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Danielle De Jesus’s Ode to Puerto Rican Bushwick

Artist Danielle De Jesus grew up near the intersection of Jefferson Street and Knickerbocker Avenue in a Puerto Rican household in Bushwick, a Brooklyn neighborhood that has been steadily gentrifying since the mid-aughts, when artists began setting up studios in warehouses near Flushing Avenue. While the area remains synonymous with a certain kind of eccentric creativity, cash-strapped white professionals in Manhattan and Williamsburg have moved further east on the L train, where real estate speculators have new apartment complexes on the prowl. Preserving the identity of the neighborhood that endures despite these changes, De Jesus uses her practice to document the Nuyorican community, depicting scenes from her childhood and focusing on the neighbors and friends she grew up with.

Last year, the artist began putting together a show of her Bushwick photographs and paintings together for the first time. It was scheduled to open in early November in a London gallery, but in late October, in the wake of the Hamas attack and the ongoing Israeli bombing of Gaza, he received a call from the gallery owner informing him that the exhibition would be postponed indefinitely. . De Jesus said the gallery owner told her they had received multiple messages from collectors about her and long-standing vocal support for Palestine. (De Jesus asked that the gallery not be named, as the works she submitted before the exhibition are still in storage.)

“It was nice to think about bringing these people (I can’t physically bring them) to a place like London,” De Jesus said. “It was supposed to be really special to bring their history and their idea of ​​community. “It’s really sad that no one there was able to see that.”

Danielle De Jesus captured a romantic hug on 35mm film
Danielle de Jesus, “Subway” (2023), oil and packaging material on canvas, 48 ​​x 48 inches

The exhibition would have included 12 photographic prints and five mixed media paintings. In one of the latter, titled “Subway” (2023), De Jesus depicts the Jefferson Avenue L stop at Starr Street, the station he used every morning to get to high school, against the backdrop of a tablecloth of white lace, a material she has had difficulty finding in Bushwick stores lately.

The artist returns to personal images in “Puerto Rican Rosary” (2023), a self-portrait that shows De Jesus wearing the handmade beaded necklaces worn during New York’s annual Puerto Rican Day Parade in Manhattan and the outer boroughs. , including Bushwick, which has its own festival on its main thoroughfare.

“They are accounts that are very specific to the community; You won’t see people in Puerto Rico using them, but you know that a New Yorker is a New Yorker, and you know that a New Yorker is Puerto Rican, thanks to them. “He said De Jesús.

In another image, a child plays in the stream of a fire hydrant, a common sight in Bushwick. In a collage painting, a group of young men play basketball on the little-traveled Melrose Street between Knickerbocker and Wilson avenues. It is a realistic scene that features people that De Jesus knows personally. He used fragments of a UHaul moving blanket to represent the brick.

“My mother lost her apartment to gentrification in 2017,” he said. “These moments seemed like snapshots of life back home in Bushwick, and a lot of my work is about that and archiving those memories.”

Danielle De Jesus, “Streetball on Melrose” (2023), oil, acrylic, encaustic, packing material and rope on linen, 48 x 60 inches
Danielle De Jesus returned to Bushwick after receiving her master’s degree in painting and began documenting the neighborhood where she grew up.

Another mixed media painting shows a lone sign with a security camera, whose sudden appearance in his childhood marked for De Jesus the beginning of gentrification in the area.

“When we were little, we didn’t really know what they were for or what they did, but we knew that someone was watching them,” the artist recalled. “And then we would get under it and raise the middle finger, not knowing if anyone was watching.”

“But it was a way to police our community and increase the incarceration of community members,” De Jesus continued. “Now you’re smoking a joint in front of your building; Now you are in a police station.”

As Bushwick’s demographics change, De Jesus captures the versions he wants to remember. Snapshots of him show happy parade-goers, a romantic hug, and vendors doing canoe, Puerto Rican shaved ice.

“I had fallen out of love with photography because with digital it is very instantaneous,” said De Jesus, lamenting that photos taken with the phone are forgotten in digital libraries and never revisited. “With cinema, it is something beautiful. Analog photography has its touch: having a film that you can hold in your hand and that you know is in that place at the moment you took the image. It is one of one; “You can’t duplicate that negative.”

The Annual Puerto Rican Day Parade
Danielle De Jesus has turned to digital photography in film, preferring the “tactile” nature of negatives.
Danielle De Jesus takes photos of the people she grew up with in Bushwick. She now lives nearby in Ridgewood.
The seller makes fish.
Danielle De Jesus, “Children at the Fire Hydrant” (2023), 48 x 48 inches


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