Immigrant artists depict their experience

BY ALEJANDRA O’CONNELL-DOMENECH | Young immigrant artists are getting some much needed space in an Upper East Side apartment building.

Some commercial space at the St. Tropez building on 340 E. 64th St. has officially been transformed into a new gallery by Chashama, a nonprofit organization that finds unused real estate for artist gallery and studio use. City Councilmember Ben Kallos, who funded all four of the exhibitions scheduled to occupy the gallery, has allocated a total of $80,000 to the nonprofit over the last three years.

The gallery’s first exhibit, “Esperanza de Otro Mundo Posible (Hope of Another Possible World),” features the work of two artists who are also DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival) recipients.

A piece by Maria de Los Angeles in the exhibit at Chashama on the Upper East Side. (Photo by Maria de Los Angeles)

“My work is a reflection of my experiences, which are not singular,” said Maria de los Angeles, who has 60 drawings, a dress, three collages, a wall drawing and two skateboards on display. De Los Angeles, 30, immigrated to Santa Rosa, California, from Michoacán, Mexico, with her family at the age of 11.

De los Angeles, came to New York to study at the Pratt Institute, where she was considered an international student because of her status. Student loans and work study were two tuition-paying options that were also off the table. Pratt eventually offered de los Angeles $20,000 in scholarship funds.

“But I had to match my scholarship,” she noted.

An artwork by Maria de Los Angeles. (Photo by Maria de Los Angeles)

And she did, by selling pieces of her work in Santa Rosa to friends, family and community members, who, after reading an article about her educational goals in the local newspaper, wanted her to “achieve her dream.” After Pratt, de los Angeles earned an M.F.A. from Yale.

“I think we have to move beyond stereotypes into a more personal narrative to move beyond hate and support each other,” she said.

The new gallery provides a physical and metaphorical space in the art world to dissect the emotional toll of growing up undocumented in the U.S. and how that impacts identity. Hopefully, through the artists’ work, viewers can dissect immigration policy, as well.

Art by Francisco Donoso at the Chashama exhibit. (Photo by Francisco Donoso)

“We hope to use this, as well as in partnership with the New York State Leadership Council, to bring advocacy and attention to really the magic and the brilliance that our community is capable of and has been doing,” said Francisco Donoso, the second artist featured in the exhibit. Donoso, 30, immigrated to Miami from Quito, Ecuador, and eventually made his way up to New York when he studied art at Purchase College, SUNY.

Donoso’s displayed work features abstract paintings and murals along with a mixed-media installation of clouds turning into landscapes. This latter piece symbolizes how life transforms after a person leaves one home for another.

From left, Francisco Donoso, Maria de los Angeles, City Councilmember Ben Kallos and gallery staff cut the ribbon at the opening event for the current Chashamas show. (Photo courtesy Ben Kallos’s Office)

Although stylistically their work is very different, both artists’ intent is to challenge xenophobic, racist and classist notions of what it means to be an undocumented immigrant.

The way in which the pair are helping DACA recipients is twofold. Not only are they creating space within a larger conversation about how undocumented Americans are perceived, but they have given space to other fellow artists that have received DACA status.

“I really want to do my work and inspire others to do the same,” said de los Angeles.

Three other artists, Odlyis Burgoa, Josselyn Vasquez and Carlos Vargas, also have pieces exhibited within the gallery.

For more information about the Chashama exhibits, visit www.chashama.org. The work of de los Angeles and Donoso will be up until Thurs., April 18.