He used the hashtag #PabloCL to connect with passerby. Some liked his art and some did not, but the most important thing was that people took the time to notice his art, which could feel like a rarity in a world where writers often faced a steady stream of rejections from literary magazines. “When you’re doing this, you don’t need anyone’s approval. You just post it. And it’s free. It’s more direct. Maybe somebody would never find out or you would have never found out if I was published [in] the Paris Review.”

Upon our first encounter, I immediately noticed two things about the soft-spoken artist, who seemed out of place in this bustling corner of the Lower East Side where the sirens of ambulances mingled with the loud conversations of park goers. First: the intensity of his gaze and keen self-awareness (during a lull in conversation, he sighed and asked, “Am I boring you?”), which I attributed to his background as an actor. Second: his sharp attire (a crisp blue striped shirt, sheer black dress pants and shiny leather shoes), which spoke to his day job (he works in a shoe store now and before that in a tailor’s shop).

The 38-year-old poet-musician was raised as the youngest of four children in the coastal Spanish city of Valencia, where he was raised “in a very conventional and traditional atmosphere because of the area of Spain I grew up in, but also a very unconventional family.”

Although both of his parents were educators before retiring, López spurned the academic life, opting not to go to college after high school. “I didn’t want to be a part of a system in any way. Because I grew up, you know, like many kids that are a bit artistic or the classic effeminate kid, I was always feeling inadequate in a kind of way. That sort of pushed me away from any kind of system.”

Instead, while he was developing his own writing, he set off for London, where he studied drama at the National Youth Theatre. He auditioned for and subsequently starred as Mercutio in a play his father wrote, an adaption of Romeo and Juliet and Two Noble Kinsmen in which Mercutio falls in love with Romeo and Juliet. He split his time between London and Madrid, bartending to earn his keep and also taking voice lessons.

Although he was an actor by training, López felt his true calling lay elsewhere, and he started shifting more formally towards music and poetry in the late 1990s. Of music, he says it “helped me develop an identity as a teenager when you feel misplaced and [have] classic adolescent feelings.” While writing the poems that would comprise his first book, Rock and Roll Jolie, López wound up joining a group of hard-nosed kids from the outskirts of Madrid, among whom the reclusive López found a home for five years when they formed a band called Vice and Vanity, featuring López as their vocalist. Even though their music hewed more to rock and roll, they had a sort of “punk rock aesthetic” that was inspired in part by the music scene unfolding in New York at the time. “It’s more of an attitude or a way of looking at life than a style of rock and roll,” said López.

Inevitably, he made his way to New York in his early twenties. López was visiting a friend at Stony Brook in Long Island, and he would take the train into the city and just roam the streets. But New York cast a spell on López, and he returned every year until 2005, when he met his now-husband, Vincent Michaud. Michaud would soon become a creative partner with López, as he illustrated the poet’s second book, New Reality, and also developed the visuals for many of his multimedia works, including Park Poem, a collaboration with Laloved Magazine that also featured spoken word poetry from López alongside out-of-this world music from López’s current band, Ensalmo (roughly meaning “incantation” in Spanish).

Newly in love and wanting to pursue other creative endeavors, López moved to the city for real in 2006 and split up the band, though in his first year in New York they did play a few gigs at spots like Continental (back when it was still doing live shows) and the Trash Bar in Williamsburg (now the Brooklyn location of the popular Overthrow boxing gym). But eventually, he and the band went their separate ways, separated by more than just an ocean. “They were demanding a presence from me, and I was also withdrawing and wanting to start a life here. I wanted to stay with them, but I also wanted to explore, not only personally but also artistically.”

López’s present-day band, Ensalmo, was eventually born with the addition of bandmates Florencia Zaballa Moon and Jamie Del Moon. All the while, López’s love of poetry grew stronger, inspired as he was by poets like Manhattan native and musician Jim Carroll, who also lived on the Lower East Side for a time. López released his second book of poetry in 2011, and then more recently began to plaster his writings around the city in places like Washington Square Park and the East Broadway subway station. So many of his poems centered on the experience of dwelling in this ever-changing place–whether it was being a romantic in the city or observing a flock of birds and meditating on their significance in one’s own life.

Image posted on Instagram by Pablo Conejero López

He was particularly inspired by the Lower East Side, where he’s lived for the past 10 years. In fact, it was in part due to the diversity of his surroundings that he decided to write his next book of poetry in both English and Spanish as a way to fully embrace his native tongue. “For this book, I really want to develop my love for my mother language. It’s the first bilingual book [of mine]. I wrote it, I translated it,” said López. “That’s what I like about New York—the diversity and the language diversity. The cultural diversity is something I identify with. Especially in this neighborhood,” he said, gesturing to the small storefronts and residential walk-ups on Essex Street.

We chatted for a little bit about the shops of nearby Orchard Street and the gentrification of Chinatown. In the process, I discovered that López had more than just a personal connection to the Lower East Side—it was a historical one that spanned generations. His grandfather and great-grandfather moved to New York, and it’s possible they may have at one point lived on Cherry Street, settling in among the influx of Spaniards that flocked to Lower Manhattan in the early twentieth century. “It makes me feel subconsciously that I ended up here.”

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Surrealist Artist Dom Dirtee Thinks Both Sides Are Drinking the Kool-Aid

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

It was a boiling-hot day in Brooklyn when I strolled by a dull gray electrical box and glimpsed vivid shades of red, purple and blue. The square black sticker pasted onto the box contained a blue angelic figure with red wings kneeling in prayer beneath a bizarre hodgepodge of images depicting the decrepit state of America today: pills—possibly a nod to the opioid epidemic—logos for Fox News and Vice, Facebook and Twitter social media icons, an iPhone, an AK-47, an Amazon box, and an array of dollar bills upon dollar bills. Scrawled in tiny white font beneath the image were the words Dom Dirtee.
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Lovehoney Believes Sleazy Blues Rock Can Take Over the World

(Photo: Tara Yarlagadda)

Lovehoney is here to make you care about rock and roll again, and they’re doing a pretty damn good job of it. Band members—vocalist Alysia Quinones, guitarist Tommy White, drummer Tom Gehlhaus and bassist Matt Saleh—may not presently live in Brooklyn—though Alysia grew up in Bushwick—but their home base where they rehearse is a local fixture. The Sweatshop, which lies off the Montrose Avenue L stop, offers space to many rising New York artists. As we’re chatting, the whirring of a machine and other banging noises periodically disrupt our conversation. Tommy smiles wryly and says, “The perks of having a rehearsal studio in a warehouse.”

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Bowery Film Festival Opens Today With A Pretty (Rad)ical Lineup

(Image courtesy of Bowery Film Festival via Facebook)

There are summer film festivals aplenty in New York, but none with quite so much local flavor as the new Bowery Film Festival, which kicks off for its inaugural run this evening at the Bowery Bar (one of the festival’s few free events) and goes through Saturday, August 18th. The festival focuses on “films that dissent radically in form, technique, or content from the mainstream,” according to the website.

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‘Everything’s a Mess,’ and This New Gamblers Video Will Help You Deal

The Gamblers (Photos: Stephanie Augello)

All of the core members of Gamblers are originally from Long Island or Queens, making them one of the “rare Brooklyn bands that are actually from New York,” according to 28-year-old frontman Michael McManus. It’s not surprising, then, that their single “Corinthian Order,” off of their debut album of the same name, was shot in a Brooklyn DIY venue. Suburbia. We’re debuting the video exclusively here today.

This t00 should establish the band’s NYC cred: McManus met the video’s director, Tyler Walker, while he was working at his family’s bar, the Peter McManus Cafe, which claims to be the oldest family-owned and operated bar in the city. We spoke to McManus about the new album (out September 7 and available for pre-order), love in the 21st century, and his hip hop roots.

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Crystal Moselle Talks Skate Kitchen And Bringing the Girl Skaters of the LES to the Big Screen

(Images courtesy of Magnolia Pictures)

Director Crystal Moselle, who traced a family of Lower East Side shut-ins with her documentary The Wolfpack, is back in the public spotlight. This time, she’s touting a feature film instead of a documentary and hanging out with a feisty group of teen girls tearing up the skate parks and streets of the Lower East Side. Her new film, Skate Kitchen, depicts a fictionalized version of the lives of real skateboarders who captivate their 70,000-plus followers on Instagram with viral videos of skating tricks and gnarly wipe outs.

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A Puppet Fest For Adults? We’re Not Stringing You Along

(Image courtesy of International Puppet Fringe Festival NYC via Facebook)

I’ll admit, I always thought that puppet shows were mostly for kids, but maybe I was just pulling a Statler and Waldorf. This display of international puppet pageantry looks like one lively, adult-appropriate event. Produced by Teatro SEA and the MORÁN Group, the first ever International Puppet Fringe Festival NYC features theater companies from Costa Rica to Canada to France. But it particularly shines a spotlight on stories from Latin America and Latinx communities in the U.S., as seen in “Corazón de papel: A Hurricane Story,” a performance by theater group Agua, Sol y Sereno that focuses on Puerto Rico post-Hurricane Maria.

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Get Your Summer Reading (or Flirting) On With These 9 Book Talks

No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America

(Image credit: Amazon)

Thursday, August 2 at the Brooklyn Historical Society, 6:30-8:00 p.m.

Darnell Moore, writer and leader in the Movement for Black Lives, brings what’s sure to be a riveting discussion of his new memoir No Ashes in the Fire: Coming of Age Black and Free in America to the Brooklyn Historical Society. The description for his book on his website recounts how three neighborhood boys in Camden, New Jersey tried to set him on fire when he was only 14. In the three decades since that encounter, Moore has gone on to seek solace in the gay community of Philadelphia, justice on the front lines in Ferguson, Missouri, and life in his current home in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. In this book, he seeks to understand how that 14-year-old boy not only survived, but became the individual that he is today. Tickets to this event cost $5.

Books Beneath the Bridge: Greenlight Poetry Salon

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Art This Week: Beach Bodies, Paintings, and Who Gets To Play

Nate Lewis (image via Fridman Gallery / Facebook)

Strange Beach
Opening Tuesday, July 24 at Fridman Gallery, 6 pm to 8 pm. On view through August 31.

Summertime is a time for going to the beach, but that’s not what this group exhibition at Fridman Gallery is about, despite the name. Rather, it’s a “metaphor for the body,” framing one’s physical form as a vessel of sorts that can advance, retreat, swallow up others, be intruded upon, amass debris and valuable items alike over time. Three artists comprise Strange Beach: Arghavan Khosravi, Nate Lewis, and Tajh Rust, who incorporate themes of race, social history, portraiture, and the marginalized retaking their own narratives, whether this be through drawing on photographs to create something celestial or painting portraits of people using their own skin tones to inform the color palette. Keep Reading »

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W.O.W. Project Shares Stories of Resilience in Chinatown Open Mic Night

(Photos: Tara Yarlagadda)

In a dull gray building on Chinatown’s historic Eldridge Street, attendees squeezed into a cramped elevator and made their way to the youth center and activist space Project Reach, where the Chinatown Storytelling Open Mic event was being hosted on this humid Thursday evening. Two of the event’s organizers, Diane Wong—a Cornell doctoral candidate and visiting scholar at NYU who writes on gentrification and race in Chinatowns—and Huiying B. Chan—an Open City Fellow with the Asian American Writers’ Workshop—served as emcees. They opened the night with a sober acknowledgment that “we are on stolen indigenous Lenape land” and asked the audience to silently reflect on what actions they could take to acknowledge their occupation of such a space. That gesture set the tone for last night’s open mic night, which was part of the series “Homeward Bound: Memories, Identity, and Resilience across the Chinese Diaspora.”

Organizers Wong, Chan and Mei Lum are all affiliated with the W.O.W. Project, which hosts the Homeward Bound series. Lum is a fifth-generation store owner of Wing on Wo & Co., which is a nearly century-old porcelain store and one of Chinatown’s oldest landmarks. The longstanding family business was on the brink of being sold in 2016, but out of those troubled times, Lum founded W.O.W. as a way to preserve Chinatown’s creative scene through art and activism, particularly in the wake of rapid gentrification. Wong, who interviewed Lum and her family as part of her dissertation research, has been involved with W.O.W. since its inception.

Eldridge Street in Chinatown

“I think it’s important to show that Chinatown is very much a thriving, inter-generational community. There is a dominant narrative that portrays the neighborhood as sort of obsolete and dying, and that really isn’t the case,” said Wong.

Other groups, such as the Chinatown Art Brigade, have also used art as a vehicle to mobilize around neighborhood gentrification, but W.O.W.’s focus on the diverse stories of the Chinese-American diaspora seemed to be a way not only to inform outsiders about issues facing the neighborhood, but also a way to fortify their own in the wake of rising xenophobia and to help community members of different generations in Chinatown better understand one another.

“I think it’s really important as people of color and a diaspora to share stories and connect across communities. Especially now with the political moment that we’re in,” said Lum.

Against a backdrop of youth-created art, “Resist Fascism” posters and sparkling Christmas lights, more than a dozen storytellers stepped up to the mic to deliver their stories in the form of spoken word, graphic art, photos and videos. Annie Tan, a teacher and organizer, kicked off the night with funny picture of a stern four-year old Tan in a firefighter costume—a presentation which quickly became more somber when she spoke of cultural trauma. “I cried all the time. I cried because I was a kid of immigrants in Chinatown.” But her story took an uplifting turn when she spoke of how she used her own experience to become an effective educator in a Chicago school with predominantly Hispanic population, such as teaching her pupils about how Jim Crow impacted Mexican-Americans. Although she recently moved back to Chinatown because she missed the tradition and language of her own diaspora community. “Now I get tamales AND milk tea AND pork buns!”

Organizer Mei Lum stands in front of a papercut art design by artist Emily Mock.

Writer Nancy Huang held up her book, from which she read the poem “Tooth Fairy,” which she recited with gusto, “Ma said ‘smile big/You’ll catch a boy.” She encouraged audience members to consider purchasing the book from vendors other than Amazon, given the recent strikes over the company’s poor working conditions. Married couple Rocky Chin and May Chen, stalwarts of the Chinatown activist community, recited oral histories of their respective stories, including Chin’s valiant but failed bid for City Council and Chen’s work with the Chinatown Garment Workers’ Union in the 1980s, which earned them hearty applause from the audience. Chin also posed his frustration with the simple question,“Where are you from?” which could be read as a coded way to question the American identity of people of color.

Members from other diaspora communities were also welcomed into the fold to share their stories. Mahfuzul Islam of Jhal NYC—a group linked to the Bangladeshi community in Queens that sells T-shirts emblazoned with fierce tiger designs—spoke about his work in bringing older Bengali women or “aunties” into spaces outside of their immediate diaspora community—like bowling alleys—that they might shy away from due to language constraints and other cultural barriers.

Later, first-generation immigrant, writer and translator Lux Chen reckoned with her graduate program’s inability to offer adequate support for her depression and evoked The Great Gatsby in her expectations clashing with the harsh reality of New York’s literary scene. Artist Clara Lu delighted the audience through her exploration of her family and pride in her culture vis-à-vis Lu’s illustrations of her late grandmother’s dishes like braised pork and bean sprouts. Midway through her presentation, Lu exclaimed, “Oh, I forgot to speak Shanghainese!” Lu went on to recite dishes in both English and the Shanghai dialect. And last but not least, Emily Mock played a poignant animated video of paper cut artwork she created depicting an elderly woman preparing vegetables for a soup in her Chinatown apartment.

Celebrating the W.O.W Project’s second anniversary was so much fun so glad to have seen some familiar faces and share my 古筝 (guzheng) performance with y’all. (Thinking abt making more livestreams or maybe a whole separate account for that???) The @wingonwoandco fundraiser is still going on! Help us reach $15K to continue supporting this “women-led iniative in sustaining ownership over Chinatown ‘s future by growing and protecting Chinatown ‘s culture through arts and activism.” Your donations will fund the continuation of public programing, the 店面 Residency @emiemmy and I were part of this past year, the wonderful fellow of Resist, Recycle, Regenerate, internships, and other wonderful programs that grow out of W.O.W. Check out the link in @wingonwoandco ‘s bio for their campaign and see some of the rewards for your donations Also these prints are up for sale now, DM me if you’d like to purchase . . . . #wingonwoandco #mottstreet #chinatown #fundraiser #illustrations #anniversary #prints #catprint #handdrawn #sketch #drawing #instaartist #instaart #dailysketch #sketchoftheday #dailydrawing #clayruhlettering #sketchoftheday #foodillustrations #homedeco #homeprints #artprints #clayruhlettering #艺术 #画画 #艺术品 #唐人街 #纽约 #oneofthem

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W.O.W. will be hosting an exhibit in the fall or winter, so stay tuned and check out their website for future updates or to donate to their fundraising campaign, which aims to raise $15,000 by the end of July.

Performers at the Open Mic Night pose for a group photo.