THE LOWER EASTSIDE GIRLS CLUB ART + COMMUNITY GALLERY PRESENTS
OUR VILLAGE IMAGES OF WOMEN AND GIRLS ON THE LOWER EAST SIDE Marlis Momber • Arlene Gottfried • Rebecca Lepkoff • Martha Cooper
Introduction Welcome to the inaugural exhibition in The Art+Community Gallery at The Lower Eastside Girls Club Center for Community. Our new building is home to a constellation of visual arts and technology programs: The Center for Media and Social Justice, Alphabet City Art School, Design Shop, Maker Shop, The East Village Planetarium, and the WGRL Sound Studio. Each one of these programs was seeded years ago and grown with the generous support and inspiration of the photographers and curators who helped us assemble this exquisite exhibition. It is a treasure, covering more than half a century of community life as seen through the eyes of pioneering women photographers. Their groundbreaking work, shared with the Lower Eastside Girls Club over many years through lectures, workshops and exhibitions in our former gallery space on 1st Street, has helped us get to our own ground-breaking (literally) stage with the completion of the first state-of-the-art center for girls, families and their community in the United States. In the early days of The Lower Eastside Girls Club we ran a gallery in our storefront and had the pleasure of showing the works of Arlene Gottfried, Martha Cooper and Marlis Momber. We were tiny, scrappy and in love with our community. So were they. The Art+Community Gallery is truly that: a gallery and community space born into existence through the participation, collaboration, love and genius of the Lower East Side/East Village arts community, a community known throughout the world. In the coming years (as in the past) we will continue to invite community artists and global explorers to make our home their home. There could not be a more appropriate show for the grand opening of the Art+Community Gallery at the new Lower Eastside Girls Club Center for Community on Avenue D!
Lyn Pentecost Co-Founder and Creative Director The Lower Eastside Girls Club of NY Fall 2014
Rebecca Lepkoff Rebecca Lepkoff, who passed away in August at the age of 98, covered an earlier Lower East Side. She was truly a pioneer, creating a body of work showing us the years before the real devastation â€” when it was simply a poor community of primarily Jewish and black immigrants, with just the beginnings of the Puerto Rican and island diaspora which our other photographers so richly covered. It was a great joy to have her be able to witness and participate in a revival of interest in her photography, much of it due to the work of historian and filmmaker Suzanne Wasserman. We took students from The Lower Eastside Girls Club to see her in a group show at Tompkins Square Library a few years ago, and I got to meet and hear her speak just last year at the Seward Park Library. She was witty, generous with her time and excited about having her work shown at The Lower Eastside Girls Club. At the end of the night, in what I have now heard is typical Rebecca behavior, she refused a ride home to her Upper Westside apartment, insisting on taking the subway as usual! The streets and its people were her home and source of creative energy. Curatorâ€™s Note: Lyn Pentecost
Rebecca Lepkoff Rebecca Lepkoff had photographed the Lower East Side since 1939. She first picked up a camera after working at the 1939 World’s Fair as a dancer. With her new camera in hand, she decided to take free classes from the New Deals’ National Youth Administration. Classes were offered on the Lower East Side. Arnold Eagle was her teacher and he became her mentor as well. After World War II, she and her husband, Gene, moved into a cold-water flat on Cherry St. It was somewhat of an unusual choice. Other young Jewish couples were moving out to Long Island and New Jersey, but Rebecca loved the old neighborhood and loved photographing it and its people. In 1945, she joined the Photo League which was blacklisted and shut down in 1951. Rebecca Lepkoff exhibited her photographs at the New York Public Library, the International Center of Photography, the 14th Street YMHA, Pfeifer Gallery, the Howard Greenberg Gallery and the Daniel Wolf Gallery as well as at Henry Street Settlement and the Educational Alliance. Her work is in the permanent collections of the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., the National Gallery of Canada and the Bank of America, among others. Life on the Lower East Side is the first published collection of her work of the neighborhood she was born in and lived in for almost 50 years. It is in its 4th printing from Princeton Architectural Press. She is represented by the prestigious Howard Greenberg Gallery and lived in NYC with her husband, Gene, until her passing in 2014.
— Suzanne Wasserman
Marlis Momber Marlis Momber has been documenting people and events in our ‘hood’ since she arrived in NYC from Germany as a young woman. For decades, no street party, political rally, or cultural event was complete without Marlis and her camera. Marlis saw beyond the rubble that was once our community: a legacy of real estate abandonment, financial disinvestment, and political neglect. Marlis saw into the heart of the people, setting down roots, homesteading a building and raising her son. As a homesteader also, I knew Marlis, even back then, when our sons attended the famed parent-founded East Village daycare center together in the 1980’s, Childrens Liberation. Picking up where Rebecca Lepkoff left off, Marlis has created what is undoubtedly the most extensive visual record of our community as it rose from the ashes over three decades ago and she’s still out there doing it! Curator’s Note: Lyn Pentecost
Marlis Momber Born in 1943 in Berlin, Germany, Marlis has lived in Loisaida since 1975. Her photographs document the struggle of the mostly Puerto Rican people living in that part of Manhattan. Her B&W and Color Photographs have been used to illustrate national and international publications on political and cultural topics such as: gentrification, urban development, slum lords/ arson for profit, squatting, affordable housing/homesteading, cultural identity, education, the arts, drugs and urban crime.
La Cuchina de Laura, 1979 Laura’s “kitchen” occupied the corners of 4th Street and Avenue C, known to us only as Loisaida Avenue long before Mayor ED Koch in 1984 declared Avenue C to be co-named Loisaida Avenue. Laura’s authentic Puerto Rican home cooking was always dependable for its great taste and came along with ‘street news’ as witnessed or retold to and by Laura. Throughout the painful progression of gentrification, La Cuchina was a symbol of Puerto Rican roots in Loisaida at Avenue C and 4th Street.
Bailer Boricua, 1984 Performing in East River Park near the amphitheater, sponsored by Charas/El Bohio. A bomba y plena performance by the group Bailer Boricua under the Direction of Angie Maria Hernandez. The costumes were made by the women of this group and inspired by dancers and musicians alike. A prominent figure in costume, here the vigilante (in the green cape and mask on the right) as in real life was Bimbo Rivas, poet and political activist. (b. 1939 â€“1992)
Bello Amancerer Borincano, 1990 Carmen Pabon in the garden she created with and for the community. She is holding a B&W photograph from the inauguration of the Jon H. Weber mural “From One Generation to the Other”. Pabon holds a B&W photo from 1986, which shows Jorge Brandon reciting poetry at the event. This garden was one of the most used open spaces in the community and was referred to as “Carmen’s Garden”. An abundance of trees, shrubs and vegetables gave it its luscious appearance. Indigenous sculptures and artwork by many artists added to the serenity and calm. During the regular meals, arranged and served by Carmen with other collaborators, it took on the atmosphere of a community party. Many dance and music performances took place spontaneously, but particularly during the Loisaida Festival each last Sunday of May. When the long fight to keep the garden in its entirety was lost, Carmen withdrew her efforts and created another garden in the “projects” where she had lived most of her life, raised her six children and still resides today! Carmen was often called “the Mother Teresa of Loisaida”.
Block Party East 10th Street, 1979 This spontaneous event was produced by Seven Loaves one of the many groups that were the movers and shakers of the emerging Loisaida grass roots organizations. The event introduced Margarita Lopez, a new arrival from Puerto Rico. Margarita became an active member of the community and was elected a New York City Council Woman from 1998-2005. The photo displayed that day shows the work of Tylis Photo (Tyrone and Marlis), members of Seven Loaves.
Arlene Gottfried I met Arlene Gottfried at a Gospel Choir concert at my church in the early â€˜90s. She was not only the official photographer of the Eternal Light Gospel Choir, but the only white girl singing in the choir! As I came to know Arlene, it became apparent that there was an enormous body of talent in that little body. It almost seemed unfair that she had such God given gifts: to be such an amazing photographer with an almost unbelievable set of vocal chords! But inside that package is also an enormous heart and a visionary mind: interested in others, open to outsiders. Arlene has been a great friend of The Lower Eastside Girls Club and inspiration to our photography students since our founding in 1996. Curatorâ€™s Note: Lyn Pentecost
Arlene Gottfried, born in Brooklyn, graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, and worked as a photographer at an ad agency before freelancing for top publications, including The New York Times Magazine, Fortune, Life, and The Independent in London. Gottfried has exhibited at the Leica Gallery in New York and in Tokyo, and at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., among others. Her photographs can be found in the collections of the Brooklyn Museum of Art, The New York Public Library, and the Maison EuropĂŠenne de la Photographie in Paris. She is the recipient of numerous awards, including the Berenice Abbott International Competition of Womenâ€™s Documentary Photography. Gottfried is the author of
1. Snow White
Bacalaitos & Fireworks (powerHouse Books, 2011), Sometimes Overwhelming (powerHouse
Books, 2008), Midnight (powerHouse Books, 2003) and The Eternal Light (Dewi Lewis Publishing,
3. Be My Valentine
1999). A lecturer and a teacher, Gottfried lives and works in New York City.
4. Chihuahuas (opposite page)
Martha Cooper Martha Cooper’s name is synonymous with graffiti, break dancing, street art and everything cool that has happened in the arts since the early 1980’s. Launching her career as an anthropologist and photojournalist, Marty spent her early days in a beat up car cruising around the South Bronx and Lower East Side looking for stories. And did she find them: kids spray-painting subway cars, dancing on their heads in playgrounds, playing in the rubble of empty lots where buildings once were. I remember, baby on my back and video camera on my front, running into Marty at a roller rink in the Bronx where teenage boys were holding break dance competitions. The art world as we know it was being invented — and Martha was there — part documenter, but mostly inventor! Curator’s Note: Lyn Pentecost
Images photographed in Alphabet City as part of Cooperâ€™s project Street Play.
Martha Cooper Martha Cooper is a documentary photographer who has specialized in shooting urban vernacular art and architecture for over thirty years. In 1977, Martha moved to New York City and worked as a staff photographer on the NY Post for three years. During that time she began to document graffiti and b-boying, subjects which led to her extensive coverage of early Hip Hop as it emerged from the Bronx. These photos, published worldwide, helped make Hip Hop the predominant international youth movement it is. Martha’s first book Subway Art (with Henry Chalfant), has been in print since 1984 and is affectionately called the “Bible” by graffiti artists. Her next book, R.I.P.: Memorial Wall Art looks at memorial murals in NYC, and Hip Hop Files 1980–1984 contains hundreds of rare, early Hip Hop photos. We B*Girlz is an intensive look at girls who breakdance worldwide, and Street Play and New York State of Mind are her collections of NYC photos from the late 70’s. Tag Town shows the evolution of graffiti style from early tags to complicated pieces. Her books, Going Postal and Name Tagging, contain hundreds of images of graffiti and street art on postal stickers. Remembering 9/11 captures the variety of spontaneous memorials that sprang up in New York after the attack on the World Trade Center. Her latest book, Tokyo Tattoo 1970, published in 2011 by Dokument in Sweden, showcases photos she took while living in Japan in the 70’s. Martha’s work has been exhibited in museums and galleries worldwide and published in numerous magazines from National Geographic to Vibe. She lives in Manhattan where she is the Director of Photography at City Lore, the New York Center for Urban Folk Culture. Recently Martha has been documenting street artists working in Wynwood, Miami as well as shooting a on-going personal project in SoWeBo, a neighborhood in Southwest Baltimore.
Photographer’s Statement: In the late 70’s I was a staff photographer for the New York Post, driving around on assignments with my cameras every day. At the time New York City was in the throes of bankruptcy and the Lower Eastside was a wasteland full of boarded up buildings and unfenced vacant lots. The neighborhood had more than its share of drug dealers and petty criminals and the landscape seemed ugly and forbidding. But to the children who grew up there, the abandoned buildings and rubble-strewn lots made perfect playgrounds, providing raw materials and open space for play. Needles contaminated with HIV had not yet appeared nor had a widespread fear of pedophiles. Kids roamed the streets unsupervised, giving their imaginations free rein. I began cruising through Alphabet City every day on my way back to the Post in Lower Manhattan looking for kids playing creatively. This personal project eventually led me to document graffiti and hip hop, subjects I continue to shoot today.
This exhibition was put together with the generous help, advice and expert “eyes” of our ad hoc curatorial team: Donald Rubin, the ever-enchanting philanthropist, art collector and raconteur, spent many hours with us last winter poring over photos, helping make hard editorial decisions, and treating us to stories of his life living on the Lower East Side as a young adult. Donald has been a long time supporter of The Lower Eastside Girls Club through The Shelley and Donald Rubin Foundation. Suzanne Wasserman, author, historian, filmmaker and member of The Lower Eastside Girls Club founding board introduced us to the work of Rebecca Lepkoff. Suzanne and I received a grant, when we were teaching together at NYU, to develop a community internship program in conjunction with my course titled “Teen Culture in Urban America”, which laid the framework for the first Girls Club activities. Suzanne is currently Director of The Gotham Center at CUNY.
Photography has been an integral part of The Lower Eastside Girls Club since our founding in 1996. Photography was our first program and it is still our first love! Although we teach many things now, (too many to list, please visit our website: www. girlsclub.org) photography is always on the roster and a part of all our other programs. Girls start as young as eight years old, moving from battered “point and shoots” to medium quality digital cameras (we gave up our darkroom a few years ago). They learn to shoot, to edit, to print and to hang their work in the Art + Community Gallery. They learn about the bigger world of photography by visiting museums and galleries, hearing from guest lecturers at The Lower Eastside Girls Club, and meeting and interning with professional photographers. As the Lower Eastside Girls Club has grown, so has our reach. Today we have photography programs in our sister clubs in Chiapas Mexico; Kathmandu, Nepal; Kono, Sierra Leone; and Glasgow, Scotland. In a community as ever-changing and culturally evolving as the Lower East Side, the power and magic of photography lies in its ability to show us the past as we explore the present. These photographers, documenting the last half of the 20th century and more, allow us to recall the journey, for better or worse, that many of us have lived. Through their eyes, we again experience the community that brought us joy and fear; the community we fought for and (to a major extent) saved from the wrecking ball of history. This exhibition is dedicated to the memory of Rebecca Lepkoff (August 4, 1916 – August 17, 2014). May our Girls Club photography students of today document us into the future with the extraordinary brilliance and dedication to community that Rebecca Lepkoff had.
Images of Women and Girls on the Lower East Side by Marlis Momber, Arlene Gottfried, Rebecca Lepkoff, and Martha Cooper. 2014.