Lower East Side Gallery Tour

Lower East Side Gallery Tour
Image Detail: IAP artists visiting "Lounge of A Prophet at Cuchifritos Gallery," Photo Courtesy: New York Foundation for the Arts (NYFA)

NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program tours two spaces that support individual artists and foster community.

As part of NYFA’s extended support for 2021-22 Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program (IAP Program) artists, we organized an opportunity for participants to connect in-person through a Lower East Side (LES) gallery tour.

The cohort visited Kates-Ferri Project’s first solo exhibition, Lore, by Cecile Chong, an artist and IAP program mentor. They then met Jodi Waynberg, Executive Director of Artists Alliance Inc. (AAI) at Cuchifritos Gallery to see Lounge of A Prophet by Mo Kong. Both organizations focus on presenting and supporting underrepresented perspectives.  

Lore: Cecile Chong at Kates-Ferri Project

Conceived by Natalie Kates and her husband Fabrizio Ferri during the pandemic, Kates-Ferri Projects launched its brick-and-mortar space in the Lower East Side in early 2022, with the mission to support emerging artists and brings attention to underrepresented demographics within the arts ecosystem. 

Image: Group shot of IAP artists posing together and smiling in a gallery space, with art on the walls behind them
Image: IAP artists visiting “Lore: Cecile Chong” at Kates-Ferri Projects with Cecile Chong (wearing yellow in center), Photo Courtesy: Kates-Ferri Projects

Drawing from long standing traditions in the Lower East Side, a neighborhood where immigrant families from around the globe continues to set their feet and a place where culture and ideas crisscross, Kates is rethinking the role of the contemporary art gallery and envisioning the venue setting a new standard serving artists and engaging with the community. 

In Lore: Cecile Chong, Kates sees herself in the narratives, which address ideas of cultural interaction and the commonalities humans share through layering materials, identities, histories, and languages. “As someone who is half Asian and half Pennsylvania Dutch, growing up accompanying my mother to her Buddhist temples on Saturdays and my dad to his church on Sundays, it was a profound feeling when I first saw Cecile’s work at the Sugar Hill Children’s Museum of Art & Storytelling.” Kates said, “Cecile’s work reminds us that we as human beings share cultures and exchange information constantly—we should celebrate this, especially in this increasingly divided world. I decided to bring her work to the gallery because it has a really interesting dialogue with the LES neighborhood.”

Image Detail: Photo of Natalie Kates and Cecile Chong surrounded by ceramic artworks and paintings at Kates-Ferri Projects in New York City
Natalie Kates (left) and Cecile Chong (right) at the “Lore: Cecile Chong” exhibition, Photo Courtesy: Kates-Ferri Projects

Born in 1960s Ecuador to Chinese parents, Chong grew up in Quito and Macau, and studied in New York City. “My first language was Spanish. And then my mother sent me to study in Macau, where I learned Cantonese in school and Hakka at home from my grandmother. Five years later, I returned to Ecuador, and by that point I had forgotten my Spanish. I was ‘mute’ for quite some time in my journey between cultures,” Chong said. “Thus, exploring the depths and melding of cultures, identity, and collective memory has been my interest.” 

Chong has been an IAP mentor since 2020, helping emerging immigrant artists navigate their art career and grow their community. Her advice to emerging immigrant artists: “Make the work that you want to make. Be open to possibilities but don’t lose focus. Have role models. Apply, apply, apply. Don’t take rejections personally. Be generous. Enjoy the journey.”

Make the work that you want to make. Be open to possibilities but don’t lose focus. Have role models. Apply, apply, apply. Don’t take rejections personally. Be generous. Enjoy the journey.

-Cecile Chong

Cuchifritos Gallery 

At Cuchifritos Gallery, located in the Essex Market, IAP Program participants met Jodi Waynberg, Executive Director of Artists Alliance Inc. (AAI), who manages the gallery as one of three AAI initiatives. AAI was founded by a group of Lower East Side-based artists in the 1990s during waves of redevelopment and rapid changes in the neighborhood. The founders advocated for preserving artist workspaces, arguing that the arts and individual artists are essential to the culture, history, and future of the neighborhood.

AAI has remained faithful to its early intention and continues to expand access for artists, curators, and the larger arts community through an exhibition program at Cuchifritos Gallery + Project Space; the Lower East Side Studio Program residency that offers fully-funded studio space and project support; and Public Works, through which they present commissioned projects outside of traditional art spaces. 

On view at Cuchifritos Gallery was Lounge of A Prophet, a solo show of recent works by former LES Studio Program resident Mo Kong, who uses large scale installations to challenge key issues of the day using complex narratives that synthesize the past with the present. The work imagines a home of a prophet with sections that provide solutions for shelter during a not-so-impossible future of ecological collapse and economic isolation.

Image Detail: Yellow-hued photograph of a large sculptural installation in a New York gallery space with yellow walls and a window facing the street.
Image Detail: Mo Kong, “Lounge of A Prophet” installation shot, Photo Credit: Brad Farwell

As an immigrant artist from China who came to the U.S. at a young age, Kong examines persistent xenophobia and culturally-linked odors. Kong fills the gallery space with a “Chinese Smell,” as described in Otis Gibson’s 1877 book Chinese in America, created only with ingredients bio-pirated from Asia by multinational corporations. This sensory experience confronts the longstanding use of olfaction as a racializing tool against Asian Americans, a practice that has been prevalent since the 18th century and is often used to thwart the expansion of Chinatowns in major cities throughout the country.

AAI is interested in cultivating creative practices that challenge the way each person experiences themselves, their communities, and their world, such as Mo Kong and Levani, a current resident in the LES Studio Program and an IAP alum. AAI will announce the next residency open call for the LES Studio Program in the fall of 2022 for the 2023-24 residency periods. Please visit AAI’s website for more information.

When asked about any suggestions for emerging artists, Waynberg said, “Create a community that can hold you up, that serves as a space in which you feel comfortable sharing your ideas and materials to get honest feedback. Reach out to people for advice. And, continue to lean on your network. We love it when our alumni come back to AAI, whether it be updating us on what they are up to or looking for new kinds of support.”

Create a community that can hold you up, that serves as a space in which you feel comfortable sharing your ideas and materials to get honest feedback. Reach out to people for advice. And, continue to lean on your network.

-Jodi Waynberg

Ya Yun Teng, Program Officer, Immigrant Artist Resource Center (NYC)

NYFA’s Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program will announce its next cycle in late summer.

This post is part of the ConEdison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter #149. Subscribe to this free monthly e-mail for artist’s features, opportunities, and events. Learn more about NYFA Immigrant Artist Mentoring Program.

Amy Aronoff
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