Immigrant Life in the City: Contemporary Photographs of Chinese New Yorkers

Interior Lives: Contemporary Photographs of Chinese New Yorkers at Museum of the City of New York

Immigrant Life in the City: Contemporary Photographs of Chinese New Yorkers

Three photographers explore the lives of Chinese Americans in a striking exhibit of daily life in New York City, Interior Lives: Contemporary Photographs of Chinese New Yorkers, at the Museum of the City of New York until March 24, 2019.

New York City’s nine predominantly Chinese neighborhoods are home to the largest ethnic Chinese population outside of Asia. Interior Lives features the work of three photographers who have spent years documenting the lives of Chinese New Yorkers: Thomas Holton, Annie Ling, and An Rong Xu.

Thomas Holton has followed the trajectory of a single family, the Lams of Ludlow Street, since 2003. Starting as a family of five in a 350-square-foot apartment, the family has changed over the past 15 years, with the growth of the children and the eventual separation of the parents.

For more than a year, Annie Ling documented the lives of the 35 residents of the fourth floor of 81 Bowery—the “invisible immigrants” who live cramped quarters and work for low wages, many sacrificing in order to support their families left behind in China.

And An Rong Xu has used photography to explore his Chinese-American identity with a series of photographs that explore the intersection of “two sometimes polarizing cultures.”

An Rong Xu, Pell Street, 2011 at Museum of the City of New York

 

Rong Xu told The Guardian:

In New York, there is a seasoned florist in Chinatown who puts on red rubber gloves when handling the exotic flowers in his dark storefront. Chinese newspapers hang behind him and down below, a cat walks towards him. This simple, charming photograph details the life of one Chinese immigrant – who has a hint of loneliness on his face.

“New York City is a place where there’s millions of things happening, everyone lives their own story,” said An Rong Xu, the photographer. “Even when there are so many people around you, it could feel like the loneliest place.”

“I’m drawn to loneliness,” said Xu. “Loneliness is one of the most commonly shared emotions among humans; a lot of my family history involved one of us leaving China to pursue dreams in America. So, in one way or another, the isolation and loneliness to pursue your dreams are ingrained in me.”

The exhibit features roughly 60 photos of the Chinese community living in New York, from Chinatown natives to first-generation Americans, those who arrived from the 1960s onward to the new wave of immigrants. The images have been selected by MCNY’s photography curator, Sean Corcoran. “Immigration is one of the stories that is told in each of the photographer’s works, in different capacities,” said Corcoran. “Another point is the idea of community, home and how we make home through communities we build.”

(https://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2018/oct/23/chinese-new-yorkers-interior-lives-photography-exhibition-an-rong-xu)

Together, the works of these photographers provide a window into the complex realities of immigrant life in New York City.

Annie Ling, [81 Bowery], 2011 at Museum of the City of New York

Thomas Holton, Chinese Soap Opera, 2004 at Museum of the City of New York

 

This exhibition is organized by the Museum of the City of New York in conjunction with the Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) exhibition Interior Lives: Photographs of Chinese Americans in the 1980s by Bud Glick.

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