They live in neighborhoods across New York — from the Bronx and Queens to Westchester and throughout Manhattan. But it’s the northern tip of this island that a group of 12 Dominican-American artists have chosen as the headquarters for their collective, Dominican York Projeycto Grafica.
“Washington Heights is the heart of it,” says collective member Pepe Coronado. “Even though there’s more Dominicans in the Bronx, the concentration is Washington Heights and it’s good to understand that.”
For its first group show this week, the collective took over a new exhibition space within the Dominican Studies Institute at the City College of New York, Harlem. The collection of 12 graphic prints shown in “Manifestaciones” explores the hybrid cultural identities that Dominicans living in New York have had to form, Coronado says.
“We’re studying our own identity – not that we don’t know who we are, but we are coming to a new land, a new culture and we are merging,” he explains. “This is a work about Dominican-Americans, about symbolism, about issues, about beliefs of us here now.”
The group says it’s the first New York collective devoted to promoting and exhibiting the work of Dominican artists. Similarly, the exhibition space (in a multipurpose room at the Dominican Studies Institute’s library) will be the first dedicated to showing art by and about those of Dominican descent.
Dominican artists in the United States came of age “without a dedicated arts institution of their own,” says an accompanying essay by E. Carmen Ramos, curator of Latino art at the Smithsonian. “By the 1990s, they would also mature in a post-multicultural artistic scene less devoted to culturally specific exhibitions.”
Last week’s opening was symbolic for the city’s Dominican community says Institute director Ramona Hernandez.
“The Dominican people are full of art,” she says. “What we have here is the manifestation of this group of people that captures … very well who we are and what we do. This is the only space within a university setting, the only space that is so highly equipped to do this, so the significance is enormous. It is like we are moving forward.”
The exhibition includes a print by Miguel Luciano, featuring a two-toned “passport,” a nod to the complex issues around skin color for some Dominicans. Other exhibitors, such as Moses Ros-Suarez, chose more literal representations of the two worlds Dominicans in America inhabit, his screen-printed characters trapped on a bridge between two lands.
The collective, rooted firmly uptown, has a studio space above a bar in Inwood and some members are also participating in a Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance initiative to fill vacant Washington Heights storefronts with art.
Coronado says the group – which formed in January – deliberately chose to use the Dominican York label, a pejorative slapped on those Dominicans who returned home in the 1980s showing off their newfound American wealth.
“We’re tackling that issue now because Dominican York doesn’t mean something bad,” he says.
Manifestaciones runs until December 21.