Port Newark

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Port Newark is America’s largest port on the Atlantic coast. On weekdays, hundreds of cargo ships deliver thousands of Chinese-made products to waiting trucks and trains. On weekends, the port is seemingly dead, an unintentional urban monument to America’s economic might.
Click here to see a film featuring more of my Newark-based artwork.

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PLEASE BE KIND. DO NOT LITTER. FAPS INC. CARES ABOUT YOU.

– signage adorning truck depot

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Pulaski Skyway

When I left home to attend Columbia University, I knew the transition to college would leave me homesick for Newark. To remind me of home, I painted this watercolor panorama. Every night, in my dorm room, I gazed at this painting and traced the streets and buildings of my childhood memories.

New Jersey Meadowlands

The New Jersey Meadowlands, nestled between New York City and Newark, is a strange sort of in-between zone. It belongs neither to nature nor to man. The grasslands and birds of nature are abundant. So, too are the derelict factories and warehouses. The unwanted detritus of civilization is cast off into the Meadowlands, ranging from garbage to industry.
Millions of commuters to and from the suburbs to New York City pass through this region of indeterminate identity. Many look out the windows of passing trains, planes, and cars. Yet few care to observe the lapping tides and bizarre beauty of this unwanted strip of land. These views show various scenes from my daily train ride on New Jersey Transit between Newark Broad Street and Hoboken Terminal.

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My little neighborhood in Downtown Newark

Washington Park in Downtown Newark

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Newark Model SmallLeft to right: Broad Street Station, Polhemus House, YWCA Building, Newark Museum, Ballantine House,
Second Presbyterian Church, American Insurance Company, Newark Public Library

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When I examine old pictures of my neighborhood in Newark’s archives, I realize how much of my city disappeared in the past forty years. This trend will inevitably continue, as it does in most cities where old buildings outlive their use. If not in the form of my city’s physical destruction, this loss is in the form of my gradual loss of childhood memories. To reconcile this, I built the below model as my own souvenir. This keepsake will forever remind me of my Newark identity.
The landmarks depicted are selected from my neighborhood and include my childhood home. The buildings are drawn with ink and pastel on thick paper, which is then cutout to form a two-dimensional silhouette. The trolleys travel back and forth down the street and are magnetically operated by a crank and hidden string beneath the street. The tracks guide the trains up, down, and into the tunnel. These trolleys are modeled on those that used to exist in Newark, long before my time here.
Perhaps, this models presents a more romanticized and idealized Newark than the city that actually exists.

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The Old Essex County Jail

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The old Essex Country Jail sits forlorn and abandoned amidst desolate parking lots and lifeless prefab boxes. In the so-called University Heights “neighborhood,” the jail is testimony to the past. Listed on the National Register of Historical Places, this 1837 structure is one of the oldest jails in America. Abandoned for over fifty years, no successful preservation efforts have materialized.
Gradually, the urban jungle of junk trees, vines, and garbage conquers the veritable old fortress. The warden’s garden that zealous prisoners formerly pruned and weeded is now overrun with weeds. Used syringes line the cell-block floors. Not a single window is unbroken. Not a single wall is straight or strong. The rigid geometry defined this urban castle is now blanketed in decay.
Yet, this fortress of old is still a home. A constant trail of homeless squeeze through the rusted barbed wire fencing. They carry with them their few odd valuables, cans to be recycled or shopping bags of discarded clothes. Every night, they sleep in the very cells their luckless brethren slept in decades before. Every day, they aimlessly wander city streets. Ironically, the physical prison of brute force and searchlights has evolved into a metaphorical bastion of poverty. Both prisons, new and old, are refuges for the luckless. As its occupants have changed, so has the prison. Both are ghosts. Both are vanishing.
Explore this jail as an interactive exhibit online.
View this artwork as part of a short film called Pictures of Newark.

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North Wing (left) and West Wing (right)

West Wing

Warden’s House

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Ruins of Warden’s House Interior

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Newark’s Hidden River

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It is ironic that Newark should ignore the very river it was founded on, The Passaic River. It was the pristine wooded river our city’s founding fathers first saw in 1666. It was our city’s artery to the sea and our industries’ source of income. It was the throbbing, flowing heart of our city.
After the automobile drove people to the suburbs and globalization exported jobs abroad, the Passaic was no longer a water highway. It is now this industrial town’s polluted heart. The corporate towers of Newark’s “Renaissance” meet industrial history at the riverbank. The murky waters contain secrets of illegal dumping and toxic pollution that will remain buried for eternity, gradually leaking their oily toxins down stream. The industrial past clings on, refusing to vanish in forgotten waters. The river of change, the Passaic River, is a place of shifting contrasts, where past meets present.
The river flows on.
View this artwork as part of a short film titled Pictures of Newark

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