The following text is by Mexican artist Arantxa X. Rodriguez, who will share her experience creating the murals for Lincoln Hospital with Untapped New York Insiders in a virtual talk on April 21st at 12 p.m. This event is free for Untapped New York Insiders. If you’re not an insider, become a member now (the code JOINUS to get one month free).
A Talk with Arantxa Rodriguez – NYC Hospital Muralist
In early 2020, I was selected via an open call to produce a mural inside Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. This opportunity was hosted by the Arts in Medicine department at NYC Health + Hospitals, together with Residency Unlimited. I was excited to produce such a large-scale work in an important public place, and eager to get started on the project. We had our first team meeting right before the onset of Covid-19, and the project was placed on indefinite hiatus. During a time of such uncertainty and fear, I flew to Mexico, finding peace and refuge in my parents’ home. I found much comfort there, but I soon realized this retreat into the life and home of my parents was affecting my independence and identity as an artist. After three months in Mexico, I decided to return to New York to fight for my project, my career, and my Artist Visa.
My return to New York was tumultuous, and the summer of 2020 held some of the highest highs and lowest lows thus far in my life. I decided to give up my Manhattan apartment, which I could no longer afford, and lived a nomadic existence. I was not sure where I would go next or how long I would be in the country, because I was unsure if I would receive my Artist Visa. It was during this time that I received the crucial email from Lincoln Hospital, explaining that the mural project was back on. I immediately agreed to return to this project, and this gave me something to focus on when so much else felt unresolved.
When I initially received this mural project, I submitted two potential drafts: one that would adorn the escalator, and a second that would hang in the maternity ward. We decided to move forward with the first mural. I rented a room in Harlem, and I began to bring my plans to life. I painted the mural on a material called Polytab, a very thin fabric that allowed me to paint offsite in my studio, and then paste the mural to the final destination. The painting itself took about a month and a half, and then I spent about three weeks onsite installing the mural in Lincoln Hospital. I titled this mural The Formation of Abundance.
During a time of such personal and communal uncertainty, this project affirmed my identity as an artist, and taught me the power of public artwork. The Bronx has a large Latin community, which is enormously important to me as a Mexican artist. During the installation, I met so many people of different walks of life: doctors, nurses, staff, patients, and community members. I received a thousand kind comments and “God Bless Yous” from folks walking by. I saw many patients recovering from Covid-19 and other illnesses. I was so moved by these encounters that I promised I would return someday to complete the second mural as a donation.
After completing the first installation, I applied for as many grants and opportunities as I could, and I eventually received the City Artist Corps Grant. This grant, together with assistance from NYC Health + Hospitals, allowed me to embark upon the maternity ward mural. All the while, the pandemic continued as different waves and threatening variants appeared. Delays pushed the project further into 2022, but when we finally chose a date for the unveiling, we realized the perfect one: March 8th, International Women’s Day. I could not imagine a more appropriate day to unveil this mural, which I have titled Blooming Blossoms.
Visually, both murals are very geometrical and full of mandalas, something that has long been present in my work. In the maternity mural, within each mandala I painted figures of ambiguous gender and ethnicity, highlighting the diversity of mothers and caregivers. These life forms grow and expand, radiating outward into imagery that references cells, flowers, and other organic shapes. The mural shows a universe in constant movement: past, present, and future.
These visual cycles of life and time are particularly significant given the history of the New York City public health care system, and of Lincoln Hospital in particular. In the 1970s, the Young Lords and Black Panthers advocated for better public health care through activism and demonstrations. Much of this activism was focused in Harlem and the Bronx, areas largely neglected in favor of wealthier neighborhoods. In response to the city’s continued indifference, the Young Lords eventually occupied Lincoln Hospital, forcing the government to take notice of the community’s needs, and improve the poor conditions of health care at the hospital. The current New York City public health system has been made possible by the activism of the Young Lords.
Although the healthcare system in this country is very imperfect, today Lincoln Hospital offers so many public resources. No matter who you are, what language you speak, or your legal status, you can receive care here. I have heard so many extraordinary stories of the unique care offered at Lincoln Hospital. One in particular that resonated with me was of a couple in Paraguay expecting their first child, Candela. They were informed their baby would be born with a serious heart condition, and only a difficult and expensive surgery could help. The parents were desperate to find funds to save their baby. Marcello Villagran, who conducts communications for Lincoln Hospital, learned of the couple’s struggles, and made contact with the consulate of Paraguay in New York City. He was able to arrange for the couple to come to New York, where the surgery would be possible.
This story is only one of many that echo through the halls of the hospital. I have made so many meaningful connections with Lincoln Hospital, and the surrounding neighborhood in the Bronx. These murals honor the work of activists, doctors, and staff that have contributed to this legacy. Painting there has really filled me with life and inspiration, and I wish I could adorn every corridor of the hospital.
Mexican artist Arantxa Rodriguez, who will share her experience creating the murals for Lincoln Hospital with Untapped New York Insiders in a virtual talk on April 21st at 12 p.m. This event is free for Untapped New York Insiders. If you’re not an insider, become a member now (the code JOINUS to get one month free).
A Talk with Arantxa Rodriguez – NYC Hospital Muralist
Next, read about 10 new public art installations in NYC for March 2022!