Look at me! Look at me! I look terrible. Can you help me? Spare change, food, anything.
Like any urban setting, homelessness is very much apparent in New York — men, women and even kids: beggars, asking for something, change in turn for the momentary + survival. All sad, but there’s good news: For that buck that you can give to a homeless person, here they can turn their dollar into dumplings. Hungry for Chinese one day, I yelped an eatery in Chinatown. Properity Dumplings is this hole in a wall, family run store specializing in those famous deep fried morsels, a shop with no frills, not even a table to sit – they can dish 5 dumplings for $1, just enough to get you full. It’s an art student’s culinary budgeting dream, may even be a citywide solution to poverty and hunger (?) – or at least, a simple meal for the light wallet.
Reminiscing about my Anthony Bourdain moment with my dumplings, I can’t help but connect this with another experience I had today. After visiting the New York Public Library, I picked up sushi and walked past a band of peaceful protesters for the Burma Movement. After snapping a few shots on my camera phone, I then proceeded to Bryant Park where I sat down to eat. Lost in my music and salmon roll, I was interrupted by a “Vet” asking for money. Like countless times, many times, I politely said sorry no.
He walked away; another older gentlemen came over and said “you just enjoy your food son.” A bickering between the vet and old man then ensued and since I wanted nothing to do with it, I turned my volume up and flooded the fight and continued eating. Chewing, and seeing the man walk away, the thought of community service then came to my mind. Spending a good chunk of my undergrad giving back to the community thru volunteering and serving my student body, I felt a bit of confliction, a little bit of guilt even. Here I was, refusing to give a man a buck (and that’s upon many other prior refusals to other beggars in the past month) – when all along, I’ve been trying to be this “humanitarian” helping people where I could. And yes, I realize that one can only do so much, poverty exists, yada yada, but, we really do give our charity almost strategically. But when does the helping stop? Do we stop when we graduate and are no longer a part of a service fraternity, do we continue this even well into our graduate studies and careers? Do I have to be a social worker, a medical/health person, public serviceman, a something something to really continue philanthropy? I think to myself, I’m trying to save money for rent, I sometimes skip meals because I feel guilty for spending money on food, I’m paying out-of-state tuition (enough said), and here we have a city, just like any other city, full of people in need.
The vet encounter paired with a few images snapped from the Burma protests sparked an idea: Revolution — a subject I’ve been studying for a few weeks now. It’s been a heavy topic in my studies with the Mexican Revolution focus in my art history course and coincidentally, through exposure of certain works in my other classes too.
I propose here, not so much another Charity Water or Toms for children with no shoes, or even a Dumpling Dump for the hungry, but rather a light manifesto. Minus the bloodshed, we here can have a modern day movement. We don’t see too much of that anymore do we? Rioters. Picket fence protesters. Revolutionaires. Maybe the closest thing we have to a revolution is an influx of Facebook groups for a cause and non-profit orgs who unfortunately struggle in all sorts of ways.
A Dumpling Manifesto. This is still a working idea. Something I’ll inject into some of my artwork, may even be something bigger than I can think of. But whatever it is, I want this to be the start of a thought process: a movement, for myself, my role (and your role) as a person within a community. Just when does the giving back end? For me specifically, how do I do what I love doing, and still feel good about myself without being lost in the stratums of the upper art world crust? In other words, I am here in graduate school to get my theoretics education and literally pay to have studio space and professionals critique, advise and even debate about my work. Am I here to produce pretty things to hang on walls? Or am I here to say something. Make statements. I’m still not sure where I stand with making art post-grad. Questioning whether I want to be a sell out, pursuing gallery space and make money or be more political, have respect and even anonymity as seen in a lot of street art. It continues to be explored, may even be a hybrid of it all. Glory of fame, or better yet, style. One thing is for sure: I’m here to do good work. Good not just in the sense where I need validation, but also good in a sense of humanity too. I can’t seem to get those roots out. When I step into my studio later this week, I’m back to work.