Photo Credit: Donna Davis
“Being an artist is like having a calling.” Alexandra Momin tells us. Momin is an NYC-based artist, a maker of powerful contemporary art, deeply inspired and moved by the cultural contour and history of her Harlem home.
Expressed through the symbiosis of her chosen mediums, painting, photography and still video, along with a digitized layering technique, her colorful work brings 21st century influences to traditional on "urbanscape" art, for example with her use of aluminum instead of traditional canvas. She abstractly communicates the constant change, and movement, of cities, and how those kinetic factors affect the mental and emotional states of their inhabitants.
Photo Credit: Alexandra Momin
Momin has previously displayed work at The Parrish Art Museum and Roger Smith Hotel, and is currently participating in Urban Studio Unbound Gallery’s summer exhibition, The In-Between, in Yonkers at 66 Main Street.
Photo Credit: Urban Studio Unbound
Read our interview with Alexandra Momin below and view her work in person now through September 9 at Urban Studio Unbound.
Q: You grew up in New Jersey. Why did you make the move to New York City?
A: I grew up just outside of Newark, so very close to the city. My mother would take us all the time as kids, especially around the East Village where she lived as a teenager. I remember being five years old, walking down St. Marks Place with her, and being completely enamored by all the different types of people and everyone’s individual look and energy. I wanted to know who they all were, and I wanted to be a part of whatever they were doing. That day I told my parents I wanted to move to New York. My teenage years were spent hanging out in Washington Square Park, Limelight, and pretty much every music venue in the 90s. In college, I started hitting up all the galleries and going to as many openings as possible, so inevitably I ended up living there.
Q: What do you love about living in Harlem?
A: I’ve lived all over Manhattan and Brooklyn, and even in Berlin for a few years, but no place has felt more like home to me than Harlem. The vibe in Harlem is amazing. There’s always great music coming out of cars, apartments, on the streets. It feels like a celebration of music, food, and style everyday. It’s the constant energy that’s really inspiring and fuels me.
Q: Describe what it is like to be an artist. How does your work shape your life (if it does)?
A: Being an artist is like having a calling. There is an incessant need to express something and explore emotion and figure out what that might look like. Creating something that instills a feeling is the ultimate goal and challenge. I think my life shapes the work first. Whatever happens to be going on influences how things turn out. Afterwards, living with the piece for a while and taking time to understand everything that went into it gives a great feeling of accomplishment (or frustration!).
Q: What inspired you to use multiple mediums, and creatively-speaking, what do you get out of each one?
A: I started out strictly doing photography. I loved experimenting with multiple and long exposures to create something more painterly. Over time, I started having my work printed directly to other surfaces, like aluminum and plexi, to give them a different weight and feel. The materials starting becoming part of the work. The physicality of that was so intriguing to me, I wanted to incorporate more textures. Eventually I started adding layers by screen printing with gold metallic ink and paint. Something different happens when you use other mediums. Your hand might be lighter or stronger and the shapes you make are different than what gets created with light. I like the complexity of the different textures. To me, it unifies the piece, despite each medium having a different feel.
Q: What are you trying to communicate with each piece? Is there a general message or is each meant to invoke something entirely different from the last?
A: While they each have their own history and life, they all generally allude to digging for the deeper self and making sense of self in relation to environment or current place in life.
Collaging NYC snapshots. Photo Credit: Alexandra Momin
Q: What has been your favorite piece to date and why?
A: Usually the most current piece is the one I have the deepest connection to. Although the very first piece I successfully had printed on aluminum (Untitled Landscape #1) is very special to me. It took months of trial and error to figure out a way to have the aluminum become part of the image. Once I finally got it, the piece really came to life. It’s a great feeling to see your vision come to fruition.
Q: What role do you think artists have in this country? In this world?
A: Artists help to create culture. They provoke thought and emotion. They cause people to question things. They bring to light certain things not always in people's everyday life. Art plays such a role in people's lives without them even knowing. Everywhere you look, someone's hand played a role in creating things, from their shape and color, etc.
I belong to an artist collective in Yonkers called Urban Studio Unbound. The gallery gets a lot of foot traffic off of Main Street, and mostly by locals who haven't spent a lot of time looking at art. The questions and comments I hear are incredible. People tend to really respond to certain pieces and open dialogue. It's a cool way to get to know people in the community and they like having a place to chill and have an experience. Art brings people in a community together, so it's important to be supportive and aware of what's happening around them.
Rockaway Beach. Photo Credit: Kimberley Gantz
Q: Who has been your greatest inspiration and why?
A: It’s hard to pinpoint just one. I’m inspired by any person who overcomes adversity and pursues their dreams. Too often in life the message is to settle, instead of finding ways to work toward your happiness. My grandmother left Cuba as a single mom in the 50’s and built a whole life in the States out of nothing. She always encouraged us to follow our calling no matter what. She also exposed me to art from a very young age, which was of course invaluable for me.
There are so many artists who’ve inspired me. Marilyn Minter does amazing things with photography and paint, also on aluminum. Mark Bradford is another major influence. He started making art from roller papers from his mother’s salon. Talk about working with what you got! His works are incredibly beautiful in the way he uses textures and scale to express deeply personal subject matter.
Q: What is your New York State of Mind in one word?
A: Adventure. I’m always looking to have my mind blown by something new, and I think that’s what New Yorkers are all about.