Picturing the Portrait of Bronx Artist

PHOTOGRAPHER LIZZY ALEJANDRO (right) shoots fellow artist Linda Cunningham at work. The pair is part of a project showcasing Bronx artists throughout the borough. Photo courtesy Judith Lane
PHOTOGRAPHER LIZZY ALEJANDRO (right) shoots fellow artist Linda Cunningham at work. The pair is part of a project showcasing Bronx artists throughout the borough.
Photo courtesy Judith Lane

by Pamela Segura

The public typically experiences visual art at its conclusion, forgoing the opportunity to see the creative methods, processes and work spaces of artists.

The Bronx Artist Documentary Project, part of the year-long Bronx Centennial celebration, is an arts event altering this trend. The project involvesphotographers shooting the creative methods and spaces of painters, sculptors and other visual artists working in the borough.

The Bronx Arts Collective and the Bronx Documentary Center, two arts organizations based in the borough, are spearheading the project that consists of 30 photographers and 79 artists.

Working on a level that borders on self-awareness, the project showcases the many layers of an artist’s experience and ultimately dispels the divide between the public and the art within it. The final photographs, which were submitted to the Bronx Arts Collective in the second week of July, will be featured in an exhibition at the Andrew Freedman Home. It will run from Sept. 11 to Oct. 8, with a special reception on Sept. 13.

A Tale of Two Artists
Creating connections between different neighborhoods within the borough, the Bronx Artist Documentary Project is strengthening artistic ties—from Norwood to Soundview and Riverdale to Parkchester.

Daniel Hauben, a painter hailing from Riverdale, is a member of the Bronx Arts Collective. Hauben has used the borough as his subject for more than 30 years. The concept for the Bronx Artist Documentary Project came to him after meditating on artists’ spaces in the Bronx.

“I work out on location, which [is favorable] during the time of good weather,” said Hauben. “During the winter, I’m always looking for interior possibilities.” He spent some time at friend’s art studio loft overlooking the Bronx River and was inspired by the studio.

“For a minute, I had the thought of doing a series of paintings in other peoples’ studios in the Bronx and making it a theme,” said Hauben. He decided, however, to use his initial idea to craft a larger, more expansive project. He later reached out to Michael Kamber, a Pulitzer Prize-nominated photojournalist and founder of the Bronx Documentary Center.

“He really felt that this was something that really connected with [the Bronx Documentary Center’s] mission,” said Hauben. “He raised this project to a whole other level.”

Hauben also reached out to the Bronx Arts Alliance, a contingent of various individuals, groups and organizations that aims to promote and enhance arts events in the borough. Through the collective, Hauben expanded his art connections in the borough. “That became the beginning of our database,” said Hauben. “We have the most comprehensive list of Bronx artists.”

The Process
From there, Hauben crafted a series of guidelines for the visual artists involved with the project. “You had to work in the Bronx,” said Hauben. “[Another criterion] was that if you leave the room, there has to be something left behind that can be called art.”

The artists include old school muralists, traditional painters and graffiti artists. Some of these artists work with print media and ceramics. “It’s a wonderful cross-fertilization to have young, street-savvy artists interact with older, more traditional artists [and] get rid of the artificial boundaries people create,” said Hauben.

The Bronx Artist Documentary Project also shines a light on artists, publicizing them as well as their works.

“As visual artists, we are the least visible,” added Hauben.  He told the Norwood News that unlike performance artists, musicians, comedians and theater actors showcasing their art in front of spectators visual and literary artists have a less immediate connection to their public.

Other Participants
Dennesa Usher, a Bronx native, painter and muralist took part in the Bronx Artist Documentary Project.

“My art is my life, my life is my art,” said Usher. She was happy to learn that a photographer would shoot her space and process. This project, according to Usher, helps define what makes the Bronx arts community so unique.

“The community that’s surrounding the artist is a lasting one,” said Usher. “In the Bronx, that old lady that is sitting in the window has been sitting in the window for 40 years. These are experiences, I think, that people in the other boroughs don’t normally have.” She added that like an abstract painting, the Bronx is “a place that people come to appreciate over time.”

Photographer Nina Robinson, who has been living in the Bronx now for a year, captured the work and experience of three artists. She anticipates that the show will change the perceptions of the Bronx in the other four boroughs.

“When this project does come out for the show, it’s going to definitely highlight artists who have been doing wonderful work for years [in the Bronx],” said Robinson. She says that the borough will no longer be known as “forgotten” because of this project.

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