Boy in MoMA What does he see? That’s the first thing that comes to mind here. Even when I looked at him in person, I marveled at how engrossed he was by the sculpture directly in front of him and wanted to know what had captured his interest. It made me wonder: what do we look for when we look at art? What is it that holds our attention so deeply like the boy in this picture. For me, I’m always looking for the story. I remember going to The Whitney Museum years ago and seeing Mark Rothko’s Four Darks in Red with its four horizontal shades. My reaction to the painting was almost visceral and I found myself transported to my great aunt’s house which had plush velvet carpets, the same shade as one of the reds in Rothko’s painting. Prior to that experience, art and poetry had always elicited the same kind of reaction from me. I always felt like a child scurrying behind others on a school field trip as they soared past me. How do I catch up with them and see what they see?
The first thing one learns in a drawing class is to draw a line.
Buildings and Lines
The simplest distance between two points seems to be incapable of looking flamboyant until the lines do not look as straight. Until perspective improves the texture of a line. Buildings are drawn with lines, understood with perspective and embellished with colour. But lines also tell movement, and within a city the buildings and lines are what tell us that an area is familiar, a neighbourhood is safe and most importantly, that we are home.
There is something romantic and purposeful about thinking of making phone calls as the passing on a message. With the increased ubiquity of phones so smart they can do things William Gray didn’t even
imagine possible, making a call is an act often done without thought. At the time, his invention was in response to his frustration with having to jostle for a phone to call a doctor during his wife's illness.
For Gray, the presence and purpose of the phone was a literal matter of life and death. Now, we make calls to share jokes, words of love and even anger. The stakes of the conversation aren’t always high, which is why I haven’t always thought of the information I communicate over my phone as a message per se. When I call to tell my family that I love them or ring a friend to share a quip, it is without thought. What’s amusing about this image? Two things. Streetimages.com is a digital marketing company of sorts that refurbishes old payphones across New York and uses them as miniature billboards to advertise information. It plays off the idea that the presence of a payphone, which in people’s minds belongs squarely in the past is enough to get people to stop and pay attention in this very moment. But second, there is no phone at all. Does this show that people are not using the phones enough for it to be rapidly fixed after damage? If no one can use the payphone, who is seeing the ad?
This is a Jamaican restaurant in a city that is easily home to 100 others and 1,000 more establishments from different countries. That might mean something, but that might also mean nothing at all. I wonder if we can walk into these places and as easy as the blue, white and red turn into the green, yellow and black, become a part of the culture we see. Can we find that the things we represent as individuals and nationals from countries on continents as far flung as Africa, Asia, Europe and South America are things we can swap so easily with each other. I know what diversity isnâ€™t, but Iâ€™m wondering if this is what it is. Not a gambit or balm to soothe the anxieties of those who are more likely to be marginalized but instead, a simple exchange of cultures and room to make something that is not ours our own.
Gentrified Jerk Chicken
"Hardships there are but the land is green and the sun shineth.â€? The symbolism of the Jamaican flag is one of unyielding hope. To see the green, black and gold colors of the emblem juxtaposed against the 50 stars of the American flag, I wonder if the phrase translates that easily. In the image, the melding of yellows, reds, blacks, and purples reflect to me that all things can coexist in some kind of chaotic harmony. The role play of flags and their meanings make me wonder if the tenets of what makes us who are equally as interchangeable.
Veteran In Need He is doing the most mundane thing - hailing a car but the backdrop of the baby blue sky, the waving flags, and his uniform makes the act seem more ceremonial. Instead, it looks like he is standing in the middle of the street signaling attention from not just the cab driver, but from us as well. Us waiting to cross the street, us driving by, and us who pledge allegiance to the stars and stripes in honor of the work done by men like him.
He is not young, his graying temples and faded uniform are a telltale sign. His uniform is representative of America’s military prowess, the sign in the distance behind him is advertising America’s Favorite Boat Ride and Lady Liberty, and I wonder which symbol of America gets more attention, respect and money? The Veteran Administration’s healthcare
system is grossly underfunded and mismanaged so that soldiers returning from harrowing experiences overseas often bear the brunt of limited access to mental health resources. In this moment, I wonder if anyone of us, whose attention he’s trying to get, are going to stop and look at him.
The air is crisp and almost so sharp that when you inhale it cuts you. The piercing blue of the sky is deceitful because it promises a nice day, but it also confirms your fears that the air is more frosty that warm. Inviting and open is representative of what a park is, or rather should be. Which is why having a pool that no one can use and rusted locks that keep it permanently closed to the community is an
oxymoron. Parks are intended as spaces where people can commune intentionally or spontaneously. In a city like New York where most of your interactions with people are not of your own volition, parks are a conscious choice. They democratize a shared space and make it more accessible. Iâ€™ve had moments where it felt like the air in my own home was not enough and I needed
to go outside to see and breathe side by side with strangers and to remind myself of the presence of others. In those moments, I went to parks and the mossy greens, bare trees and fresh air allowed me to feel close to people I didnâ€™t even know. I often think about parks as a small but essential tool in the arsenal of mental health resources. Their presence is invaluable.
Jackie Robinson Park
I don’t remember what car it was, but I do remember that it was the A train. I only ride the A train because it zips through Columbus Circle and all way to 125th. Not all the time though, only when the MTA’s personal schedule aligns with yours. The train runs as far as the Northern tip of Manhattan to New York’s most populated borough, Queens. I wonder what this lone rider’s stop was? Like me, he sat back as the train crawled up into Manhattan, into the heights - Hamilton and then Washington. Was his stop one of those? Where was he coming from? I’d like to think that he was returning from a night class at CUNY with his backpack in tow. Criminal justice, maybe? Or it might have been a late shift. His hands look soft, not marred by the outdoor toil that’s known to breed calluses. Wherever he’s going, I’m going too. Not really, but kind of. Across from him I am a fellow passenger, the billboard advertising a hip new type of pharmacy is talking to us, both New Yorkers.
Where is He Going?
I don’t think I’ve ever stared at anything that hard, or at least I do not anymore. To her credit, she doesn’t look surprised or even slightly shocked. It looks like the face of recognition you make for five seconds before you realize that this seemingly crazy thing you are looking at is not surprising to anyone else, because everyone in this city is mad. Before, when I did make faces like that, I would turn and see that no one else was even close to being as shocked as I was. So I stopped. And I think if we had waited a little longer to see, we would have noticed that she might have stopped too. We probably would have seen this woman’s arched eyebrows slowly relax, her parted lips close, and her head turn, but not before she shook it slightly to signal her confusion. That has to be what happened, because if not, who else would be able to commiserate with her?
The woman beside her has the stoic look New Yorkers have come to master that clearly says “this is some bullshit.” The others have literally moved on from whatever spectacle our friend is still observing, except for the one boy with the mouse colored hair, who is either looking back at her or his North Face wearing father with pleading eyes. Either way, it doesn’t matter, he’s probably from New Jersey.
Construction American houses are made of drywall, which is a mixture of plaster and a number of other items. It’s safe to say that these houses aren’t very strong, I’ve seen people punch holes through them and big strong men tear them apart, piece by piece only to put them back together like a dollhouse. In other parts of the world, building a house involves more grit and sweat;it involves cinder blocks being wheeled around by shirtless men. No hard hats or no yellow vests, only bare backs and wheelbarrows. In this city the making of buildings envelope sidewalks, giant caterpillar looking machines crawl on the pavement and hard hat wearing construction workers are staples of New York’s cultural lexicon. Construction workers are an ode to American masculinity. Films often portray them as gruff, with a steaming cup of coffee in tow and ready to howl at a female passerby. Buildings are political in the same way, working construction is not an offhanded career choice made to earn a few dollars, but protected by unions and serves as a reflection of America’s shifting middle class. Yet, who are these people? They are New Yorkers as much as Wall Street or Broadway and their existence in the culture is not an anomaly; they are New York, a city always on a rise.
Art & Society Art is an artist sharing a commentary of an experience lived or envisioned. It is only natural that we want to participate in that. The art world runs contrary to that open spirit, hiding behind auctions and fairs and galleries that are only accessible to the wealthy. This no doubt stems from the use of oil paintings to depict wealth by the European upper class; oil paintings were the closest things to photographs and could capture the splendour they wanted shown through their images.
What happens when there are no barriers to who can experience art? MoMA on a Friday evening has a line of people braving the spring rain in April and barely talking to anyone they do not already know. On this day, the experience of being in this space is electrifying even though one may not get enough time to consider the pieces. Everyone moves from one room to another, frantically taking pictures to share on Instagram later. To an onlooker it would seem that we have become the art.
New York is a city that swallows you whole. If you find yourself there, you cannot mistake it for anywhere else; it is it’s own creation. There are things that are quintessentially New York in the same way that there are things that are quintessentially American. Yellow taxi
cabs to New York are like McDonalds to America. Their gleaming yellow visage are a symbol to the outside world, they are a marker of this place, this culture and these people. When I’m in New York, I like to think that I am a part of it. I want to be swallowed whole and have the jaws of this living, breathing creature of a city gnaw at me and rip
The Excess me to shreds. To be a part of the city, I gleefully contort my body to fit in too full subway cars. I’ve learned exactly how to do so. When I enter, I duck and find the armpit nook of a passenger towering over me and turn my head - appropriately saving my nose and face from direct contact with their underarm, but settling for tip of my ear to brush the fabric of their sleeve. When I walk
past the droves in hotspots like Fifth Avenue, any of the parks Central, Bryant or Washington - and less frequently, Times Square, I don’t marvel at the flood of bodies moving in tandem, simultaneously tapping on smartphones and avoiding each other, I move along with them like a perfectly rehearsed synchronized swimming team. Except this time, the pool is concrete.
NO is a creative collective.
Eleven stories that uncover New York.