A look at some of the artwork on display at the Jameco Exchange. Photo by Whitney Browne.
BY MATT SHORTALL
Local artists and community leaders met inside a storefront in Jamaica Queens on Thursday for the closing ceremony of the Jameco Exchange, an exhibition which celebrates the past, present and future of a dynamic and culturally- diverse neighborhood.
The Jameco Exchange, sponsored by the Jamaica Center Business Improvement District (BID), as well as No Longer Empty (NLE), a nonprofit organization that orchestrates site-specific public art installations in empty storefronts, is about transactions in every sense of the word.
The exhibition was made possible through a Neighborhood Challenge grant received by No Longer Empty from the NYC Department of Small Business Services and the New York City Economic Development Corporation.
The overarching theme of the exhibition is focused on how different groups of people exchange ideas, stories, knowledge, goods and services.
The gallery takes its name from the Jameco (Yameco) Native Americans, for which the neighborhood of Jamaica was named after. Before the arrival of the Dutch, Jamaica Avenue was an ancient trail for tribes as far away as the Ohio River Valley and the Great Lakes who came to trade animal skins and furs.
According to Rachel Gugelberger, Associate Curator for NLE, Jameco Exchange tries to honor that history.
“Jamaica is still a place of movement, exchange and immigration,” she said.
Derek Irby, executive director at the 165th Street Mall Improvement Association, believes more projects like Jameco Exchange will benefit the area.
“Our business community cannot flourish without culture,” he said. “I love being able to come in here to relieve tension. You can come in here every day and look at the same piece of art and you will see something different every time.”
Margaret Rose Vendryes is an artist whose work deals with themes of race and gender identity. The African Diva Project is a multimedia interactive installation combining music, paintings and fashion. Her album cover inspired paintings feature iconic black female artists such as Tina Turner, Lena Horne and Eartha Kitt wearing African masks.
“What I hope is that art and artists will remain important to Jamaica, Queens,” said Vendryes. “I grew up here. It’s in my skin and in my blood. I like to think of African Divas as a representation of the transformation of this neighborhood.”
Ezra Wube, an artist whose work utilizes mixed media, commissioned Words of Wisdom for the Jameco Exchange. Wube worked on-sight each week to engage visitors who contributed to the piece by drawing, paintings, adding small objects and collaging. The “finished” painting was displayed underneath a stop-motion video showing the projects evolution and metamorphosis.
The Jameco Exchange will be open through July 17 before the store space will be returned back to Aaron Schwartz, President of the 165th Street Mall BID. Those interested can find a full calendar of events on nolongerempty.org.