supers_280This project is a look at the ways in which superintendents have decorated their work and living spaces in the basements of apartment buildings in northern Manhattan, NYC. As many of these superintendents are immigrants, this project allows me to explore the process of immigrant adaptation to the large urban metropolis from an intimate perspective.

Basements are special sanctuaries for superintendents and their families. Supers often live in basements that are hidden from the public and from visitors, which creates a certain form of privacy. However, the basement is also a work place and their environment is on display for the residents of the building.

Under these circumstances, the supers’ decorations function as a territorial claim over the semi public/private space of the basement. Most of the supers in the neighborhood are immigrants from Latin America and images from their home countries can connect their new home to a past they have left behind. This can be especially important given the grueling nature of their work and the difficulty of establishing oneself in the city. Other supers display symbols of Western culture, perhaps a symbol of assimilation into mainstream society.

The selected song “Visa Para un Sueno” is by Juan Luis Guerra y 440, a well known musician from the Dominican Republic. In his song he describes in detail the visa process from people in developing countries, in this case from the Dominican Republic. These people seek a visa for the purpose of migration, although this is very often disguised as a tourist visa because they cannot afford or qualify for a migration visa. The song describes in detail how much is at stake and the real goals behind the visa application: to materialise a dream (‘para un sueno’).

Gesche Würfel

For this project I have received an Individual Artist Grant from the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA).
NoMAA Regrant Program, made possible by the JP Morgan Chase Foundation and the Upper Manhattan Empowerment Zone Development Corporation.