Recommended reading: “Shellyne Rodriguez’s Drawings Expand the Definition of ‘Essential Workers’,” an interview by Valentina Di Liscia in Hyperallergic
Yesterday, Hyperallergic published an article by Valentina Di Liscia about a recent series of drawings and paintings by VCS faculty member Shellyne Rodriguez that depict some of her fellow political organizers and members of her immediate community in the Bronx. It’s an excellent profile, and extremely timely. Here are a few excerpts and images from the piece:
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When the coronavirus pandemic hit New York, artist Shellyne Rodriguez was emerging from a very different battlefield. In February, she had helped organize FTP3 — the third in a series of actions protesting police intervention in the city’s subway system, led by activist groups Take Back the Bronx, Decolonize This Place (DTP), Why Accountability, and others. By mid-March, a shelter in place order had been imposed in the city, and Rodriguez, like many New Yorkers, hunkered down at her home and studio.
“People were like, ‘How are you even able to make work right now?’ Well, it’s partly because dystopia is always my reality as a political organizer,” Rodriguez said in an interview with Hyperallergic. “For me, it was an opportunity to archive. And there was this sense of urgency to make as much as I could before I was pulled into the street again.”
During the months of lockdown, the Bronx-based artist created 15 drawings and five paintings depicting her fellow community organizers and the essential workers around her, fueled by a drive she describes as core to her artistic project: archiving disappearing spaces and people under threat of displacement.
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“I’m a former MoMA Educator, and at the museum, I was always looking at all these Austrian painters, [Egon] Schiele, and artists who were working and documenting their friends,” Rodriguez said. “Even Picasso was documenting people who died in concentration camps, doing wartime documenting of the intellectuals and the thinkers and the movers and the agitators. I was reflecting on the people — on the collaborators and the times that we’ve broke bread together.”
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Still, Rodriguez was wary of falling into the trope of the “essential worker” portraits that she began to see everywhere.
“I didn’t want to be pigeonholed into that idea, the ‘COVID drawings.’ To me this was just part of a moment,’” she said. “I did a diptych of two bikers I saw outside in front of the bodega. But even the kid, he’s adjusting his mask. You’ve got to kind of look for it, it’s not in your face. Here is a kid from my neighborhood, and he happened to be wearing this mask because this is COVID 2020. I wanted it to be part of the story, but not the story.”
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Rodriguez recalled the words of Kazembe Balagun, a renowned intellectual from the Bronx. “He told me, ‘Y’all have to archive and document all the work that you’re doing. Black and Brown revolutionaries get forgotten. If you don’t do it, it will be erased,’” she said. “And that stayed with me.”
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You can read the entire piece here on Hyperallergic.