Photo Exhibit Documents Mexican Community on Staten Island

Mexican-American biologist, photographer and activist Irma Bohórquez, standing next to her exhibit at the Galería Octavio Paz of the Consulate General of Mexico in New York, which will remain open until February 28, 2017.(Photo via Impacto)

Mexican-American biologist, photographer and activist Irma Bohórquez, standing next to her exhibit at the Galería Octavio Paz of the Consulate General of Mexico in New York, which will remain open until February 28, 2017.(Photo via Impacto)

Ten years ago, we met Irma Bohórquez at an event held at the Museum of the American Indian. She was already a fervent promoter of Mexican traditions, particularly of the Day of the Dead [Día de los Muertos] in November. Today, we take a look at her latest work.

Irma Bohórquez-Géisler migrated to New York in 1991 after obtaining a degree in biology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico and a Ph.D. in ecological entomology from Oxford University in England. The biologist by training has created enlightening work promoting Mexican culture in its diverse manifestations, by organizing festivals and capturing them through photography.

(…) Her photographs have been displayed in galleries and museums such as the Alice Austen House, the Museum of the City of New York, the Staten Island Museum, the National Lighthouse Museum, the Newhouse Center for Contemporary Art, and others. She has exhibited her work in Germany, has been nominated for several prestigious awards and received a number of acknowledgements. Her work has been widely covered by the press in English and Spanish.

Sponsored by the Mexican Cultural Institute of New York and the Celebrate Mexico Now Festival, Bohórquez inaugurated her photography exhibit at the Consulate General of Mexico’s Galería Octavio Paz on Oct. 28. Curated by Edward J. Sullivan, it is a collection of 35 photos belonging to her social-documentary series about Mexican Americans in New York entitled “Simple Moments of an Emerging Presence.”

A detail of Irma Bohórquez photographic exhibit, which highlights how Mexican immigrants recreate their culinary customs and traditions, including preparing tamales and Christmas buñuelos, as well as cleaning nopales for cooking. (Photo via Impacto)

A detail of Irma Bohórquez’s photographic exhibit, which highlights how Mexican immigrants recreate their culinary customs and traditions, including preparing tamales and Christmas buñuelos, as well as cleaning nopales for cooking. (Photo via Impacto)

What was your motivation for founding the Day of the Dead Festival?

I hold the Day of the Dead Festival on Staten Island with the purpose of creating community, but it is also a tradition that we can share with any other culture, particularly through our food, our music, our dances, and we can show the cultural values we hold dear so that they can see us in a different light.

What inspired you to start taking these photographs?

I began photographing the Staten Island Mexican community in New York in 2001, motivated by the change that was felt in the air. At a time when the Mexican population in the borough started to grow, more stores began to appear and more churches started holding ceremonies to mark important traditions.

How do the two projects complement each other?

I began celebrating the Day of the Dead in 1991, and then started to focus on photography because I felt that my exhibits could contribute to creating a feeling of community among Mexicans. I just started photographing everything related to Mexicans. They loved seeing themselves in the pictures. It gave them more confidence to show off their traditions, to promote their culture.

Can you share with us an anecdote from the process of photographing the Mexican community?

The photographs have been captured in a spontaneous manner. For instance, one Christmas Eve I went to a Mexican store to buy the ingredients for a traditional holiday punch, and met some girls from Oaxaca who were buying the ingredients to make tamales. I told them that I was a photographer and asked if they would allow me to take pictures of them preparing the tamales. They said okay. It was spontaneous. I had to go prepare my own things at home, but I didn’t want to miss that opportunity.

How important is it to rescue traditions while living here?

Very important, because traditions – and culture in general – keep us connected to Mexico if we continue to observe them. Younger generations who are growing up in the United States can connect to the country where their roots come from. If they don’t, traditions start to disappear. One of my objectives is to make people feel proud of their food, their culture, of the place where they came from. Sometimes our children don’t see it that way but, if we continue to celebrate them, they will grow up to remember them even if they do not appreciate them now.

Any future projects?

I want to make a book with all the photographs. It is a lot of work, but it is on my mind. I have so many photos, negatives I have not developed or printed… I have 100 printed photographs, and 35 of them were selected by curator Edward Sullivan. I would also like this exhibit to travel to Mexico.

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