Powerful women and portrait photography were the talk of the town last weekend at the Queens Museum in Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. This past Saturday, artist Dru Blumensheid unveiled her latest project, Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York, in partnership with New Women New Yorkers, a nonprofit that seeks to empower female immigrants, helping them enter the workforce and pursue higher education.
The opening reception featured community conversation, a pop-up shop, addresses from Blumensheid, project participants and New Women New Yorkers founder, Arielle Kandel. Guests enjoyed a taste of Iraqi and Nepali cuisine provided by Eat Offbeat, a catering company comprised of resettled refugees in New York, and walked throughout the brand new exhibit while a soundtrack of musician and mother of the BAE collective dreeemy played in the background.
Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York spotlights 16 immigrant women through fashion photographs, each taken in prominent locations throughout the city.
“I see each woman in this series as a warrior, a brave voyager, a strong settler during such a fearful and psychologically confusing period of time in America,” Blumensheid said in her introductory remarks to the audience. “What we hope to accomplish with this exhibit is to increase understanding of these real people through an alternative form of communication,” Blumensheid continued. “I captured the emotions through them as them.”
Each portrait’s composition focuses on the gaze of the individual woman. Whether printed in black and white or vibrant color, the female subjects often make direct eye contact with the camera, as if to demand the viewer to acknowledge not only their presence, but also their contribution to this country.
Daniela, from Colombia, stands in front of the Brooklyn Bridge, her face and torso swathed in lavish fabric. Ana Luiza, from Brazil, looks onward in Chinatown with a sign for Canal Street in the immediate background. Navrioska, from the Dominican Republic, sticks her tongue out playfully on the streets of the Lower East Side.
Kandel spoke to the audience about the unique collaborative art exhibit’s mission: “We really hope to give you a window into the lives of women who have come to New York from different areas to seek better opportunities — sometimes to seek refuge, always to build a better life.”
New Women New Yorkers foundational statement is “propelling young women immigrants to greater heights.” Through LEAD, a free workforce development program, immigrant women can receive job readiness training, network with others in situations similar to them and prepare for a future filled with promise.
According to New Women New Yorkers’ website, one in three immigrant women lacking a United States-based education is out of the workforce. This nonprofit is attempting to rewrite the narrative and help young immigrant women find their first job in New York, one that will give them a salary as well as a sense of security and satisfaction.
Anna, originally from the Philippines, and Navrioska met each other last spring when they were both participants in the LEAD program. Despite hailing from completely different corners of the world, each young woman took advantage of the same resource, forming a friendship along the way. It was also here that they became aware of Blumensheid’s project and each agreed to participate.
In addition to the portrait session, each woman sat down for an interview to speak about her immigrant experience. The audio from each conversation is on display at the exhibit alongside the images.
Navrioska was caught off guard when she learned there was a second part to the process after the photo session.
“I was upset because I was in the process of trying to find a job and tired of everything,” said Navrioska. “But of course it was very touching.”
“I’m not going to say I was happy [at the time] but I was happy that I did it.”
Anna, who came to New York to complete her masters in International Relations, ultimately hopes this project helps shift the dialogue surrounding immigrants, especially during the current political climate.
“Women who move to New York as immigrants add sparkle,” said Anna. “Everyone has something to add in the same way that New York makes us grow.”
Attendees were encouraged to share inspirational messages on “Talk to Me: From Immigrant to Immigrant,” an 18-foot long panel, which featured a collage of the 16 women’s photographs. The idea behind it is to promote change and share support.
As Anna underscored, “It’s just about lessening the hate — looking at people as people, hearing their stories and not just their status, their visa, where they came from.”
“Immigrants are human beings too.”
Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York will be on display at the Queens Museum through March 18. For more information, visit Queensmuseum.org.