Arts & Entertainment

Struggle of the undocumented finds expression at iconic New York museum

By Jorge Fuentelsaz

New York, Nov 6 (EFE).- Undocumented Latinos in the Big Apple have taken their struggle to the city’s streets and squares, to the homes and offices of politicians and now, to one of New York’s most prestigious cultural institutions, the Museum of Modern Art.

Through Jan. 3, the installation Nuevayorkinos: Essential and Excluded will occupy the Homeroom space at MoMA’s affiliate, PS1 The Institute for Contemporary Art.

Put together by filmmaker and archivist Djali Brown-Cepeda, the work centers on the 23-day hunger strike mounted in March by undocumented migrants to demand creation of a pandemic relief fund for the workers left excluded from previous aid packages because of their immigration status.

“I want people to see the beauty in this struggle and to understand that the migrants in New York are a very important part of the city,” assistant curator Elena Ketelsen Gonzalez tells Efe.

“I want them to understand the reason for this situation, that what has been given to the excluded workers was not because of the government, but because of their struggle, and to see that it is a population that should have been in all the museums a long time ago,” she says.

On April 9, the state of New York established a $2.1 billion Excluded Workers Fund.

Nuevayorkinos features placards carried by protesters, videos capturing important moments during the hunger strike, photos of participants and organizers and even a selection of books about the history of Latin America and the Caribbean.

In the middle of the space sits a recreation of the living room of a Latino migrant family in the New York of the 1970s and ’80s, dominated by a large sofa covered in velvet the color of antique gold.

“It’s an invitation to sit down, to reflect about the excluded people and workers and their impact,” Ketelsen says.

Brown-Cepeda, a native New Yorker of Dominican descent, had the notion that “grandmother’s living room is a good start” in the quest for “sanctuary” in the city, the assistant curator explains.

Some of the posters come from organizations that wage the struggle and have collaborated with the artist and MoMA PS 1 in creating the installation: the Fund Excluded Workers Coalition, Make the Road, New York Communities for Change and the Street Vendor Project.

Signs bearing slogans such as “Our Labor Saved Lives” and “Who Feeds Us While We Feed You?,” the latter referring to the predominance of undocumented migrants among restaurant employees and in the food delivery sector.

Sitting on the sofa, Ketelsen tells Efe that the idea for the installation occurred to her while watching a video of a protest by undocumented people that included music, dance and visual art.

“Art and social struggle go hand in hand, above all, looking at the social struggle in our countries of Latin America and the Caribbean,” she says. “We have always used art to ask for what we want, to demonstrate what is fair.”

“I feel that in this moment is the right thing and that it’s the duty of a museum that encompasses social and contemporary issues to show this history and the celebrate the people who form part of the social fabric of this city, because undocumented workers make up 10 percent of the labor force in New York,” Ketelsen says. EFE jfu/dr

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