Mott Haven muralist’s work gets a European airing
The stark contrasts of the Port Morris waterfront are now visible for European viewers, thanks to a South Bronx artist who has been documenting them for years and a filmmaker who took her work to heart.
“On the South Bronx Waterfront,” a short film about Mott Haven artist Linda Cunningham’s work by French filmmaker Judith Du Pasquier, was aired at the South Bronx Museum of the Arts last Friday. The film documents Cunningham’s efforts to create a 24-foot-wide mural of the Harlem River waterfront, and explores the social and political issues that inspired her. The mural, “South Bronx Waterfront Sagas,” hung in the lobby of the museum between early November and Feb. 19.
Du Pasquier first came to the Bronx in 2010 when she was commissioned by the French and German TV station ARTE to make a film about the borough. That’s when she met Cunningham for the first time and filmed her in her 140th Street studio next to the BronxArtSpace gallery. Since then the two met twice in Paris to discuss plans for both the mural and an accompanying film.
Du Pasquier received no funding to shoot the independent film, but having the chance to return to the Bronx was worth the expense, she said in an email.
“I make a lot of films with artists. It is my passion to be in the studios with my camera,” she said. “But here, I was also very interested in the idea of the visual connection between the artwork and the reality outside—the wasted lands of the waterfront.”
After the film was screened, Cunningham explained to a gathering at the museum that the waterfront’s hazards and its messiness motivated her to create the piece, which, she said, calls attention to the city’s neglect of the waterfront while serving as documentation of this moment in its history. Cunningham is involved in ongoing efforts to create a public park on the site.
The mural is made up of large pieces of torn canvas, which the artist said reflect her view that the world is neither orderly nor neat. Using an acrylic transfer technique, she pasted images of the waterfront landscape and the surrounding buildings onto the canvas. She drew and painted more details around the images, and added texture by incorporating debris she gathered from the shoreline. Museum employees have told her that members of the community have told them they love it, she said.
“Many people have learned about our waterfront from engagement with the artwork, but they learned even more from the film,” she said. “Many had no idea how much waterfront we have because it is so blocked.”
Lauren Click, director of Community and Public Programs at the museum, said it surprised her that neighborhood children who saw the mural recognized that it depicted the local waterfront.
“The kids that know what that is. They’re going to be the ones this will be a historical record for, because they’re going to watch it change,”said Click.
A Queens resident who attended the event, Alex Cohen, 30, said the mural and the film made him aware of a simple fact most New Yorkers overlook; how reliant they are on city services—-many of which are centered in the South Bronx.
“The power plant here, the garbage dump there, I expect these things to be operating 100 percent of the time,” Cohen said. “I never really see or appreciate what’s going on behind the scenes, or what impact that’s having on communities far away from me.”