Immigrant artists

viajero-mixed-media-2016

While visiting CCCADI’s inaugural exhibit in its new East Harlem home, I had the opportunity to speak to one of its curators, Regina Bultron-Bengoa

Just what is CCCADI?

The Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute is a multi-disciplinary arts center that showcases and promotes the distinct contributions of African Diaspora cultures.

How would you define its mission?

Through arts, education and activism it strives to advance change by uniting the various cultures of the African Diaspora, while promoting their value.

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When was it originally established?

Dr. Marta Moreno Vega founded it in 1966 as a center where African and Native cultures of Caribbean and Latin American countries could be recognized and honored. Its first home was on East 87th Street and its last home was in a brownstone in Hell’s Kitchen.

Can you tell us something about its present locale here in this landmark space on East 125 Street in East Harlem?

A few years back, several shuttered landmark firehouses were offered to cultural institutions. With city and state support, nine million dollars were raised to renovate this particular historic one for CCCADI, and on September 16, 2004, we broke ground.

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Who is its audience?

We have a wide audience from students and educators to arts professionals to families. We offer a huge range of free or low-cost exhibits, workshops and activities.

Your inaugural exhibit, Home, Memory, and Future is quite impressive. It is divided into three distinct parts.

Yes. Part I: Harlem: East and West features the works of three acclaimed photographers who have been documenting Harlem since the 70’s. Part II: Harlem and Home in the Global Context showcases artworks that suggest how cultural traditions are used to establish “home” in distant places. And Part III: Mi Quirido Barrio (My Beloved Community) – focusing on the social history of El Barrio — takes place outdoors and in cyberspace, using augmented reality. Among its themes are: migration, nostalgia for the past. gentrification and looking to the future.

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Can you tell us some more about the outdoor element of the exhibit?

Yes. It features locations of importance within the social history of El Barrio. Among these are memorial walls painted on the streets — whose history is documented on a free mobile app, Blippar. Through augmented reality, the app allows us to bring the past to life.

That is quite amazing! How has the response been to CCCADI‘s new home and inaugural exhibit?

The response has been great. There were long lines for the fall opening, and folks who see it love the art and identify with it.

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How can folks contact CCCADI if they would like to visit or become involved?

They can email: info@cccadi.org

Images 

1 & 2 Adrian “Viajero” Roman, Mixed media, 2016

3  Scherezade Garcia, Sea of Wonder, Mixed media, 2016

4 & 5 Oliver Rios & Luis Martinez, Memorial Walls, as seen on the Blippar app while on site

Photo credits: 1-3 Lois Stavsky; 4-5 Courtesy CCCADI

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

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chema-skandal-paints

On our recent visit to Chicago, we discovered the delightfully playful aesthetic of the hugely talented and prolific graphic artist and music enthusiast CHema Skandal! An interview with the artist follows:

I love your artwork’s playful, spirited – often-irreverent – sensibility. What is your main inspiration? The roots of your aesthetic?

I grew up in Mexico City, and its distinct culture has inspired my aesthetic. I was influenced by everything I saw around me – hand-painted street signs, eye-catching graphic designs, everyday visual communication… Popular culture, in general, – and particularly music – is a constant inspiration. And since coming to Chicago, my work has been influenced by what I see here.

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On visiting Pilsen, we came upon a mural that you painted. When did you first paint on the streets?

Yes, that was precisely the first time I painted on the streets. The first mural I ever did is here in Chicago.

What inspired you to paint a mural in a public space?

That mural in Pilsen was commissioned by a city cultural program. It coincided with me wanting to explore and try a different medium like this. At the same time I met Oscar Arriola  and Brooks Golden (RIP) who brought me into street art and exposed me to many graffiti and mural artists. Reflecting on it, I had done some wheat pasting before while promoting concerts or sociopolitical topics.

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How does Chicago’s street art and underground art scene differ from Mexico City’s?

A decade ago it was easy to find stickers and wheatpastings within Mexico City. But there have been mural and graffiti artists for longer, and really good ones…mainly in the outskirts. I don’t have this background, so I can not tell you much about this, but I think in many ways they are very similar. Mexico City is one of the biggest cities in the world, so you can find practically any type of art, whether independent or more affiliated to cultural organizations or brands. I feel that the scene here in Chicago is more open. Here I was embraced and welcomed by individuals and galleries alike.

Where else have you shown your work – besides here in Chicago and back in Mexico City?

I’ve shown in different places, from alternative spaces and libraries to galleries and museums. Among the cities I’ve exhibited in are: Toulouse, Lyon, Berlin, Madrid, Barcelona, Addis Ababa, Kingston, Puebla, Oaxaca, Tokyo and here in the U.S.

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Do you have a formal art education?

Yes. I studied Visual Communication & Illustration at U.N.A.M.’s National School of Art.

How do you feel about the role of social media in all of this?

I was the last one to use it! I think it can be overwhelming, but it has become a helpful platform for us artists to share our work and promote ourselves.

And is your artwork the main source of your income?

Yes, as of right now I am lucky my illustration work is steady. My projects range from publicity — like flyers, magazine illustrations and printed posters —  to commissioned art.

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Can you tell us something about your process?

Almost everything I create is by hand. I work with inks, acrylics and oils. I usually start a project like that and then transfer it to the computer to finish it off. I especially enjoy the painting process. I like the organic texture of what I can produce that way. I’ve also studied traditional printing techniques. Lately I’ve been getting back into block printing, one of the first mediums I learned. I find it interesting how you can reproduce prints and also the history of it.

Any favorite artists? Artists who’ve influenced you?

I like and admire many, mainly for their unique way they represent their visions. Among my favorites are: the late Mexican artist Jose Guadalupe Posada; the American comic artist Charles Burns and the satirical street artist Banksy.. I also like American and Cuban poster makers from the 60’s.

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How has your work evolved through the years?

I think as an artist you are always learning from others. I’ve discovered work that inspires me and makes me want to emulate a technique and try it. Most of the time during this experience you find something that fits your work, like with street Aart in my case. I am still exploring it. My work has changed, and I hope it keeps evolving.

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

I think an artist is an amplifier of society. Artists should stimulate the feelings and ideas that are hard to digest. This can be very subjective, of course, but in the end that is where the individual’s sensitivity should focus on. An artist should reflect on the social movements of our time.

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What’s ahead?

I would like to learn old painting techniques that are not in use anymore. And to find a residency in a far deserted island.

Sounds good!

 All photos courtesy of  the artist; interview by Lois Stavsky with Tara Murray

Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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Icy-and-Sot-flyer

The newly released LET HER BE FREE documents Iranian brothers Icy and Sot‘s foray from skateboarding teens in Iran to politically-conscious, internationally acclaimed artists. To celebrate the launch of their book, the artists invite you to a pop-up exhibition of small and mid-scale stencil artworks that have been created exclusively for this book launch. Opening tomorrow evening. July 23 at 51 Orchard Street with a book signing, the exhibit continues through July 30.

Unity, spray paint on canvas

icy-and-sot-Unity _ 30x36 inch _ stencil spray paint on canvas

Justice, spray paint on cut-out wood

Icy-and-Sot-Justice _ 30x24 inch _ stencil spray paint on cut out wood

In Long Island City 

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And book cover

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Published by Lebowsi Publishers with an introduction by filmmaker and poet Jess X Chen and an afterword by Brooklyn Street Art‘s Jaime Rojo and Steven P. Harrington, the artists’ first collection of works features over 200 full color photos.

All images courtesy Icy and Sot

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"Icy and Sot"

Led by Maziar Bahari — a former Newsweek journalist who was imprisoned in Iran for 118 days and became the subject of Jon Stewart’s film Rosewater — the #NotACrime campaign focuses on human rights abuses in Iran.  Members of the Baha’is, Iran’s largest religious minority, have been jailed solely for teaching and studying, as have journalists who expose the Iranian government’s policies. #NotACrime‘s current street art campaign, curated by Street Art Anarchy, has brought a series of new politically-engaged murals to New York and New Jersey. I recently had the opportunity to speak to the noted Brooklyn-based Iranian-American artist Nicky Nodjoumi, one of the campaign’s participants, who had been exiled from Iran in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution.

"Marina Zumi"

What moved you to participate in the #NotACrime Street Art Campaign?

I have been using art as a means to expose political crimes for a long time. It is part of my overall activities as an artist.

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You are principally known for your exquisite politically-infused figurative paintings, but you also designed posters against the Shah back in the late 70’s.

Yes, while teaching at the Tehran University of Fine Arts, I became involved in the movement to oust the Shah. We never could have imagined that what would follow would be even worse than the Shah’s regime.

Nicky-Nodjoumi-political-street-art-NYC

For the #NotACrime street art Campaign, you painted a pair of shackled hands. That image has also been surfacing on posters Downtown. Why that image?

It is a symbolic gesture in support of journalists in Iran. It is a general representation of the suppression of free expression.

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Do you feel that all artists have a responsibility to raise issues that will facilitate change?

An artist who lives in the Middle East does. There one has to have a position and take a stand.

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What is the foremost challenge facing artists and journalists in Iran today?

There is no freedom of expression. Human rights are abused. Everything must be done clandestinely. One faces the risks of imprisonment, torture and worse for any expression that challenges the government.

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What do you see for the future? Are you at all optimistic? Will things get better in your native country?

Unfortunately, I don’t have any hope for the immediate future. Despite the election of a more moderate President, dissent is not tolerated, as the hardliners are the ones who are setting the present policies.

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I suppose we all need to work together to create awareness.

Note: All murals in the #NotACrime street art campaign were curated by Street Art Anarchy. What follows are the ones featured above:

1. New York-based Iranian artists Icy and Sot819 Broadway and Ellery St in Bushwick

2. Argentinian artist Marina Zumi, Frederick Douglass Blvd and 126th St in Harlem

3. American artist David Torres aka Rabi, part of the art duo Cyrcle, 126th St in Harlem’s Nelson Mandela Memorial Garden 

4. New York-based Iranian artist Nicky Nodjoumi, 11-22 Welling Court in Astoria

5. Italian artist Jacopo Ceccarelli aka 2501, 24th St and Lex Avenue in Manhattan

6. Brazilian artist Alexandre KetoFrederick Douglass Blvd and 126th St in Harlem

7. South African artist Faith47, Colombia and Woodhull Streets in Red Hook

8. New York-based Jennifer Caviola aka Cake, 612 Communipaw, Jersey City

not a crime

Interview with Nicky Nodjoumi by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1, 4, 6 & 7 Tara Murray; 2, 3 & 5 Dani Reyes Mozeson and 8 courtesy of #NotACrime

Check here to find out how you can participate in the campaign.

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Ramiro-Davaro-centrefuge-public-art-project

With influences ranging from comic book art to South American/European muralism, Brooklyn-based Ramiro Davaro has created a wondrous world of fantastical characters who have made their way onto public and private spaces throughout NYC and beyond. We recently had the opportunity to visit Ramiro’s studio and speak to him.

When did you first paint on a public surface and where?

It was back in high school around 2002. I was about 16 at the time. I painted some mushrooms on a huge rock at a park we used to go hiking in.  It was the worst. I basically ruined a nice lookout.

What inspired you to do so?

I was getting tired of painting on small surfaces. I wanted a larger canvas so I could paint way bigger! But what I painted was so dumb that it took a few years before I was ready to try again.  My first real art on the street was in 2007 in Buenos Aires.

ramiro-Davaro-little-havana-street-art

Do any early graffiti/street art-related memories stand out?

I remember seeing lots of political art – with faces of politicians and names of soccer teams — on the streets of Argentina when I was a young child.

What percentage of your day is devoted to your art these days?

About 70%. When I’m not doing something art-related, I’m skateboarding.

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

Everyone likes my work and has been very supportive.

ramiro-davaro-studio-art

Any thoughts on the graffiti/ street art divide?

I don’t feel it, and I don’t think about it. I love both, and they’re both necessary.

How do you feel about the movement of graffiti and street art into galleries?  We’ve seen your work at Cotton Candy Machine in Williamsburg and you are now showing with Brandon Sines at Grumpy Bert in Downtown Brooklyn.

I think it’s good for everyone!

What about the corporate world? Any feelings about that?

So long as I can dominate the conversation and be true to my vision, I don’t have a problem with it.

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How you feel about the role of the Internet in this scene?

It’s a bit much! It can be insane. But on the positive side, it creates opportunities for artists, and it also builds bridges.

Do you have a formal arts education?

No. I majored in Business. But my mom used to always take me to art museums. While growing up in Massachusetts, I got my very early schooling at the Worcester Art Museum.

Do you work with a sketch in your hand or do you let it flow?

I mostly just let it flow.

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Are you generally satisfied with your work?

About 80% of the time!

How has your work evolved in the past few years?

Before moving to Brooklyn, I had been able to visit and live in different countries. As a result of my experiences, my process has become more mature, more thought-out, and tighter. Working with different companies, painting murals in a range of places and engaging in various projects have also helped me become more flexible and fluid in the work I can produce. In these past couple of years, my hand has really taken over and put a definitive mark on the work I produce.

Are there any artists out there whose works have inspired you or influenced your particular aesthetic?

I remember reading about David Ellis and the Barnstormers crew in Juxtapoz back in 2008.  That blew me away!  As far as influences — Os Gemeos, D*Face and Word to Mother come to mind.

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What’s ahead?

More shows and more murals! A group show in LA at Luz de Jesus Gallery in September; a few animations with FlipBooKit for the Maker Faire here in NYC in at the end of September; painting at Art Basel in December; a group exhibit at Redefine Gallery in Orlando in February. Books, walls, Aruba, Argentina and more art!

It sounds great! Good luck with it all!

Note: Through Sunday, you can check out Ramiro’s works — many in collaboration with Brandon Sines — at Grumpy Bert in Downtown Brooklyn.

Photos: 1, 5 Tara Murray; 2 – 4 Lois Stavsky

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studio-sweet-home-public-art-NYC

The Studio Street Home duo — Colombian native Yeimi Salazar and Puerto Rican native Melvin Sanchez — began collaborating six years ago, soon after they met in NYC. Their first solo exhibit will open tomorrow and Saturday at Exit Room NY during Bushwick Open Studios. While visiting Exit Room last week, we had the opportunity to speak to its art director Daniela Zoe.

It’s great to see Exit Room NY so alive again! What a wonderful home for Studio Sweet Home‘s first solo exhibit!

Yes! To coincide with Bushwick Open Studios, I wanted to feature artists with a unique multidisciplinary approach. And I’m delighted to host Studio Sweet Home here at Exit Room NY, as Juguetería/Toys Warehouse is a great opportunity for the artists, our space and the public.

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Can you tell us something about this upcoming show? What will Juguetería/Toys Warehouse feature?

There will be paintings, installations, sculptures, video projects, and performances. There will be something for everyone – as Juguetería/Toys Warehouse is not just an art exhibit, but an interactive experience.  A participatory performance will be held at 7pm on both opening days.

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Have you worked with Studio Sweet Home artists Yeimi Salazar and Melvin Sanchez in the past?

Yes, they have participated in group shows before here at Exit Room NY.

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What was it about Yeimi Salazar and Melvin Sanchez that initially drew you to them?

Their mastery of their craft, their talents and their versatility.  And I love the way their works attract participants.

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What do you expect those who visit the show to take away from it?

The constructed objects and scenarios are certain to engage the viewer’s senses. There will be so much to see, stories to hear and objects and people to touch. And there are many subtle, suggestive, somewhat ironic, messages.

Studio-sweet-home-at-exit-room-nyc

What’s ahead for Exit Room NY?

We are expecting a visit from a legendary street art crew in August. We will keep you posted!

It sounds great! Good luck! We are looking forward to it all!

Note: The exhibit’s opening will take place tomorrow and Saturday, the first two days of Bushwick Open Studios. The exhibit will then continue until June 26. Gallery hours are Wednesday to Friday from 5:30pm to 8:30pm.  EXIT Room is located on 270 Meserole Street, a short walk from the Montrose stop on the L train.

Interview conducted by City-As-School intern Diana Davidova. All photos courtesy Studio Sweet Home and Exit Room NY.

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Susan-Siegel-art-work

Featuring 30 artists from 15 different countries, Theorum: You Simply Destroy the Image I Always Had of Myself opens today, Sunday, May 3, at Mana Contemporary‘s 50,000 square foot Glass Gallery. Curated by Ocravio Zaya, it presents an eclectic range of rich artworks in various media from painting and photography to large-scale installations. Visually engaging and psychologically charged, the works on exhibit question and challenge our perceptions of ourselves and appearances, in general, while “contemplating a world turned upside-down.” Here are a few more images:

NYC-based Susan Siegel, one of many images from an elegantly dreamy installation of her paintings

Susan Siegel-art-Mana-Contemporary

Lima native Santiago Roose, (Bridge) Between the particular contradiction and general antagonism

"Santiago Roose"

 Cuba native Marìa Magdalena Campos-Pons, My Mother Told Me I Am Chinese

Maria-Magdalena Campos-Pons

Lima native Elena Damiani, The Discovery

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Lima native Nicole Franchy, Hinter Scapes

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Puerto Rican artist Radames “Juni” Figuearoa, La Casita Amarilla

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Exhibit curator and noted art critic Octavio Zaya, center standing, in La Casita Amarilla

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Along with several other thoroughly engaging exhibitsTheorem: You Simply Destroy the Image I Always Had of Myself — featuring many artists whose works also surface in the public sphere — opens to the public today, Sunday, May 3, at Mana Contemporary, 888 Newark Avenue in Jersey City. Complimentary shuttle service to and from the Mana’s Open House will be provided every half hour starting at 12:30 PM from Milk Studios at 450 West 15th Street in Manhattan and returning every half hour from Mana starting at 2 PM. Mana is also easily accessible via the PATH train’s Journal Square stop. Ample free parking is also provided.

Photo credits: 1, 2 & 4 Sara C. Mozeson; 3, 5-9, Lois Stavsky

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In this third in our series of interviews with artists born abroad who have made NYC home, we feature Pesu. Inspired by hip-hop, Pesu began his art career back in Japan in 1996 as a graffiti writer. Here in NYC he is best-known for his live painting in various venues and the many Art Battle competitions he has won. His works on canvas in a multiplicity of styles — from stencil art to abstract art — increasingly attract collectors, as well.

Pesu

When did you first visit NY? And what brought you here?

In 2001 I left Japan for Sacramento, California on a student visa. But life there was too slow for me. So in 2004, I decided to check out New York City.

What was your impression of it at the time?

I was thoroughly overwhelmed. I remember walking on 5th Avenue and crying – tears of joy! This city has everything: so much energy, art, graffiti, mix of people and amazing architecture. And there is always something happening here.

Pesu-black-book-graffiti

What is the image of NYC in your native country?

Back in Japan we think of NYC as the number one city in the world. It is the place of opportunity.

Do you think this is accurate? Why or why not?

Yes! I agree! Everything is possible here in NYC.

Pesu-art-face-

When did you decide to move here? And why?

I decided to move here the following year – in 2005. Why? Because I loved it!

How did your family feel about your move?

They were great. Everyone was very supportive. And they were always worried about me when I was doing graffiti back in Japan.

Pesu-blackbook-graffiti

What were some of the challenges you faced when you first moved here?

I had to find a way to earn money. And I had to worry about having a visa. I also wasn’t used to living in such a competitive city.

You now have a great space in the East Village. Where did you live when you first moved here? And why did you choose that particular neighborhood?

When I first moved here, I lived in Bed-Stuy.  I found the apartment through a broker. I chose Bed-Stuy because I love Biggie so much.

Pesu-abstract

Have you encountered any prejudice here?

Yes. I’ve encountered some. Folks here are not all that accustomed to seeing Asians in the hip-hop scene.

How has your artwork evolved or changed since you came here?

I tend to use brighter, more vivid colors. My art is more alive here in NYC! And it’s become more professional.

Pesu-and-shiro-graffiti-art

How receptive have New Yorkers been to your artwork? To you?

They seem somewhat surprised by what I do, as they are not used to seeing Asians in this scene!

What would you like to accomplish here?

As an artist, I want to make people happy. And on a more personal level, I would like to bring my parents to America.

Pesu-fine-art

What do you miss most about your native country?

My parents and the food I ate back in Japan.

Interview by Lois Stavsky with City-as-School intern Zachariah Messaoud; photos 1-4, 6 (collab with Shiro) & 7 by Lois Stavsky; 5 by Zachariah Messaoud; images  2 & 4 are from Pesu’s blackbooks from the late 90’s.

Note: Several of Pesu’s works will be on exhibit in Brooklyn is the Future opening Friday at the Vazquez at 93 Forrest Street in Bushwick.

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Argentine artist Magdalena Marcenaro aka Magda Love shares with us some of her early experiences and impressions of NYC in this second in our series of interviews with artists born abroad who have made NYC home.

Magda-Love-street-art-Brooklyn-NYC

When did you first visit New York City?

I first came here in 2000 with a bag and $300. My uncle had paid for my ticket.

What was your initial impression of this city?

I wasn’t impressed! I was raised in Buenos Aires, a similarly large city. And large cities don’t move me that much. I’m far more impressed by nature.  And I always thought of Europe as far cooler than the United States, as Europeans seem to value culture more than Americans do. London seemed like the ideal place to live because I was into fashion at the time.

Magda-Love-street-art-NYC-close-up

Why, then, did you decide to stay in NYC?

Just about everyone was telling me that NYC is the place to be, and then four months later, I was married.

How did your family feel about your move?

My mother was very supportive. She raised me to be independent. She, herself, is very adventurous.

Magda-Love-art-exhibit

What were some of the challenges you faced when you first came here –before you were married?

My biggest challenge was finding a place to live.  When I first arrived, I called a friend I’d met in Argentina and I spent my first two weeks in her place on Roosevelt Island. There was a huge snowstorm at the time. I can’t forget that! I had never seen snow in Buenos Aires. I then worked in a hostel on 106th Street and Central Park West in exchange for a place to sleep. After that, I just crashed in lots of different spaces, wherever anyone had a spare bed.

That must have been difficult.

Yes, I remember spending an entire night on a computer in Times Square checking for possible rentals.  For a while I ended up renting a room in Alphabet City. It was in the Projects on Avenue D. I didn’t even know what the Projects were. And there I was — walking around in a fur coat! And as my Spanish is so different from that of the people living in the Projects, I could barely communicate with anyone. And, of course, dealing with paper work that any newcomer to the US has to deal with is always a challenge.

magda-love-art-at-welling-court

How did you meet your basic expenses early on?

I first worked in a coffee shop, and then I worked as a bartender. I also sold some clothes I’d made to Patricia Field. Back in Buenos Aires, I designed fashion.

Have you encountered any prejudice here?

Not here in NYC. Living in this city is like living in a bubble. But when I’m with my son  – who is biracial – outside of NYC, I do feel prejudice.

Magda-Love-Cobble-Hill-street-art-NYC

How has your artwork evolved or changed since you moved here?

It changes all the time. I feel that I’ve grown tremendously. Being around so many talented artists – especially those who paint on the streets  — exposed me to so much. It has helped me develop different techniques.

Have New Yorkers been receptive to your artwork?

Yes. I’ve been fortunate.

Magda-love-close-up-collate-at-Nu-Hotel-NYC

What would you like to accomplish here?

I’m eager to paint a huge wall. I want to collaborate with some of my favorite artists. And I’d love to have a solo show. Actually, my goal is to conquer the world!

What do you miss most about your native country?

I miss seeing my brother’s kids grow up and I miss the countryside.

Magda-sneaker-art

Do you see yourself living here on a permanent basis or returning to your country?

I’m here to stay!

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky and City-as-School intern Zachariah Messaoud; photo credits: 1, 2, 5 & 7 Zachariah Messaoud; 3 Dani Reyes Mozeson; 4 Tara Murray & 6 Lois Stavsky

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Living and working as a full-time artist in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, Milan native Federico Massa aka Iena Cruz first visited NYC in 2008. He has since moved here, enhancing NYC and beyond with his strikingly stylish aesthetic. This post is the first in a new series of interviews with artists born abroad who have decided to make NYC home.

"Iena Cruz" "Federico Massa"

When did you first visit NYC?

It was the summer of 2008. I stayed here for a month.  At the time, I didn’t know anyone in NYC.

What brought you here? Why NYC?

I was on vacation, and I was interested in exploring other cities. I had begun to feel that Milan is too small for me.  NYC seemed like a logical place to visit.

Iena-Cruz-in-studio

What was your first impression of NYC?

I fell in love with it at once.  I didn’t understand it, but I loved it. I felt inspired by the chance to be connected to so many different cultures. I thought everything about NYC is great!

What was your image of NYC back in Milan?

It was out of focus. The only image I had of it came from what I saw in movies and music videos. I really had no idea what to expect.

Iena-Cruz-street-art-williamsburg-NYC

When did you decide to return here? 

I knew soon after my first visit that I needed to come back.

How did your family feel about you leaving Milan for NYC?

They were supportive. They know how difficult life is for an artist in Milan. Back home no artist is taken seriously until after he is past 50.

iena-cruz-puerto-rico-street-art

What were some of the challenges you faced once you decided to make NYC home?

I had to learn a new language. I had to find work to meet basic living expenses. I constantly had to concern myself with visa requirements and paper work. And in order to do all this, I had to put aside my painting. There was a general sense of instability.

Your current living situation is ideal – as your home is also your studio. How did you get so lucky?

I discovered this place on craigslist. When I contacted the owner, he asked me to show him a sample of my artwork! As soon as he saw it, he took me on as a tenant. At the time there were two other artists living here, both Mexican.

Iena-Cruz-bushwick -street-art

What was that like – sharing the space with these other artists?

It was wonderful at the time! And they’ve had a tremendous influence on my aesthetic. Through them, I discovered Mexican culture, and I’ve since adapted elements of it into my artworks.

Now that the space is all yours, how do you meet all your expenses?

Largely through a variety of commissioned projects. I also sell artworks and do set design.

iena-cruz-street-art-NYC

Do any particular projects stand out?

The huge mural I did for the Williamsburg Cinemas on the corner of Grand and Driggs was an experience! It was unlike anything I had done before – both aesthetically and in terms of the people with whom I interacted while painting it.  And last month, I had the opportunity to participate in FAAM, Fine Art Auction Miami in Wynwood.

How has your artwork evolved or changed since you came here?

My current works feature and fuse elements of Italy, Mexico and NYC.  And as I’m inspired to push myself here, my art is certain to continue to evolve and develop.

Cruz-close-up-street-art-Williamsburg-nyc

How receptive have New Yorkers been to your artwork? To you?

It’s been so positive. My sense is that folks here admire my work, and they’ve been so welcoming.

What’s ahead?

Now that I have my green card, I just want to keep painting murals and exhibiting my artwork.

Interview by Lois Stavsky with City-as-School intern Zachariah Messaoud  

Photos: 1. In Miami for the FAAM MAJOR STREET ART AUCTION and 4. In Puerto Rico, courtesy of the artist; 2. In the artist’s studio, Lois Stavsky; and 3, 5-7, In NYC, Dani Reyes Mozeson

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