Art exhibition at Hunter College’s East Harlem gallery: “Anchor”


In “High Contrast: Art and Community in East Harlem,” Mostafa Heddaya reviews “Anchor” (which is on view through June 13). Curated by Arden Sherman, the exhibition presents a very interesting project; it brings together six artists—Nicole Cohen, Selena Kimball, Miguel Luciano, Steven Perez, Saul Williams, and Caroline Woolard—who spent time with Hiram Maristany and his archives to produce work that draws in his work. Heddaya highlights the work of Puerto Rican artist Miguel Luciano. He writes:

On an East Harlem sidewalk in the early 1960s, a 15-year-old encounters a globetrotting Magnum photographer. He hands the young man his camera. The young man becomes a photographer. This is the unlikely origin story undergirding “Anchor,” an enthralling exhibition at Hunter College’s East Harlem gallery focused on Hiram Maristany, the East Harlem teenager who received his first camera, no less than a Leica IIIg, from the late lensman Bob Henriques.

The first exhibition conceived by the university gallery’s recently appointed curator, Arden Sherman, “Anchor” (through June 13) consists of projects carried out by six artists — Nicole Cohen, Selena Kimball, Miguel Luciano, Steven Perez, Saul Williams, and Caroline Woolard — drawing on works from Maristany’s lifelong archive of images.

The content of the exhibition hews closely to the neighborhood in which it is sited, and rightly so. Maristany was a founding member of the radical Young Lords Party, renowned for its activism on behalf of the once blighted — and now gentrifying — Puerto Rican neighborhood known as El Barrio. His photography chronicled the activities of the Young Lords, occasionally appearing in the group’s publications, but its formal and humanistic explorations go beyond the rudiments of documentary style. The historical record is thus invigorated: pictures of landmark events in El Barrio’s history, like the trash barricades on Third Avenue in the summer of 1969 — a protest by the Young Lords against the neighborhood’s neglect by city trash collectors — receive the benefit of Maristany’s thoughtful eye.

Some of Maristany’s most remarkable photography depicts simple, quotidian scenes, like a boy flying a kite on a rooftop, or a grinning schoolgirl standing in front of El Museo Del Barrio — Robert Doisneau without the cliché. And Maristany is much more than a mere photographer: his community-oriented activities include work with Taller Boricua, a local artist space and print studio, and he served as an interim director of El Museo del Barrio during the first decade of its existence, from 1975 to 1977.

The artists invited to contribute to “Anchor” spent time with Maristany and his archives, each selecting a number of works, which are arranged in sections devoted to each practitioner. This variety is echoed in the medium in which Maristany’s photographs are presented, a mixture of period prints, some wrinkled with age, and crisp recent productions. The result is a living archive further enhanced by the collaborative visions of a strong batch of participating artists.

The exhibition’s best interventions are delivered by Miguel Luciano, a fellow East Harlem resident who restaged a Young Lords storefront in the gallery’s street-level windows, intermingling archival posters with more contemporary fare, “Black Lives Matter” alongside tributes to Pedro Albizu Campos, a staunch advocate for Puerto Rican independence. Inside the gallery, Luciano places a 1969 photograph by Maristany of a young man’s lapel buttons — one for the Black Panthers and another for the Young Lords Party — next to two spare black triangular frames with eBay-sourced pin-back buttons bearing nearly identical designs at their peaks. The geometric correspondence between the overlapping triangles of the lapels in Maristany’s shot and the twin triangular frames is light-handed but masterful. [. . .]

[Photo Hiram Maristany’s “Bronx March, 1969.”]

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