Sunday, March 31, 2019

Tijuana. The younger children.

During my week in Tijuana with Al Otro Lado Border Rights Project, I had two assignments (after the morning of shopping for bread and making peanut butter sandwiches).  One was to greet and sign in asylum seekers as they lined up at the door at 12:30 for legal counsel and/or medical attention.  In the afternoon, I looked after the kids, usually with other volunteers.  It was called playtime, in a set-aside area of the larger room where everything happened, very well stocked with jigsaw puzzles, books, soft and hard toys of all kinds, for all age groups. The number of children varied daily from 3 to 10 or so, and so did their temperaments and needs vary.  One child repeatedly left the play area to reassure herself that her mother was still nearby.  One four year old girl, dressed in pink, could nod yes or no but never spoke a word, and drew with a pink crayon and painted in pink, so I knew that pink was a comfort blanket for her, but she finally branched out.  There were resilient children and there were exhausted children.  There was quiet play in the room sometimes, and at other times, noises of either exuberance at being warm and fed and having boxes full of toys, or sounds of needs that could not readily be met.

Narrima came on the last day I was there.  She was about 7 or 8, but wise and patient with younger children.  I asked if she’d like to do a puzzle with me, and we were off, and then another puzzle, and then painting.  She got it that my Spanish wasn’t really solid, so she supplied the words I needed.  At one point, I went out of the room for 10 minutes, and when I came back, she had painted this message for me: Fransis, te extrañaré mucho. de Narrima.  I will miss you very much.   I was called out of the room permanently in the late afternoon to do a task nobody else wanted to do (sit by the downstairs locked door, turning people away until the sessions the next day or letting in people with medical needs), and when I said good-bye to Narrima, we hugged with the embrace of old dear friends who would really miss each other.  She’s probably forgotten me, facing too many trials for so young a child. I won’t forget her.

I had a friend a long time ago who was a pilot of a two-seater, and we flew excursions to various tiny airports.  At one, there was a small hut where we had to sign in. A sparrow-sized bird had accidentally flown in, and 
not knowing glass, was furiously beating its wings against the back window.  As I approached, it became still, no doubt with fear.  I was able to put my hands around it and carry it out of the hut, and when I opened my hands it stood there for a couple of seconds, figuring things out before flying away.  The bird was lucky that someone came by, but I was profoundly lucky, that I experienced for an instant an intimate connection with nature, that I was privileged to touch wildness and hold it in my hand. 

Another time, standing in a parking lot, a butterfly landed on my shoulder and stayed a while.  These incidents remain with me, and I remember them in relationship to Narrima.  Not that I saved her, or that she came out of the wild and landed on me, but that she came out of abstraction, out of newspaper reports and photos, one of so many who we don’t touch directly and don’t even see, and there she was, present, and real.  More than all the 200 other people I met that week,  Narrima and I really found each other, something like having a butterfly choose my shoulder to rest on.

Tuesday, March 12, 2019

Tijuana continued.

I was expecting a different scene when I got to Tijuana. I  was expecting streets lined with homeless asylum seekers, camped around the door at Al Otro Lado. It wasn’t so. They were invisible. We arrived Saturday and Tijuana looked like any city, with pedestrians and thriving mercados, and the same on all other days. When they did come to the AOL door from 12:30 till 1 each day, I didn’t know where they had come from. I didn’t visit the shelters, which all accounts paint as full to capacity, and I didn’t see the street dwellers, and I didn’t ask. My  assignment was to welcome the people and sign them in so that they could later hear about their rights, or lack of, and have a private consultation, and to be for a few hours in a warm welcoming  place. At the intake, they would  reveal all that they had traveled through and why, and all the details of their current situation.  AOL Border Rights Project celebrated 100 days of legal help during our stay.

Volunteers gather every morning at 7 at the Chaparral, the Plaza on the Tijuana side. There would be a station with a table and a long queue of people, who are there to get a number that in a few days or weeks or longer would be called for the first leg of their journey by van across the border. Near the queue, people who already have numbers mill around. Each number is assigned to 10 people, and they calculate from the last number called yesterday, what day they think they should start showing up for their own ride in the van. Every day 40-70 people are called. Thousands are waiting. The AOL volunteers talk to the waiting people and hand out maps to the AOL office (across from the Wax Museum). This, plus word-of-mouth, is the main outreach strategy, the way to let all those waiting people know that there is a place that really cares and can provide legal Information and medical assistance and a few hours of daycare, and modest food. The numbers are called and the called ones pass behind a barrier, to wait for the vans that will ferry them over.

      The barrier in the plaza almost deserted after the morning lineup 

Until Wednesday the 6th of March, every day, AOL volunteers were back there too, beyond the barrier, with those preparing to leave, with two critical missions. First, to hand out Sharpies and instruct people to put names, phone numbers, and contact information, on their arms and the arms of their children, to guard as best as possible against the horror of the separation of families. And the other task, equally critical: people will be transported to holding cells on the US side, three stories down, 48 degrees cold, for three to seven days, where they will be permitted to wear only one layer of clothing and no shoes, and AOL must tell them that frightening news.  The volunteers distribute thick warm socks and sweaters, as most asylum seekers don’t know ahead of arriving what awaits them. They are wearing t-shirts, shoes without socks, and they can't put these new clothes on top, they must change into them. This is the only layer they will be permitted.

Allison and I were there Wednesday the 6th. I helped as much as my Spanish allowed, rescued a few times by a native speaker. But the guard was unhappy with our presence that day, with the serious help being offered, and was rather threatening.  We were sent away and couldn't return again to that side of the barrier on Thursday and Friday. A small cadre was chosen for outreach. I was glad I got at least that one day.

Some levity: I was up until midnight Tuesday night, and set my alarm for five-thirty a.m. When the alarm went off Wednesday morning, I dragged myself out of bed into the shower. When I came out of the shower a little more awake I realized that my tablet, on which I had set the alarm, was still on New York time. It was 2:30 in the morning not 5:30, but I was by that time totally awake. So I used my hours to write to my congressman about what I was seeing, and to think, as well as I could.  And then I was awake for a very grueling day again till midnight, so I was secretly happy that I was not one of those chosen for mornings volunteering at the Chaparral, though I would have liked another morning, now a seasoned veteran.

Tijuana continued

Tijuana continued

Allison and I created a successful blog to cover our expenses volunteering at Al Otro Lado Border Rights Project.  We are deeply grateful to everyone who contributed and/or posted warm messages of support. We are donating all excess funds as follows:

One months rent for a new LGBTQ shelter,
Some to a volunteer who buys warm clothing and food for asylum seekers,
The remainder to AOL Border Rights Project.

You can still donate!  Click here:  Tijuana volunteers

Saturday, March 9, 2019

We left Al Otro Lado Border Rights project yesterday. It was nearly a week, though it felt like a month, intense and exhausting. We welcomed asylum seekers into AOL  where they found legal consultations and medical care, and we provided play time for all children with them, and some food, mostly peanut butter sandwiches.  I was stationed at the front door welcoming the very people who are abstractions in the daily news reports, and here were the real people, who came through arduous journeys, who experienced inhumane treatment and humiliation, these were the people that I welcomed at the door.  In the afternoon, I was assigned playtime, more about that soon, and sandwich making, and shopping for bread, and whatever else was needed.  I was not part of the intake process, as were my travel companions Allison and Kris, My Spanish is limited, though enough to welcome and register newcomers, and so I was not privy first hand to the heart wrenching stories. I heard about many later at the end of each day.  Rather, I greeted tired hopeful people carrying their stories forward hoping for asylum.  Certainly not all would be "qualified” and many were given that straightforward sad news.  Each day was filled with real lows, and real highs as well.  More later, if I can wrap my head around writing my blog after a day or two of R&R in San Diego.

Thursday, February 21, 2019

About to start blogging again, because I'm heading for Tijuana, with Al Otro Lado Border Rights Project, and I want to be sure I can describe what I see. 

Stand by.  Coming your way early March.

Sunday, January 15, 2017

Doors Open / Doors Close

My show Doors Open / Doors Close is currently up at Ceres Gallery, through January 28, 547 W. 27th, 2nd floor.  Tuesday-Saturday noon-6, Thursdays noon-8.

Lines:  my favorite formal element.
Doors: my current favorite thematic element.
And then you are inside.

I've built Doors Open / Doors Close with door frames that have open panels, so that there are visible lines, and changing shapes with the movement of the viewer.   On the outside, a stark maze of doors, both sheltering and exposing, and like all shelters, you don't know who is inside.
Inside this shelter, collages and poems by women who live in domestic violence shelters, expressing every emotion: grief, trauma, anger, and hope.  These women have fled their homes leaving everything behind in search of safety for themselves and their children.
 Doors Open/Doors Close, partial outside view
Doors Open/Doors Close, one inside view
Bring Back to Life, by Gabriela Caia
Live Life As a Jewel, by Donna Barton

Saturday, June 11, 2016


I went up in a crew of 5 from the Society for the Advancement of Judaism (SAJ), to maintain our trail in the Wawayanda State Forest, NJ.  We went to thwack away the brambles leaning over the trail, that catch you with giant spikey thorns if you don’t watch out.  I go, too, because trees are for me the most perfect art form, sculpture and dance, even when perfectly still, and always musical in the wind.  The beavers have done their own carving, in their ever-growing pond, now a lake, now a watery village with a number of lodges and one high-domed civic center, of sorts.   And many many peeled, leafless, sculpted, chewed, isolated, dying, drowned remarkably shaped remnants of tree trunks.

It rained a lot, all the more beauty.  The beaver pond sat under a thick mist, and all the tree bark was wet, highlighting the shapes of the stumps.  The wet rocks on the trail were treacherous and slippery, but that also intensified their colors. These photos are by Ruth Messinger.


The civic center
A little more and over it goes
A mysterious group

I’ve gone a few times before: one blog Two Ladders is about a natural formation I found there and a companion piece made by an artist, Judy Hoffman.  Another is about painting the blazes An Artist's Art.  

Monday, May 30, 2016

Colors and Cataracts

Many artists (and others) around my age are discussing cataract surgery,  and they either marvel or rue the marked change in the perception of color. 
I have a preference for a soft yellow-leaning palette and all my drawings and oil pastels were done accordingly.  Orangy-red instead of alizarin crimson.  I reveled in that warm dreamy range of color. It made me very happy.  I saw the world itself in that palette. 
Cataract surgery on my left eye two years ago:  no, this isn’t possible.  Is that what everyone sees, a cool neutered white?  (Some artists reported a sudden new brilliant white).  My entire body of work, not to mention every environment I inhabit, was suddenly not what I thought it was.  Cooler.
My dominant right eye, as yet unfixed, still sees what I always saw.  To draw in color now I have to close that eye to create on the paper what I think most uncataracted people see, to get the warm color I want.  I can’t go back and change the color of my finished work.  I can only go forward, closing my right eye frequently to perceive what must be the common visual reality. 
Everywhere else, with both eyes open, I see a mix, not so warm, not so cool.  For this reason alone, I’ll hang onto that little cloud in my right eye until it really has to go, and I wink one way and then the other, to get the whole story. 
It's something like this, but of course I also have no control over what you see on your screen, we all see something different, and double that for alternating winks.  But to try to clarify:
Right eye                                            Left eye
Well, it's hard to explain.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Keeping a Journal

I had a brief flirtation with normalcy yesterday, home after a very hard month by the bedside of my ill sister in Israel, and yet I felt very alone.  Today I realize why that was.  I didn’t talk to myself all day, at least not in hearing distance.  Why was that?  Mad at myself for something, probably.
But I did finish another Journal Entry.  So very fitting, these works in which I write my thoughts and then write more on top of the first, until nothing is legible, no matter the language, which in this case is Yiddish.  Very few people have so far signed onto this blog, a handful, and that too is fitting, since I spend a lot of effort obscuring my messages in my work.  So I see this blog as one of my works.  (but please do sign on).
The text is the bottom object in the stack of three.  I also like stacks of things, a little edgy, not quite balanced.
Journal Entry 8, pencil on photo litho, image 16"x11", 2016

Monday, October 5, 2015

Post-installation collaboration, Saunder’s Farm, Garrison, NY

We don’t usually expect that a sculpture will change after the installation.  But things are different out on the farm.  There are those who scratch their backs on our work, and who like the crunch of fallen trampled parts, and the taste of print and cardboard.

What I installed:
Shelter, A Book of Doors, featured in my previous post
They who scratched their backs and trampled and nibbled, after finishing their main course:

The collaboration, with new meanings, perhaps. 
The spine of the book is now quite visible.
The tasty door-pulls have been replaced: cardboard and text.
Yes, they ate words.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Shelter, A Book of Doors

I've been volunteering at Holy Apostles Soup Kitchen, giving collage workshops.  I got the idea of collages from participating in Carla Rae Johnson's Alternet, for which I made many many tiny collages.  HASK serves 1200 lunches a day, but people can come for seconds, so maybe it's 800 people daily, and we try to entice them up to the monthly-soon-to-be-weekly workshops.  A few come.  One woman who comes regularly is an active artist.  One man who comes loves to draw, is an artist too.  Others are curious beginners.  I also mentor at the Interfaith Assembly for Homelessness and Housing, in a one-on-one program called Panim al Panim (face to face). 

So the obvious next step for me is to put together my art practice with what I learn from HASK and IAHH, and with my current obsessions - doors, and always shelters, always some kind of room, since the beginning of my sculpture making.  With open walls, they are spaces that are both defining and liberating.

This year I built Shelter, A Book of Doors for the Farm Project 2015, of Collaborative Concepts, in Garrison, NY.

                                    Shelter, A Book of Doors, painted wood, cardboard,
                                                      book pages, bicycle wheels,  7' x 7' x 5'

The "book covers" are hollow core doors.  The "pages/doors" are built and have missing panels, and door-pulls made of cardboard, the iconic material of homelessness, or our idea of it.  The "spine" is supported inside with ribs of tossed-off bent bicycle wheels.  My idea is that shelter for me might be reading a good book in a quiet corner somewhere, and out of the corner of my eye I acknowledge that someone else has an entirely different idea of that word, shelter.  The door pulls are covered in text and photos removed (gulp) from books.

In the coming year, I hope to exhibit a large sculpture that displays the collages being made at Holy Apostles.

Monday, July 20, 2015

A fortune in doors

I recently wrote a short essay for a memoir writing class that was really about feminism and my relationship with my mother.  But in it I mentioned doors in almost every paragraph.  She stood in the doorway of my bedroom watching me, pre-kindergarten, play with my dollhouse,  and I stood in her doorway watching her ironing, and subsequent doors.  But the interesting part is that doors are now a significant part of the art I make in three-dimensions.  Last year for the Collaborative Concepts show in Garrison, NY, my work had three doors in an otherwise open frame.  This year my work in that show will be made entirely of doorframes, but with doorknobs (somehow, haven't figured it out yet).  And this is a model I built for a proposal, “Home”, yes, this is a model, 8” high, shot lying flat on my stomach in Sakura Park.

The best part of this story is that in the spring, I went to a Chinese restaurant with 3 friends.  Three of the “fortunes” in the cookies were, you know, meh, but I had this one: “Doors will open in all areas of your life.”  So pay attention.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Staten Island the Sneaker

We all know that Italy looks like a boot, a very high over the knee boot, and Oh, poor Sicily.

But have you looked closely at Staten Island?  On the New York City subway map, it's quite clear.

Staten Island the Sneaker.  All it needed was laces.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

By Invitation Only, Please Knock Before Entering

This is my sculpture that now appears in "Brains, Boobs, and Backbones", at the Paramount Theater in Peekskill, NY.  It has "My Uterus" prefixed to its name for this show.  It originally was shown in "Meet my Uterus", at Ceres Gallery, NYC, so it didn't need that prefix then, and I posted it in this blog, Feb 9, 2013.  At the time, people such as Todd Akin had announced that if a woman gets pregnant, it wasn't a legitimate rape, because "the whole thing shuts down."  Newspaper clippings are included in this piece, which is made predominately of cardboard, with ears and eyes (of Fimo) on constant watch.  It was reviewed in The New York Art World, Spring 2013.

Besides the message, I'm really attracted to stacked laminated cardboard because of the light that passes through the ribs.  Wonderful material.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Yom Kippur

In the synagogue, there is a long silent meditation called the Amidah.  There is text, so it's more a prayer than a meditation, and sometimes it's chanted, everyone together, out loud.  But there is also a silent Amidah, and we are instructed to read what's given or to meditate or to contemplate what's in our own hearts.  We stand until we're done, and one by one, we sit.

On Yom Kippur, 2014, the synagogue was full, sanctuary and balcony.  The Amidah began, everyone on our feet and after a while people started to close their books and sit down.  One man in the front row was immersed in his prayer, maybe reading both the Hebrew and the English, maybe adding the alternative readings, while all around him, everyone else finished and sat down.  The rabbi and the cantor sat down.  It is the custom to wait for everyone to finish so we waited, and the respect and patience shown the man who continued praying said more about the community than anything else.  

The room was silent.  No one coughed or whispered.  The standing man continued thoroughly absorbed in his reading.  After a while, the man sitting next to him looked at the rabbi, who I couldn't see from where I sat in the balcony, and whispered something to the praying man, who didn't hear it, and who continued reading on his feet.  Thirty more seconds passed, and the rabbi and cantor got to their feet to resume the service.  The sitting man gently tugged on the sleeve of the standing man, who then looked around and sat down.

In the interlude of this man's solitary praying I experienced a deep stillness and peacefulness that more than anything was the essence of being in a spiritual moment.