There are three categories of work in this section of my website; please browse them below. Or, read two personal reflections on my artwork and writing at bottom of page, one reflection on my hometown of Newark, NJ and the other on my experience of walking in New York City.
ABOUT NEW YORK CITY
When I walk, I am free to choose. Each street guides me forward. Each intersection is a choice. Each destination is irrelevant. When I walk, I sometimes choose a random order of directions, left, right, left, right, right, left, left, straight. I see where they lead me. I know not where.
When I walk, I am free to move. I love walking on the High Line. I float above the cars that prevent the city from realizing itself as a community. I see the crowded streets twenty feet below. I see the gardens on either side of me. I let the verdantly landscaped path channel me forward.
When I walk, I am no longer alone. I walk in the footsteps of the millions who passed before me. I am one among millions, all of us on our separate voyages. Lawyers. Butchers. Tourists. Homeless. We all walk alone. Yet, we are together in walking alone.
When I walk, I see the world. In Spanish Harlem, street fairs sell traditional Mexican foods. In college town Columbia, well-dressed university students amble on their way to class. In the Upper West Side, the shabby chic push their grocery prams. In Times Square, tourists lug their large shopping bags from store to store. Finally, after countless neighborhoods, I reach the ceaseless bustle of Wall Street. Exhausted after many miles of walking, I descend the subway steps.
One of my recent projects is painting New York City neighborhoods. Each day, I choose a new district to explore. Then, equipped with my miniature watercolor palette and notepad, I walk and paint. I discover the city block by block. I then capture fragments of what I see through painting.
Like a pianist who memorizes music by heart, the flâneur (or urban pedestrian) embraces the street symphony with his soul and feet. People’s voices and buildings serve different, but equally important, clefs in the symphony. As le Corbusier wrote, “…first to look, and then to observe, and finally to discover.” My countless urban walks enhance my passion for cities, their architecture, their history, and their planning.
I am ready to walk my next journey.
(Excerpted from application essay to Columbia University)
GROWING UP IN NEWARK
One of my first intelligible words was, oddly enough, “demolition.” My Newark childhood was immersed in countless scenes of urban destruction. Only years later have I come to appreciate this irony. Newark is the undoing of two things I love: urbanism and construction. Yet, my own city intellectually inspires me to appreciate my urban environment.
Growing up in Newark has not been easy. My city is generally ten degrees hotter than its neighboring environment. The airport. The port. The downtown. All are blanketed in asphalt that turns my city into a hot desert. Tens of thousands of cars spew their fumes into my city. As a child, I had asthma. The streets of my city are not made for walking. They are made for driving. I walk. I stop. I wait. Speeding traffic and interminable stoplights hinder my progress.
At age eight, I discovered a powerful photo book, The New American Ghetto, by Camilo José Vergara. More than thirty percent of the photos are of my city. Sturdy structures one day become piles of rubble the next. In turn, the rubble becomes gravel for another ubiquitous parking lot. Time passes and my recollection of the former structure slithers away. Over time, swaths of my neighborhood gradually dissipate into an urban desert.
At age ten, I innocently presented a City Plan to Mayor Cory Booker. I removed all surface parking and buried I-280 beneath a bucolic park, which healed my neighborhood’s brutal highway-born split. The mayor smiled and murmured, “Oh yeah, that’ll only cost $35!”
At age thirteen, I joined Columbia University economist Dan O’Flaherty to oppose my city’s water privatization scheme. We spoke before the Local Public Finance Board in Trenton. I also helped organize over 700 pages of city legal documents scanned into my laptop. Based on these files, a local advocacy group produced a damning report on the corrupt scheme, leading to State and Federal investigations. During that roasting summer, in front of my city’s supermarket, we collected hundreds of signatures for a public referendum to derail water privatization.
In retrospect, my transient city inspired my quest for permanence and stability. The mundane features of normal communities, such as street and sewer repairs, could not be taken for granted here. If permanence were not a reality, art would have to suffice for my childhood imagination. My earliest whimsical creations – miniature buildings, factories, and bridges – mixed my perception of Newark’s bleak past and hopeful future. I hid slips of paper in my creations that read, “This will last forever.” I feverishly preserved my environment through drawing and painting. In a transient and decayed city, I needed something eternal and malleable.
From my back window, I see Mies van der Rohe’s sleek 1960s high-rise. From my front window, I see the Newark Museum designed by Michael Graves. Motivated to improve my imperfect urban environment, I spoke at many public hearings on the museum’s expansion. Later, Mr. Graves generously invited me to his Princeton studio, where we discussed Italian architecture and the importance of hand drawing. His tranquil home, a former warehouse, inspired me to dream of retooling my city’s “ruins.”
Desiring to see cities beyond my own, I was fortunate enough to voyage with my family to Istanbul, Barcelona, Prague, Paris, Mexico City, Toronto, Montréal, Chicago, Detroit, Shanghai, and Beijing. I learned that most people cultivated their cities with pride, love, and gentle creativity. However, every time, I could not wait to rush back to my city, despite its defects and scars. This fertile place is the source of my intellectual strength and the cornerstone of my sense of justice and hope. My father often quotes Schopenhauer: “One can do what he wants to do, but not think what he wants to think.” My city, however, frees me “to think what I want to think.”
(Excerpted from application essay to Columbia University)