Artist brings flavors of immigrant neighborhoods to Times Square

Posted on September 10th, 2011 by Bogdan Mohora in Arts, Featured, Immigration, Living

Hidemi Takagi speaks to a visitor and hands out candy purchased from 35 different immigrant neighborhoods in New York City at the opening of her new exhibit "Blender" at the Times Square Visitior Center. Photo: Bogdan Mohora

Reported on Aug. 6, 2011

A series of 95 color-saturated photographs—all shots of food displayed on trash cans—has positioned itself in Times Square. The new art installation by Japan-born artist Hidemi Takagi captures food that is canned, wrapped and boxed and is from 47 countries.

To create “Blender” as the exhibit is titled, Takagi didn’t have to travel to Ghana, Mexico or the Dominican Republic to find the variously packaged items.  Everything she photographed was purchased from shops in 35 different immigrant neighborhoods in New York City, such as Sunnyside, Ridgewood and Woodside.

“The packing of these products is a form of art that tells the stories and helps remind people that their culture is alive,” said Takagi, who moved to New York City from Kyoto in 1997 and studied at the International Center of Photography and the National Academy of Design.

From a custom-made, turquoise food cart with a red umbrella, just inside the doors of the Times Square Visitor Center, Takagi greeted visitors Thursday when the installation opened in the bustling district. They were given plastic bags containing imported items such as chocolate-coated jelly candy from Poland, glucose fruit candy from Ireland and instant coffee from Malaysia.  Inside each bag also were descriptions of the neighborhood in which the item was bought, the name of the shop and the country from which it was imported.

On the walls of the entrance, Takagi’s photos are shown on seven, large video screens.  “Blender” is the first public art installation to be projected inside the entrance to the Times Square Visitor Center, according to the Times Square Alliance.

“Every day hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world seamlessly mingle in Times Square making it the perfect stage to spotlight Hidemi Takagi’s unique images, which offer us all a lens into New York’s immigrant communities and culture,” said Tim Tompkins, president of the Times Square Alliance, in a news release.

Outside, all of Takagi’s photos grace the sides of 25 trash cans scattered around the Broadway plazas.

“In this space dominated by gigantic images of global products and brands, these small products have a powerful emotional connection to home for many from Egypt, Colombia, Hungary, Serbia, Pakistan, Thailand, and Senegal and 40 other countries,” said Glenn Weiss, manager of Public Art and Design for the Times Square Alliance.

According to the Office of the Mayor, New York City’s immigrant population more than doubled to 3 million in 2011 from roughly 1.4 million in 1970.   Immigrants now make up nearly 40 percent of the city’s population and 49 percent of all self-employed workers.

In March, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg launched a series of initiatives to support and encourage immigrant-owned businesses in New York City.   One was a business expo that showcased locally-based immigrant food manufacturers and focused on linking their products with consumers across the country.

Takagi’s work is on display at 46th Street and Seventh Avenue through the month of August.

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