Bronx women’s cameras comment on race, immigration and motherhood

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Two years ago, Juanita Lanzo wasn’t getting together the exhibit she envisioned.

Lanzo, project director and curator at the Longwood Art Gallery, wanted to collaborate with the Bronx Women’s Photo Collective, a group that helps female photographers connect and improve their craft. 

At the time, Lanzo was dreaming of a photography exhibit that would feature work from women of color. But when the schedules of both the photography group and the gallery weren’t working, Lanzo decided to push forward and find another way to make her dream a reality.

Lanzo reached out to other connections, like the photography group En Foco, and referred to her own contacts to find seven artists of color who soon became the forefront of the gallery’s latest exhibition, “Through a Feminine Lens.” On display through Aug. 8, the exhibit tackles a range of topics that include race, immigration and motherhood. 

Lanzo’s first goal was to make sure the women she featured live and work in the Bronx.

“That was very important to me because it’s another way of continuing to show the work that artists do in the Bronx,” she said. “That’s been one of my main missions here.”

Differing perspectives

Then, Lanzo was off to explore the different perspectives each artist wanted to convey, figuring out a way to help shape their messages for the gallery’s audience.

“I wanted them to dictate what to include in the show,” she said, “and at the same time, work with them if they have more than one subject that they wanted to include.”

Adeline Lulo has a particular piece that stands out to Lanzo. Lulo’s photography in the show depicts the Dominican Republic, and Lanzo recalls one photo that features the interior of a home there that had all sorts of religious imagery inside.

“Somehow it reminds me of childhood — not that I grew up in a house like that — but there’s something about the religious imagery that takes me back to where I come from, my family, my culture, my origin,” Lanzo said. “But I think it’s something that anyone — even if you’re from the Africa diaspora, or the Latino American diaspora, or any other diaspora — can relate to.”

Many of the artists were born in the United States, Lanzo said, but that doesn’t stop any of them from wearing their culture on their sleeve.

‘No one is shy’

“No one is shy here about who they are,” she said.

“Through a Feminine Lens” comes only months after Longwood Art Gallery’s “Her Art Will Be Cannibal,” another all-female exhibition that touched on feminist issues brought forth by women of color. It wasn’t intentional that the two shows ran so closely together, Lanzo said, and she’s proud to keep giving these women a platform at the gallery. 

“I feel like women have many dimensions to them, and that’s another reason why it’s a coincidence we’ve been working with women the entire year,” she said. “I’m like, ‘Wow, this is the year of the woman.’ We didn’t plan this. It happened this way.”

When it comes to representing people of color in art spaces, Lanzo argues people might have a preconceived notion that because they’re appearing in more exhibitions that they’re successful now. 

“I think in general in the mainstream, that’s not the truth,” she said. 

At the Longwood Art Gallery, however, Lanzo hopes to continue exposing the gallery’s audience to female artists of color who are either not as well known, or just starting out in their careers.

“I think it’s important because it also shows that this has value to an audience of color, and artists of color have value too,” she said.

When audiences leave “Through a Feminine Lens,” Lanzo wants them seeing “women in a different light” and understand the political implications behind why people of color are using art to discuss major issues like racism and immigration.

“It is my hope that people understand where others come from,” Lanzo said. “And it’s not even about tolerance. It’s about understanding why we have the events that we have.”

At the end of the exhibition in August, Lanzo said the gallery is planning a networking event for female artists of color to connect. But most of all, she wants the future of the Longwood Art Gallery to house more work from women of color.

“I want that to be the norm here,” Lanzo said.

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