“Oh, my God, that’s me!”
Manny R. walked into the Boricua College Art Gallery and immediately burst into tears of joy, running up to his self-portrait on the wall.
Manny posed for pictures with his two art pieces on the wall, fighting back tears and flashing two thumbs up. His self-portrait, titled “Love Is Love” is one of the Signature Artworks for the “Feeling Here” exhibition on display at the Boricua College Art Gallery on Washington Avenue in the Bronx, in partnership with BronxWorks programs.
“Oh! That’s mine too!”
Manny literally jumped up and ran across the gallery to his sculpture, “Safe House”, on the other side of the gallery and was overcome with emotion. “I just can’t believe it,” he says through tears. “This is so incredible.” He turned to one of the attendees and told him, “I have never been in an art gallery! I have never had my work or my name in an art gallery! That’s why I’m crying.”
For Manny, seeing his art displayed prominently alongside some of his friends is an emotional catharsis, indicative of the work he’s done to get to where he is in life.
Manny, like some of the other artists displaying work at the gallery, is a formerly homeless individual now living at BronxWorks Supportive Housing. BronxWorks Supportive Housing residences are part of the Housing First model, believing that providing homeless individuals with access to stable housing is an essential first step to resolving many life issues. Residents receive supportive social services and on-site access to behavioral health services and case management. Manny has lived at a BronxWorks residence for a number of years, where he met BronxWorks Artist-In-Residence and Activity Coordinator Francis Palazzolo.
Francis has been collaborating with Manny and other burgeoning artists for a few years now, guiding them through creating art in different forms, including drawing, painting, sculpture, and mixed media. “I may offer suggestions as questions and frame situations as a series of choices,” Francis said about collaborating with the artists. “There are times when my position entails demonstrations, for example, on a separate piece of paper or canvas. Surprisingly, there are only rare circumstances when hand-over-hand or working on the same piece of paper occurs.”
Another artist and BronxWorks resident on display at the gallery, Terrenceo H., has even come so far in his practice of art that he taught two decoupage classes at the gallery. Decoupage is the art of assembling and gluing paper cut-outs to another object, similar to collage.
BronxWorks staff and residents in attendance at one of Terrenceo’s classes worked together to create different works of decoupage, all of which were later displayed in the gallery.
BronxWorks Activity Coordinators like Francis at our Safe Havens and Family Shelters give residents opportunities to communicate and collaborate. “The goal of our joint venture is to share in the formation of ideas, decision-making, hands-on craftsmanship, and to learn from each other,” said Francis. “The only parameter is that we work together, and negotiate directly on the piece of art, when the participating artist or artists are present. This collaboration may be a one-time creative engagement or an ongoing alliance. Co-creating with artists at BronxWorks has often served as a trigger for an artist to undertake one’s own creative pursuit.”
That creative pursuit can help some residents process their feelings and personal struggles. For Manny’s sculpture, “Safe House”, the project started off as a group request to make a sculpture. However, only Manny returned week after week for a year to complete the project, using handmade concrete molds of owls they created in the studio. “He took ownership,” Francis recalled, “He painted and decorated each owl to his liking. Manny then found two blocks of wood laying around the studio and used those as a base for the owls. He painted the blocks his favorite color, red, and then stuck the blocks and owls together. His building had grand protectors, owl gargoyles guarding its safety. We discussed his desire to get a big house, a mansion, so he could return to living with all his family and friends.”
At the gallery, Manny showed “Safe House” to Barbara Miliano, BronxWorks Program Director at The Brook, smiling from ear to ear. “Isn’t this cool?” Manny asked her. “Let’s take a picture!” Barbara offered a peace sign and Manny a #1, no doubt how he felt in the moment.
The “Feeling Here” exhibition displayed May 4, 2023 – May 29, 2023. For more pictures from the gallery and of the artwork, click here.