French street artist JR, whose work has previously been shown in Times Square, Fordham University and inside abandoned hospitals on Ellis Island, always seems to outdo himself when he comes to New York City. Last week, The New York Times Magazine released the April issue, titled “Walking New York.” The cover is an aerial photo of the very large and very real piece by JR at Flatiron Plaza, with information that there were many more placed throughout the five boroughs. There could be no better cue for us at Untapped Cities to go traipsing around the city this weekend.
All 14 of the other pieces were also photographs of recent immigrants, taken by JR on the streets of Nolita earlier this month. The goal is to encourage people to walk all over the city to find the pieces. Below are all 14 pieces of JR’s “Walking New York” project:
1. Grand Concourse, Bronx
This piece is on the side of The Bronx Museum of The Arts on the Grand Concourse. In the photograph is a 20 year old woman named Kamola Akilova. She is originally from Tashkent, Uzbekistan and is currently a language student. She immigrated here less than a year ago and got married in City Hall not long after.
2. 23rd Street, Manhattan
On 23rd Street between 10th and 11th Avenues, we see Thinh Hoang. A student originally from Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam, Hoang has been living in NYC for almost a year. He jogs frequently with his family in the Fordham Road section of The Bronx.
3. 18th Street, Manhattan
The young man diving across La Luncheonette in Chelsea is from Thiotte, Haiti. Jonathan Saint-Jean is the last member of his family to immigrate to the U.S, the first was his father, who came here over 20 years ago. He is a language student who is fascinated with the structure of the New York City subway.
4. Little 12th Street, Manhattan
The woman standing above these two young men waiting online for lunch in the Meatpacking District is Lisa Cargana Barrios Blanco. She is 32 years old and immigrated here from Tornabe, Honduras last September. She lives in the Bronx and works in Times Square. She is in love with the area and feels safe walking through the streets of New York City. Much safer than her native country, where she was in danger frequently for being transgender.
5. Thompson Street, Manhattan
On Thompson Street between Spring and Broome is one of our favorites. The length of the piece and the hair reaching all the way up to the windows. The woman captured here is Tamar Zhvania, a former bookkeeper from Tbilisi, Georgia. She is currently living here with her husband, but her children are back home. She imagines them here with her, exploring and enjoying all the city has to offer.
6. North Williamsburg, Brooklyn
After seeing all the pieces that were in Manhattan, we journeyed to Brooklyn. Ping Ping Lin is a 32 year old designer who immigrated here from Wenzhou, China. Living in the city for a little more than six months, she is fascinated by New York City museums. Her only regret, not seeing the graffiti-filled trains of the early ’90s.
7. South Williamsburg, Brooklyn
In South Williamsburg, under the J train is where we saw Maksim Khimchanka, an aspiring actor originally from Minsk, Belarus. Maksim came here to be himself. As a gay man in Belarus, he has to hide who he is. In New York City, that isn’t the case at all. Maksim feels comfortable dating, being affectionate and being open about who he is in the city. It is a place he says he wants to “stay forever.”
8. DUMBO, Brooklyn
If you have been following JR for the last couple of years, you know that placement plays an important role in his work. Take this piece we found in DUMBO. The pose given by performer Tatiana Fursenko is unique. But what makes the piece more interesting, is that JR decided to place this woman from Moscow over a corner. Giving this piece an extra dimension and one that we saw many rush over to photograph.
9. Red Hook, Brooklyn
The figure used in one of two pieces in Red Hook has an interesting backstory–Aboubacar Sidiki Cisse, a 25-year old security guard now residing in Staten Island immigrated from Conakry, Guinea through a green card lottery. While happy to now live in New York City, he does miss his home and his shy personality makes it difficult for him to talk to people. People may not be aware that in a city of eight million, there are those who feel alone. Hopefully being open to this project will open new doors for Cisse, and he find the companionship he needs.
10. Red Hook, Brooklyn
The second piece we found in Red Hook, once again highlights the use of placement used by JR. This pose from Mitsuhiro Kawano, formerly from Japan is fun. What makes it more unique is the idea that he is literally reaching for the star. While he views Brooklyn, where he has lived since last August, not as clean as his native Japan, he does like that the people are friendlier and much more welcoming.
11. Prospect Lefferts Garden, Brooklyn
Living in New York City for only a few months, Mariela Goicochea, formerly from Lima, Peru, is fascinated by the city living up to its title as “the city that never sleeps.” On her late night strolls through Queens Boulevard with her husband she notices that the trains, as well as the people, never stop moving. Even being thousands of miles away from home, she is happy that her local markets have all the spices she uses back home. So she can never really lose grasp on her native culture, no matter how far she is away from it.
12. Sunnyside, Queens
From Brooklyn, all the way to Queens for two pieces on either side of the Queens Library in Sunnyside. Marian Fadel has been in and out of the city since 2008. Last year she moved here for good from her native Cairo and is currently works for an Arab-American nongovernmental organization. Instead of delivering some overly positive lines to J.R. The very blunt 38 year old says plainly that sometimes she feels as if the city is suffocating us all.
13. Sunnyside, Queens
Julio César Fernández Carbot, originally from Havana, Cuba is a bit more optimistic. He feels that his native home has not progressed, while here in New York City, Carbot is discovering something new about the city with each stop on the subway.
14. Staten Island
Alas, our feet nor our phone batteries could make it to Staten Island. However, someone showed us a picture taken by Maggie de la Vega of her and three others all mimicking the pose done by the subject, a 24-year old fabric store clerk, originally from the Dominican Republic. While some had some not so good things to say about living in New York City, Polanco by far has the worst to say. However, even with the hardship she endures from her job and the people she has seen so far, she says it herself “Whoever doesn’t go to New York, dies blind.”
His legs are so sore. He probably doesn’t want to get up anytime soon. To make him get up, contact the author on twitter @ChrisLInoa