Written by Brittany Shawnté
An artist has created a cool, interactive way to share the stories of immigrants with New Yorkers and tourists alike!
In Times Square, Afghan-American artist Aman Mojadidi installed old phone booths from the 80s which allow people to pick up the phone and hear the history of a recent NYC immigrant! A phone book inside each booth teaches visitors more about each immigrant’s community — both in New York and the country from which they immigrated. It also allows those who listen to write down their own stories about their families and culture.
Titled Once Upon a Place, the installation features recordings Aman obtained over several months. He asked participants to tell their stories however they felt like, using whatever language they wanted-— either English or their native language. The exhibit includes at least 70 stories without translations, each one lasting anywhere from two to 15 minutes. These storytellers come literally from all over-—Bangladesh, Belgium, China, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Ghana, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Mexico, Nigeria, Philippines, Puerto Rico, Sierra Leone, Spain, and more!
It’s a piece special to Aman because he himself is an immigrant, and has connected with other NYC residents that immigrated from various places as well. “For me, the most important outcome of Once Upon a Place is that, no matter how different the experiences of migration might be among the storytellers, visitors will hear the common humanity in their voices,” Aman said.
Over a third of NYC residents were born in other countries, so this piece shows that the city and really, all of America, is a big melting pot of cultures that ought to be respected and celebrated. Instead, often, even legal immigrants are made to feel like outsiders in a country they’ve been able to make home. However, hopefully, as Aman said, this piece will be able to connect with people and show that, in spite of our differences, we are all still one at the end of the day. It looks like a really cool installation, and the stories could actually make for a great full-length documentary if you ask me!
Once Upon a Place, which went live on June 27, will be on display in Times Square until Sept. 5.