New series featuring Bronx artists kicks off

Artists, pedestrians and performers danced in the heart of Mott Haven on Oct. 1 in celebration of the launch of an ambitious new outdoor cultural project.

By Manolo Morales. Dancers of French choreographer Anne Nguyen's Graphic Cyphers project entertain the crowd near the Roberto Clemente Plaza.
By Manolo Morales. Dancers from the Graphic Cyphers project entertain a crowd near the Roberto Clemente Plaza on Oct. 1 to help celebrate the launch of a new arts project.

“Para Roberto” will feature art, photography and dance in the heart of Mott Haven

Artists, pedestrians and performers danced in the heart of Mott Haven on Sept. 23 in celebration of the launch of an ambitious new outdoor cultural project.

The Para Roberto series promises to bring culture, education, and health services to Roberto Clemente Plaza, the long-anticipated site that is finally slated to be completed some time this winter after 14 years of construction, setbacks and delays.

To kick off the new program, the work of 16 Bronx photographers has been hung along the fences of the Plaza construction site on 149th Street and 3rd Avenue.

Children playing on local streets and rooftops and depictions of the South Bronx in the snow are among the images that capture the spirit of the the neighborhood in the photos.

“For so long people avoided the Hub and 3rd Avenue because they said that that’s where all the drug dealers were,” said Michael Brady, director of special projects and governmental affairs at SoBRO, which oversaw the creation of the project. “This gives us a new lease on life.”

The Hub came alive with the sounds of Latin jazz drummer and former Grammy nominee Bobby Sanabria and his band, who performed at the kick off. Graphic Cyphers, a dance project by French choreographer Anne Nguyen, featured 20 street dancers who entertain the crowd with house music.

The dancers pulled in passers-by to join in the fun. Some shied away but others happily danced with the them to enjoy the show. Once the celebration was over, the photographers presented their work.

Dancers posing on the fire escapes of an apartment building, drummers, and a singer dressed in a tuxedo on a rooftop are three images by Bronx native Argenis Apolinario that are displayed on the fence.

“I try to find moments that could show not just the performers but also the space that they are in,” said Apolinario, adding that the subjects in his photos were happy to be noticed, and to tell their stories through the process of being photographed while performing.

On the other side of the fence, Edgar Santana’s photos include a striking image of an elderly woman smoking a cigar freely in the streets. But Santana wasn’t entirely joyful. One of his pieces—a photo of a resident and his bright red ’54 Chrysler—was stolen from the fence.

“I had mixed feelings seeing it gone,” said Santana, 37. “Upset it was stolen and would no longer be a part of the exhibit, but happy someone liked it so much, they had to have it.”

When completed, the plaza will feature work from other Bronx artists.

Artist Melissa Calderon was selected to be among the featured photographers after completing a community participation program. She was among six artists who submitted their work and had it exhibited for three weeks at SoBRO, Hostos Community College and Lincoln Hospital in order to receive feedback and votes from the public.

Calderon said she was inspired by the humanitarian work that the plaza’s namesake Roberto Clemente conducted during his lifetime while starring as a baseball player with the Pittsburgh Pirates. Calderon said she plans to create a chair from stickballs and baseball bats in Clemente’s memory.

“My grandfather in Puerto Rico right now sits on his ‘abuelo’ chair on his porch,” said Calderon. “I want this piece to be history, memory, my memory, the memories of the people that have lived in the Bronx, how they have come here from the Caribbean and how they enjoy baseball.”