New York women tell their real immigration stories in a new photo exhibit

Posted On Fri, March 9, 2018 By

Posted On Fri, March 9, 2018 By In Features, People, photography, The urban lens

Daniela, from Colombia © Dru Blumensheid

6sqft’s series The Urban Lens invites photographers to share work exploring a theme or a place within New York City. In this installment, Dru Blumensheid shares some images from the Queens Museum‘s new exhibit Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York. Are you a photographer who’d like to see your work featured on The Urban Lens? Get in touch with us at [email protected].

“Statistics do not tell the story of immigration. People do. Women do.” This was the impetus behind the new photo and video exhibit at the Queens Museum, “Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York.” A partnership between New Women New Yorkers, NYC’s only non-profit dedicated to empowering young immigrant women, and artist Dru Blumensheid aka BUMESI, the exhibit features photos and videos of 16 young immigrant women taken in iconic locations such as the Brooklyn Bridge and Chinatown, all as a way to show “a nuanced and multi-layered picture… of the barriers and isolation they experience, and of the hopes, dreams, and talents they bring with them.”

In celebration of Women’s History Month, 6sqft chatted with Dru Blumensheid about her personal inspiration behind the project, what she learned from the experience, and how she hopes all New Yorkers can benefit from hearing these stories.

Trailer of Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York. Via New Women New Yorkers/Youtube

What brought you to NYC?

I moved to NYC in late 2014. It was the first time I had lived in the United States in eight years, as I was living in Melbourne, Australia since then. I came to NYC to continue my photography and video work in such a diverse city.

How does it compare being an artist in New York to Australia?

It is very different. Being an artist in New York is all about consciousness. Everything is literal and politically correct or corrected. In Australia, there is much more freedom to be experimental without judgment. Here you have to be smart about what you are conveying and also care. The best work comes from experience, its all about the truth.

Can you tell us a bit about your BUMESI Collective?

The BUMESI Collective is a network of international artists, musicians, models, and like-minded people that work with me or connect with one another on projects, traveling, and art. I created it in Melbourne in 2009 and have been continuing the network ever since.

Fashion plays a large role in a lot of your work. Where did this inspiration come from?

I’ve always had fashion as a central element to my work. It’s like a physical shield protecting or revealing how a person is. I use fashion to help portray the persona of whoever is wearing it or how they act in it. I’ve been working in various aspects within the fashion industry for seven years now, out of passion and interest of its form as art.

How did you team up with New Women New Yorkers for “Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York?”

I met Arielle [the organization’s founder and CEO] in 2015 when she had contacted me to donate one of my pieces to one of her auctions. We became good friends after that and I really admire and support her non-profit. I’m impressed by her development with New Women New Yorkers, being the first of its kind in New York! It’s 2018!

Queens is the most diverse place in the country–is that why you chose to exhibit at the Queens Museum?

The Queens Museum had chosen us to be in the partnership gallery of the museum and Arielle and I are very honored to be exhibiting in the space. It is the ideal space to show in Queens, for the very reason of its diversity. Its such a beautiful location and along with this environment, I think having the show here contributes to a conversation the people of Queens can start or continue on.

Obviously, immigration and feminism are both huge political topics right now. Why are they personally meaningful to you?

I am drawn to both because I am both. I spent almost all of my 20s as a US American immigrant in Australia. I became an Australian citizen in 2014. It took over six years to undergo the process and it was a challenge to maintain a career while doing this. But I did it and I defiantly will never regret it. As a feminist, I am one because I care about my future. If a woman is not a feminist at this moment in time, then they are choosing not to be free.

How were the 16 female participants selected?

The 16 women in Real People. Real Lives. volunteered to be models in the project. Arielle casted them according to availability and on a first-come-first-serve basis.

The women were photographed at recognizable spots like the Brooklyn Bridge and Chinatown. Why did you choose this approach as opposed to their home neighborhoods?

We chose the locations to bring the women out of their comfort zones, to celebrate them but also to isolate them in their own space. The clash of landscape with the subject was a major focus for me as the photographer, creating a space for the viewer to see them in a different, non-recognizable way.

Was there a common thread among these young immigrants?

They are all quite young women, well-educated, strong career backgrounds, and very intelligent. Of course, they all came to New York for a new life one way or the other, and some were surprised by how their new life turned out to to be.

Was there one story you heard that impressed you the most?

This is a hard question to answer! I was most impressed by Martina from Mexico. Her story is very powerful and her future is bright. She truly is a role model for those on the same path as her. I also admire Athena’s perception of the United States and how it is at this time. She has a very interesting background and her outlook is very unique in my opinion.

What’s the one thing you hope people will take away from the exhibit?

I hope they remember it and think differently about what a future would be like without immigration in the United States. And hopefully, they won’t forget about what is being said and what is happening here.

Any future projects you can tell us about?

Currently, I am starting production for a new series called “Love + Nature,” a collection of multimedia photography, sound, film, and sculpture. It mainly is about the death of nature and the loss of the emotion of love in modern day society, but on a high note, there are positive solutions to this dark time.

Mila, from Russia

Daniela, from Colombia

Sandra, from Colombia

Haijun, from China

Gladys, from Indonesia

Kripa, from Nepal

Ana Luiza, from Brazil

Gisele, from the Democratic Republic of Congo

Martina, from Mexico

Real People. Real Lives. Women Immigrants of New York is running until March 18th. Find out more details here >>

And watch corresponding videos from these amazing women here >>

All photos © Dru Blumensheid

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