Con Edison Immigrant Artist Program Newsletter, Issue No. 10
Featured Artist: Nicolás Dumit Estévez
On April 15, 2010 I, Nicolas Dumit Estevez, collected a jar of water from the river of the borough I call home and mixed it with sixteen drops of Holy Water. One drop for each year I have been visiting and later living in the Bronx: 1994-2010. I then poured the contents of the jar into the currents of the river, thus blessing it.
Nicolás is a Bronx-based artist working in performance art, public interventions and art in everyday life. Many of his projects involve extensive research and lived experience, making reference to ritual and history as well as the intricacies of the contemporary social context.
IAP: How important is your background – namely, your Dominican origins – to your work?
NDE: In my case, Dominicanidad (Domincanness) has meant undertaking an on-going search of all of the elements that inform who I might be. I am Dominican because I am a: New Yorker, Bronxite, Lebanese-Dominican, Dominican-York, Lebanese, Catalan, Venezuelan, Haitian, African, New Berliner, Spaniard, and who knows what else. I came to the realization that I am engaged in an undertaking that can bring my identity to some kind of dissolution or collapse. This process I am pointing to has brought me at times to an uncertain territory. I am up for this. Better there that than spending life in a prefab Lalaland.
IAP: How have you addressed these matters through your work?
NDE: During 2008-09 I journeyed from my home in the South Bronx to my birthplace in Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros in order to trace and confirm any genealogical roots that I or my family may possibly have to the neighboring Republic of Haiti. I resort to legal and medical procedures such as record searching and medical tests, as well as to subjective personal accounts. My journey includes visits to Moca and Guayubín where I reconnect with some of my maternal and paternal family members. Borderless [the experience’s title] was a private action, formatted as a bi-national public intervention that dismantles the often-unsuccessful search for a Spanish (i.e. Caucasian) heritage by Dominican society at large, and its rejection of an indelible African background of which Haiti serves as its constant reminder. I go to great lengths to prove what most Dominicans would prefer to bury as deeply as possible: any relationship with our neighbors.
IAP: How does the action pictured above – “The Blessing of the Bronx River” – tie into your ongoing project Born Again?
NDE: I was born in Santiago de los Treinta Caballeros in the Dominican Republic and lived for fourteen years in Manhattan. In 2004 I moved to the US mainland [aka the Bronx]. Born Again is a Bronx-wide participatory social sculpture leading to two exhibitions in the Bronx, dealing with the perceptions and misperceptions by locals themselves as well as by non-residents that have since the 1960’s shaped significantly the identity of the inhabitants of the borough. Born Again brings to light some of the most debated topics in our nation: immigration, race, class, governmental and environmental neglect, social inequality and the resurgence of cities with the subsequent impact of gentrification and the displacement of its long-term residents. Equally relevant is Born Again’s interest in bringing to the forefront the subject of assimilation into the US and the dated metaphor of this country as a melting pot.
The final live aspect of the Born Again will be a public ceremony for which I invite two prominent Bronx native residents, William Aguado and Susan Fleminger to baptize me as a Bronxite in the waters of the Bronx River. This passage marks my formal transition from Lebanese-Dominican to Dominican York (a Dominican who had settled permanently in New York City) and my birth/rebirth as a native son of the area of the borough that, since my arrival in the US, has provided me with a steady income, a solo exhibition and a place that I call home.