By Tammy Scileppi
They crossed over the Queensboro Bridge from the World’s Borough bearing gifts.
Their destination? New York City’s center for urban folk culture, City Lore Gallery, located at 56 E 1st St. on Manhattan’s Lower East Side.
The 10 Queens-based artists who made the trek to Manhattan are excited about sharing a variety of unique “gifts’ from their homelands with the public, as are the other 21 creatives from New York City’s immigrant communities. Representing 25 countries, these musicians, poets, dancers, chefs, and storytellers are all participants in a special exhibition spotlighting their contributions, called What We Bring: New Immigrant Gifts, on view through Sept. 16.
“There are precious objects, texts, ingredients, tools and musical instruments that originated in their home countries – many (or all) that have now become part of the American patchwork,” said Manhattan resident and local advocate Carol Klenfner, who enjoyed the exhibit and wanted to let TimesLedger readers know about it.
“City Lore is committed to the idea that all cultures matter, especially in this city that has been defined by waves of new immigrants,” said Steve Zeitlin, founder and co-curator of City Lore. “I wanted to remind our city and our nation of the cultural gifts that immigrants bring, focusing on groups who came to this country during the past 50 years as a result the immigration reform act put into law in 1968.
“That is the impetus behind What We Bring: New Immigrant Gifts, an exhibit both of photographs and the precious objects brought by immigrants, who are also New York City-based artists, when they first came to America.”
Each of the artists has enriched our city, and each has a fascinating story to share. A couple of local creatives are highlighted here.
Indian dancer Malini Srinivasan from Sunnyside will feature a pair of leather ankle bells from India in the exhibit.
“This is a symbol of the dance [Bharatanatyam] that me, my (late) mom and my (late) grandma all practiced. It is this object that connects the dancer with the rhythm and music,” she said. “When I practice my art, people see me as an individual practicing a beautiful dance form. But I feel like my work has so much to do with what my mother and grandmother brought with them as teachers and as people. This exhibit puts my art practice into the bigger context of my family history and this country’s history.”
Queens-based Indo-Guyanese dancer Pritha Singh, shared her “gift” of mala prayer beads. While mala beads have traditionally been used in prayer and meditation, anyone can adorn their bodies with these beautiful pieces, which are thought to protect and guide people in their daily lives.
Mexican educator, musician and dancer Paula Sanchez-Kucukozer, from Bayside, brought a Day of the Dead paper mache skull.
“I specialize in Mexican folk traditions, particularly son jarocho, a style of music and dance mainly from the state of Veracruz in the Gulf of Mexico,” Sanchez-Kucukozer said. “Son jarocho represents a blend of musical and cultural elements of indigenous Spanish and African origins. I organize monthly and annual events that educate and entertain audiences on this folk art.”
Describing Queens’ arts community, Sanchez-Kucukozer said she believes it is “the most incredibly inspiring and creative community in New York City.”
“With so many cultures sharing their traditions, with so many artists of different backgrounds expressing themselves in so many different artistic styles, and with so many organizations and groups supporting artistic work, Queens is a fantastic place to explore art and thrive. It is indeed a community that I am proud to be but a small part of it,” she said.
The exhibit is free to attend and open for viewing Fridays from 2 p.m. to 6 p.m. and on weekends from 12 p.m. to 6 p.m.