Last week I had the chance to attend an opening at Pomegranate Gallery in SoHo for the new show “Oil on Landscape: Art From Wartime Contemporaries of Baghdad,” curated by a former military officer who served in Iraq until 2007, Christopher J. Brownfield.
I reported on the story with my classmates from the CUNY J-School: Shuka Kalantari, who put together this great webpage for our story, and Tyler Mitter, who shot video.
As a collection from Baghdad, the art covers a wide range: from renderings of eye-witnessed violence to scenes of everyday life for Iraqis. The show evoked in me a sense of loss. The artists and many guests who know Baghdad miss a place that cultivated Middle Eastern culture. What they have in its place is a devastated home many can’t even return to until conditions improve and their lives are no longer at risk.
Naturally, the conversation around this art is political. What everyone seemed to agree on was the idea that art can help an individual transcend fear and anger and develop a better understanding through the feelings and experiences expressed. Visitors and artists seem to almost reach for each other with a desire to connect and make the war go away.
Reporting by Craig Thompson and Annie Shreffler
Ernesto Rosales freely admits that he and his wife, Maria Reyna, are undocumented immigrants. After living in Queens with their children for eight years, it’s hard for them to believe Maria could ever be deported.
They crossed in to the US from Mexico near Tijuana when Maria was four months pregnant. She narrowly avoided a miscarriage in the mountains east of Tijuana. They paid a coyote $4,000 to fly them from Arizona to New York and now live in Woodside, Queens.
[CLICK ON IMAGE TO VIEW SLIDESHOW]
Ernesto and Maria say they never expected the care and concern they have been shown by New Yorkers. Their first child, Alejandro, was born At Metropolitan Hospital in Manhattan and diagnosed with Down Syndrome. Maria had to visit him at the hospital for the first month. Then, when he was three, Alejandro was diagnosed with leukemia, and treated at Sloan-Kettering Memorial Hospital. Once Alejandro could travel, the Make-A-Wish Foundation flew the family to Orlando to see Mickey Mouse. Maria keeps the dozens of stuffed animals her son received on top of a cabinet and has two albums full of pictures showing his time in the hospital and their Florida trip.
Alejandro finally began school this year, at the age of 8, and receives occupational therapy and special education at PS 9 on Grand Avenue in Queens. Alejandro’s little sister, Evelyn, is four and will start school next year.
Earlier this year, Maria and her sister-in-law took a train to see relatives in Chicago, but were stopped near Buffalo by immigration officials. The women were arrested and put up in a hotel rather than in a holding cell, as she was traveling with Alejandro. She will appear before a judge on May 16th. Her lawyer has told her, regardless of the needs of her son, her chances of staying in the US are very slim.
“They (the immigration authorities) don’t care about the rest of the family,” said Ernesto. “They don’t care who the kids stay with. They only care about her.”