An exhibition at Mott Haven’s BronxArtSpace gallery in August showed off the work of four local artists who have used different art forms to transcend stereotypes about people with disabilities.
Jose Rivera grew up an orphan on the streets of San Juan. At the age of 14 he enrolled at the Instituto de Cultura Puertorriqueña, where he received scholarships to study before graduating with a degree in fine arts.
Rivera, who now lives in Soundview, is bipolar and suffers from gout, which causes him to walk with a cane he carved himself. As a “found artist” he scours the streets to find the perfect materials to put together his multimedia work – yarn, playing cards, metal, wood – and strives to overcome the stigma connected with his diagnoses.
“Instead of people knowing who I am through my art, they know me as the crazy person,” Rivera said. “I’m here today to prove that I’m worth something.”
The August exhibition was called “Outsiders Inside the Bronx” to draw attention to the fact the four artists’ disabilities lend their work an originality that separates it from that of more mainstream artists.
Rivera and his three colleagues, Chen Carrasco, Ray Lopez and Augustine Cruz, came to know one another while working together over the years at the Point CDC in Hunts Point.
Rivera’s found art, Lopez’ drawings, Cruz’ wood sculptures, and Carrasco’s urban portraits were all on display over the month of August.
“This was an opportunity to show four really great artists in depth,” said Carey Clark, the show’s curator. “I thought it was a huge success.”
Carrasco, a Hunts Point resident, says the Point is a place where the artists can collaborate in a safe environment.
“We socialize, we paint, we discuss art and we share,” he said.
Clark said they each of the artists sold a few pieces at the show, and they gave free art classes at the gallery for young people residents of the neighborhood, something Carrasco says he wishes he could have had access to when he was younger.
“There was no direction when I was small,” Carrasco said. “My parents were poor. They didn’t have any structure.”
Augustine Cruz, another resident of Hunts Point, suffers from epilepsy, and has been sculpting with wood since he was a teenager. Now 62, his pieces include a large bald eagle with its wings spread, and busts of presidents Bill Clinton and Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Each of his pieces, he says, takes months to complete.
“It does take patience,” Cruz said. “If I didn’t have that patience, I may not be where I am right now.”
Cruz’ brother, Edwin Cruz, who was at the show, says he’s proud of his older sibling’s abilities.
“I’m glad he’s getting some type of recognition,” Edwin Cruz said. “I grew up with him, and this is all he’s done. He’s really devoted to his art.”
On opening night, the artists explained their own artistic processes and inspirations to the patrons.
“There’s something for everyone,” said Andrea Hegeman, 57, who came to see the art.
“I think it’s great,” said Nina Soto, 44. “You can see the talent. It brings a wonderful thing to the Bronx.”