Basement Sanctuaries (2011)
This is a first selection of images from my most recent project Basement Sanctuaries. I have photographed the ways in which superintendents have decorated their work and living spaces in the basements of apartment buildings in Northern Manhattan. This project allows me to explore the process of immigrant adaptation to the large urban metropolis from an intimate perspective.
In many ways, basements are special sanctuaries for supers and their families. Supers often live in basements that are hidden from the public and from visitors, which creates a certain form of privacy. However, the basement is also a space of work for supers and their environment is on display for all the residents of the building.
Under these circumstances, the supers’ decorations function as a territorial claim over the semi public/private space of the basement. Most of the supers in the neighborhood are immigrants from Latin America and for some their images from their home countries connect their new home to a past they have left behind. This can be especially important given the grueling nature of their work and the difficulty of establishing oneself in NYC. Other supers display symbols of Western culture. One way of interpreting this is that they are showing that they have assimilated into mainstream society.
The repeated themes of cultural, national, and religious origins suggest that similar impulses drive the decoration process for different supers. However, the photos also indicate numerous ways in which different supers have personalized their work and living spaces and created a uniquely intimate space in the basement of NYC.
For this project I have received an Individual Artist Grant from the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA). NoMAA Regrant Program, made possible by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation
Civilian Art Projects
Wolk Gallery, MIT