Keep Me Nearby
Keep Me Nearby
An exhibition by Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani
With photographs by Nick Lawrence
Opening: Friday, May 31 from 6-8p
On View: May 31 through July 21, 2019
Tours: Saturday, June 8; June 29; July 20 [all tours will meet in Cuchifritos Gallery]
so please when I die… / don’t take me far away / keep me nearby / take my ashes and scatter them thru out / the Lower East Side
– Miguel Piñero
For forty years, as New York’s Lower East Side went from disinvested to gentrified, residents lived with a wound in the neighborhood, a series of vacant lots known as the Seward Park Urban Renewal Area (SPURA). Most of the buildings on the 14-square-block area were condemned in 1967, displacing thousands of people–mostly low-income people of color–with the promise that they would soon return to new housing, very little of which ever came. Over decades, efforts to keep out affordable housing sparked deep-rooted enmity and stalled development, making SPURA a dramatic study of failed urban renewal, as well as a microcosm epitomizing the greatest challenges faced by American cities since World War II. Now one of the city’s largest developments, Essex Crossing, is rising on this site. Essex Street Market, of which Cuchifritos is a part, is at its heart.
Ten years ago, artist and urbanist Gabrielle Bendiner-Viani was invited to enter this tense community to collaborate on a new approach to planning through public history and public art. Created in a multi-year collaboration with community activists GOLES and SPARC, and her students at the New School, the exhibitions and performative guided tours of Bendiner-Viani’s “Layered SPURA” project provided new opportunities for dialogue about the past, present and future of the neighborhood. The project is now the subject of Gabrielle’s new book Contested City: Art and Public History as Mediation at New York’s Seward Park Urban Renewal Area.
Keep Me Nearby returns to the intersection of Essex and Delancey a decade after Layered SPURA began to help us think about what it still means to make home in this neighborhood, and how understanding the complex threads of this neighborhood’s past can help us imagine a future. The exhibition features never-before seen images by photographer Nick Lawrence of the lived-in apartments that were demolished at SPURA in the late 1960s, and the “Layered SPURA” postcards, Bendiner-Viani’s interactive project that engages the viewer in the many histories, stories, and dreams embedded in this place.
Throughout the summer, Keep Me Nearby will host a series of Layered SPURA tours, letting participants use their bodies, their voices, and their capacity for dialogue to understand the contested urban past, present and future on the Lower East Side. Special guests from SPURA’s long-time community activist community will join the tours, and each event will culminate with a conversation about this old, new, place.
- Jodi Waynberg