Ribbons spanning all the colors of the rainbow hung from the gray walkway and black fences enclosing the trees perched in front of the salmon-pink Rivington House, a former public school that re-opened in the 1990s to assist individuals with HIV and AIDS. Scrawled on the ribbons in black marker were phrases and stories in support of the Rivington House in English, Chinese and Spanish. Each ribbon was dedicated to a specific bed number at Rivington House in honor of the individuals that the center served over the past two decades.
Lower East Side
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.
Vow II: Mental Health
Thursday, August 2 at Rose Gold, 7:30 pm: $10 advance, $15 doors
While it still carries some stigma, mental health has steadily become more and more of a presence in today’s everyday dialogues. This is undoubtedly due to the unfortunate prevalence of mental health issues, many of which have proven to be exacerbated by the current political climate. Even as (and especially) as things get worse, continually talking about it can help. One of the more unique ways you can engage is through Vow, a sex-positive party and performance series “for artists with stigmatized identities or experiences to express themselves freely in a supportive community.” The night is centered around mental health, and features relevant performances by a lineup that includes burlesque performers Regal Mortis, Lucy Risqué, and Miss Sugar Mamasota, dominatrix Venus Cuffs, performance artist Monika Rostvold, and more. More →
Opening Tuesday, July 31 at Cooler Gallery, 7 pm to 9 pm. On view through August 12.
Some art has sweeping sociopolitical messages, while other art serves a primarily aesthetic purpose. Neither is better or worse: sometimes you want to be provoked into thinking deeply about the world around you and sometimes you just want to be dazzled by how cool something looks. The work of mixed media artist Senem Oezdogan (presented in partnership with Uprise Art) falls more into the latter category, consisting largely of “fiber-based geometric studies” inspired by architecture, shapes, and the textures of fabrics. They’re fairly simple pieces, featuring abstract shapes and rich splashes of color, and manage to convey an alluring calmness in their playful minimalism. Rather than fixating on what message an artwork might be trying to proclaim, Oezdogan’s work invites you to merely appreciate the visuals. If it makes you feel nice, you don’t need to question it. More →
Longtime East Village photographers James and Karla Murray installed a structure in Seward Park recreating the Lower East Side’s Cup and Saucer, which closed after more than 70 years in business. Now, they’ve set up a gallery show featuring photographs from their “Store Front” books just a few blocks away at The Storefront Project (70 Orchard Street). The exhibit, “Store Front: The Disappearing Face of New York,” pays homage to the mom-and-pop shops of the Lower East Side and will remain open through August 12. Bedford + Bowery chatted with Karla Murray about her hopes and thoughts on the changing neighborhood. This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
I hope the opening reception went well.
We got a lot of love and support from our friends and store owners as well. The granddaughter of Moe Albanese [of] Albanese Meats & Poultry on Elizabeth [Street]. Really the last butcher in Nolita. A neon sign fabricator who created the sign for Trash & Vaudeville and refurbished the Russ & Daughter’s sign was in attendance as well.
Tell me about your hopes for the Orchard Street exhibit.
The majority of the photos relate to the Lower East Side. You know, to relate back to the neighborhood that the gallery is in. We also have a smattering from our so-called other “favorite” ones, mostly departed stores like Zig Zag Records and the Ralph’s that you saw in the window. We included some others but concentrated on the Lower East Side because we wanted to continue our story. ‘Cuz certainly the Lower East Side has changed a lot with gentrification and different people moving in. Unfortunately, a lot of mom-and-pop stores have closed. Buildings have been knocked down—it’s not only the stores. They’ve destroyed a lot of old tenement buildings [that] have been replaced with newer developments. When that happens, what replaces them on the ground floor as far as retail [goes] is a massive space that usually doesn’t lend to a mom-and-pop store leasing it because it’s just too expensive.
Are you mainly trying to preserve the legacy of these buildings or do you think there is some hope for activists to see your work and get inspired?
Oh, of course. The way we’ve always thought of it is a celebration of the businesses that are still around. We always photograph vibrant, lively businesses. That’s why we always put the address with the cross street because we want people to be able to go to the stores and shop at them. That’s really the key to their survival, [which] is that they need customers.
And how many businesses did you end up photographing as part of this project?
It’s countless. Thousands of photos. There’s over 325 stores just in our first book. And we have three books on the subject. Too many to count and interviews with the store owners as well. It’s over twenty years now [that] we’ve been documenting these mom-and-pop stores.
You [and James] have been East Village residents for how many years now?
We’ve lived in the same apartment for 22 years now. So it’s been a long time. It’s changed a lot in the time that we’ve been there. To be honest: we wish we had photographed more. There’s many, many small businesses that we remember fondly, but frankly we didn’t ever take a photo of [them] because we didn’t think they would ever close. And then it was too late. It’s always been a race against time to document them because they seem to be closing almost on a daily basis. For the most part, if they don’t own the building they’re located in, with the cost of new real estate going up, the landlord will triple, quadruple [the rent]. One business, they increased the rent 15 times. I mean, no small business can absorb that kind of rent increase, so then they’re forced to close.
So how do you feel about new developments like the Target in the East Village? Do you feel that kind of bodes ill for the mom-and-pop businesses?
We live on that street.That was all mom-and-pop stores. We documented them on film in the ‘90s. There was a pizzeria. There was a Permacut [Beauty Salon]. There was an old dive bar. Blarney Cove. There was a little bodega. There was a 99 cent [store]. There was a whole strip of store after store after store. Mom-and-pop places. They knocked all that down and built that development. I mean, you can go anywhere and shop in Target. You don’t have to be in New York City. That doesn’t make a neighborhood. To us, it’s the mom-and-pop stores that define a community. The very reason we moved to the East Village years ago [was] that we thought it was fun and funky and had a lot of cool and interesting shops. When those types of stores close, the fabric of the neighborhood suffers.
James and Karla Murray will lead a walking tour from their Seward Park installation to the Orchard Street exhibit on Saturday, August 4th from 1-3 p.m. Check their Instagram and Facebook for further details coming soon.
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.
“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!”
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
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.
Shakespearean tragedies don’t typically see a peaceful resolution, but it looks like there’ll be a happy ending for a drama that unfolded center stage at a Community Board 3 meeting last month.
There, Hamilton Clancy, artistic director of the non-profit that runs Shakespeare in the Parking Lot, bemoaned the potential loss of their performance space at the parking lot managed by the Clemente Soto Vélez Cultural and Educational Center. His efforts to find a second home for the theater company in Sara D. Roosevelt Park had been met with bureaucratic red tape. All hope seemed to be lost.
At the intersection of Baxter and Worth Streets, adjacent Columbus Park’s basketball courts, some olive-green workout equipment and a fire-engine red jungle gym sit unused. Plastic sheets cover the workout equipment and the jungle gym lays barren, practically begging buff dudes in muscle tees to do some pull-ups. A sign on the cordoned-off fence surrounding the site reads “Work in Progress.” But during a recent visit there were no workers or construction materials in sight.
This closure also comes as the latest offense for frequent skateboarders of the park who feared “grave consequences” when a fence was erected between the fitness units and an adjacent basketball court earlier this summer, thus limiting skaters’ ability to crisscross the park. Previously, skateboarders would skate up or down a two block ledge between the fitness area and the basketball courts, making for some gnarly video footage. Since the late 1990s, Columbus Park been known as a sweet unauthorized spot for skaters to hang without getting booted by the Parks Department. Though that may all change post-renovation.
The outdoor recreational facility has been closed down as part of a multi-site renovation effort, which also includes Chelsea Playground, in Staten Island, and the handball courts at Booker T. Washington Playground, on the Upper West Side. Unfortunately, due to unexpected conditions found at Columbus Park, the reconstruction project has been delayed and a revised layout issued to handle problems with measuring the site.
Barring any further impediments, the Columbus Park fitness units will be re-opened at the end of the summer, but it’s a bummer for Lower East Side skateboarders who often frequent the park. According to Quartersnacks.com, local skateboarding legend Robert “Bobby” Puleo put the spot on the map when he nailed a manual going down a kinked ledge at a much-more downtrodden Columbus Park circa 2000. Its hallowed reputation only grew in the mid-late 2000s. If you were any sort of halfway decent New York skater, you were expected to pay your respects with a session at Columbus Park rail.
In any case, for the time being, may we recommend Slappy Sundays at Boca LES instead?
Hot Mess: Drag Competition
Wednesday, July 11 at House of Yes, 10 pm: FREE
When you think of a drag competition, surely one certain television show comes to mind. But, as RuPaul’s Drag Race has made clear, not every type of drag performer is allowed to partake. But at Madame Vivien V’s live drag competition Hot Mess, there are no such limitations. “All drag is equal so whatever form you take, [whether] you are a seasoned professional or a baby darling, if you’ve got something to say, we want to give you the stage,” the event page articulates, noting that the show will include queens, kings, “queerdos,” and whomever else may want to strut their stuff. The winner will receive the coveted title of Mx. Hot Mess, as well as $100 cash. Plus, unlike a lot of events at the glitzy House of Yes, it’s free. More →
Opening Wednesday, July 11 at The Untitled Space, 6 pm to 9 pm. On view through August 1.
When one thinks of sculpture, it’s likely the old masters of yore come to mind: Donatello, Michelangelo, Bernini, even more modern creators like Duchamp and Calder. Something else these artists have in common, in addition to their acclaim and skill, is their gender. Surprise surprise, like most art historical figures, they’re all men. New group show Defining Form seeks to introduce the public to a new, more diverse generation of sculptors. Over 50 artists are participating in the exhibition, which features common motifs of feminism, unconventional materials, and technologically-advanced ways of creating art, such as 3-D printing. So, come and have your notions of what it means to be a sculptor expanded. More →