Art and migration

Maria de Los Angeles, “En el Jardín de Las Rosas,” acrylic on canvas, 2019.
An UES exhibition of work by undocumented immigrants explores themes of place and culture
By Jason Cohen

A nonprofit that turns real estate into spaces for artists unveiled an exhibit on the Upper East Side featuring work by two undocumented immigrants.

“Esperanza de Otro Mundo Posible/Hope of Another Possible World,” focuses on work by artists Francisco Donoso and Maria De Los Angeles and runs at 340 East 64th St. through April 18.

The nonprofit group Chashama supports artists by partnering with property owners to transform unused real estate into exhibition spaces. In the last year, the organization awarded $8.6 million worth of empty space to artists and gave 150 artists free space to present their work. The artists presenting at East 64th St. are part of Chashama’s Space to Connect program, which provides free community public art classes and is funded in part through a Cultural Immigrant Initiative grant from Councilman Ben Kallos.

“To me, art is simple, it is filling a space with something beautiful,” Kallos said in a statement. “And that is exactly what Chashama has once again managed to do here; display great artwork for people to see ... The Upper East Side welcomes the installation and appreciates the dedication it took for the artists to complete it.”

Chashama was founded in 1995 by Anita Durst, and its initial focus was on the production and presentation of new theater. Since then, it has expanded from midtown Manhattan to all five boroughs and beyond. Currently, it holds 150 events a year, has workspaces for 120 artists and has developed 80 workshops in underserved communities.

“We’re thrilled to present the works of these diverse artists,” said Durst. “This gallery is a beautiful example of what happens when we elevate and celebrate the art of the immigrants who live in our city.”

Donoso and De Los Angeles were born in Ecuador and Mexico respectively and both are DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) recipients. Their work explores ideas of place, migration and the experience of being an undocumented immigrant in the United States. Through their work as artists and educators, they investigate the problems with immigration, touching on how conversations surrounding this issue are often intertwined with racism, xenophobia and colonialism.

De Los Angeles, 30, teaches art at the Pratt Institute and lives in Jersey City. She immigrated from Mexico to California at the age of 12 with her family, and in 2011, came to New York City to study at Pratt Institute.

She recalled that she was shy growing up and often a had a book with her where she would draw.

In 2006, a high school teacher of hers encouraged her to do art and helped her develop her passion.

“I really like painting and drawing,” she said. “My first love was to make pictures and draw things.”

In 2013 she received a bachelor’s in fine art in painting from Pratt Institute, and in 2015 she obtained her master’s in fine arts in painting and printmaking from Yale School of Art.

Looking back on how far she has come from being a young girl in Mexico to a successful artist in New York City, she is humbled and proud. It has been a long road for her family, but it was worth it.

“My work kind of blends who I am culturally,” she said.

Donoso, 30, who lives in Inwood, was born in Quito, Ecuador and immigrated to Miami as a five-year-old. He moved to New York City in 2011, where he obtained his bachelor’s in fine arts from the School of Art+Design at Purchase College.

Although he is undocumented, he has spent most of his life in America.

“The transition to the U.S. was not difficult for me,” he said. “It was more difficult for my parents. I have always known the U.S. as my home. I have sense of connection to my culture and the country where I was born, Ecuador, but I also have a deep sense of connection to this country.”

He recalled how he found his passion for art at a young age. At the age of four, he received an Etch a Sketch for Christmas and became obsessed with drawing Ursula from the Little Mermaid on it.

As he got older, he began to hone his craft. He attended specialized schools for art in elementary, middle and high school.

“I think it’s something I’ve always been drawn to,” he said.

When he graduated from college, he realized he could make a career in art, though he knew it would not be easy.

Donoso works in abstract art and uses mixed media and installations to tell stories. In mixed media, he combines acrylic painting with spray paint and cartography.

“As an immigrant, there are things where you are constantly oscillating between spaces and those spaces can be between mental, physical or financial,” he said. “The sense of back and forth of movement in between spaces is what guides my work.”

This is the first of four shows that will run through mid-July featuring the work of immigrant artists. The next three shows, at the same location, will include performances, workshops and screenings.