A Flushing artist has set out to capture and celebrate her hometown’s rich religious diversity on film.
Gina Minielli, a lifelong Flushing resident, artist and educator, began to photograph the neighborhood’s places of worship and their congregations about two years ago. She began the project while she was earning her master’s in fine arts at Queens College, where she now teaches.
Minelli explained that Flushing is home to an astounding 200+ houses of worship.
“It’s the most concentrated area of religious diversity in the country — if not the world,” she said. “And as a resident of Flushing, I’ve always been interested in why there were so many different houses of worship in such a small area.”
The art photographer grew up down the block from Bowne Park, but didn’t know the history behind its namesake, John Bowne, until later in life, she said.
Bowne was an English immigrant and Quaker who settled in Flushing, which was at the time a Dutch colony. Facing government policies that restricted his right to freely practice his religion, Bowne was arrested for holding a Quaker meeting in his house and was one of 30 people who signed the Flushing Remonstrance — a petition for religious liberty.
“That was the seed for religious freedom in the United States,” Minielli said. With this knowledge, Minielli titled her photo series “Bound by Bowne.”
“I really do feel like we are all bound by what what happened 300 years ago,” Minelli added. “Flushing is a beacon for people to come to: especially immigrants. There is a reason why so many religious groups come to this area, and I really feel like John Bowne is one of the reasons why.”
So far, the artist has photographed at 12 different Flushing houses of worship, including the Dar-al Taqwa Islamic Center, the Church of Saint Mel and the Free Synagogue of Flushing.
When visiting these different religious institutions, Minielli explained that it does take some time to put the individuals being photographed at ease.
“[The subjects] are very guarded,” she said. “It takes a while to get access, and I totally understand. So it takes a little bit of trying: to show I’m sincere and that I’m trying to represent them in a good light.”
Minielli usually asks to photograph the leader of the house of worship, she explained. Then, she asks him or her to pick an area of the house of worship and pose in a way that feels most comfortable.
The artist explained that she has been largely welcomed by the different religious communities she has approached. One visit to the Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church was particularly memorable, she recalled.
“[The church] has been there for hundreds of years,” Minielli said. “I could not have gotten more hugs, felt more welcomed. It was just very warm.”
The “Bound by Bowne” photo series continues to be an ongoing project for Minielli. In the future, she hopes to exhibit the photo series at the Queens Museum.
“I am very set on keeping this a Queens-based project,” Minelli said.
Photographs from the art series can be seen below.