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On Saturday February 15, 2020 the Raíces crew headed into Brooklyn to attend the opening reception of “Dawn of the Mascaras”, a solo exhibit featuring artist Nathan Bunce. It was our first visit to El Museo de Los Sures, an amazing community art gallery in the Los Sures section of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, run by Southside United HDFC-Los Sures. We had stumbled upon the flyer and information for the event just a few hours before it began while looking for cultural events to attend on a Facebook event list, and with the promise of handmade vejigante and Orisha masks coupled with a bomba drum and dance demonstration and spoken word poetry, it wasn’t hard to decide to make the trek into Brooklyn.

“Dawn of the Mascaras” Opening Reception

Since it was our first visit to El Museo de Los Sures, we headed out of Central NJ with plenty of time to spare, arriving right at the start of the opening reception. We were greeted from half a block away by the pulse of the barriles de bomba and followed the sounds down the street and down the stairs into the gallery space, where the walls were covered with dozens of paper-machê masks and artwork, the majority of which were vejigante masks crafted both in Loíza and Ponce styles. The masks were colorful, vibrant, and unique. Other works on display included the artist’s interpretation of Orisha masks and his latest creations of Taíno inspired wall hangings.

The opening reception was more than just an exhibit opening. It was also a Black History Month Celebration featuring community artists from musicians to spoken word poets, making the event a full on program of cultural expression. The evening featured a bomba drum and dance presentation orchestrated by Nathan, a brief artist talk, a few solo songs, and spoken word poetry performances by his wife Evelyn Jiménez as well as three poets from the Títere Poets Collective, Mario Pagán Morales, Isa Guzmán and Albert Taínoimage Areizaga (check out their podcast, Pan Con Títeres here). It was an incredible community event, and an amazing premiere solo exhibit by a talented artist. The exhibit is open until March 28, 2020 (open hours listed in flyer above), and we urge you to go check it out if you can before it comes down! I know I am not the only one on the Raíces crew who enjoyed the exhibit, check out this review posted on Facebook by our Director, Francisco G. Gómez:

Saturday’s event was a testament to the solidarity and resilience of a unified community of wonderful people. They’re fighting a corrupt system that would dispossess them of their rights to affordable housing and a section of Brooklyn, NY where their history is long and their contributions many! Nathan Realm Bunce‘s art is amazing in that it has brought one of Afro Puerto Rico’s traditions of Vejigante mask making to the diaspora. Make sure to visit EL MUSEO DE LOS SURES before March 29th to see some incredible art and please make a contribution to Los Sures! 🇵🇷de pura sepa…

Francisco G. Gómez, Director, Raíces Cultural Center

Highlights from “Dawn of the Mascaras” Opening Reception

The Artist: Nathan Realm Bunce

This was Nathan’s premiere solo exhibit and he was a gracious and welcoming host. Within minutes of walking in the door, he came to introduce himself and made himself available to answer questions about the exhibit and his art.

Nathan was first captivated by the art form of Vejigante mask making when he traveled to the island of Puerto Rico with his wife, Evelyn Jimenez, and discovered the work of master artisans Raúl Ayala in Loíza and Miguel Pérez in Ponce. While Nathan is not Puerto Rican, he does have Caribbean background and African heritage, and instantly felt drawn to the art form upon seeing his first vejigante masks, continuing to make trips to the island to spend time with artisans and mask makers. In dialoging about his work, he expressed his interest in the shared history of different islands in the Caribbean, as well as the African diaspora. His efforts in creating and sharing this art form based in cultural traditions is so valuable and important to the work of preserving and sharing culture.

As a young child I took interest in many forms of arts. One of those forms is visual arts. Like many artists I created my own portfolio in hopes to build recognition of my work. My interest hit its peak in high school when I took graphic design, advertisement design and modern art. This allowed me to further sharpen my skills and join the “Studio in the school” arts program.

With “Studio in the school” I started a career in teaching visual arts to preschool and school aged children at Brooklyn Bureau of Community Service. I went on and continued teaching at Beacon after school programs,  YMCA, and currently the “New York Junior Tennis and Learning” created by Arthur Ashe.

My personal work is inspired by culture, activism and everyday life. Sculpting and mask making has been a new add to my medium of art and creativity. For four years I have developed the skill of creating vejigante masks. The vejigante masks have made their debut at the annual Sociedad Cultural Mayaquezana beauty pageant. They have also been a fixture of the Bomba y Plena group “Orgullo Taíno”.

My purpose in my art is to inspire my students as I have been inspired by others. I want to create a voice seldom heard on a pillar for change, education and quality of life issues. 

Nathan Bunce Biography from NY Universal Artists Uprising Creative Networking Forum

El Museo de Los Sures: A Community Art Gallery

El Museo de Los Sures is a treasure for the neighborhood of Los Sures and a model for how a community art space can function. This gallery features local and community artists who live in Los Sures. The space is provided for exhibits and community artistic events at no cost to the artists. The artists in turn offer community events and sit in the gallery for open hours so that the community can continue to view the work.

The gallery itself is just a small part of what the amazing organization Southside United HDFC-Los Sures offers to the community. Located in the southern part of Williamsburg, a section of Brooklyn experiencing high rates of gentrification, Los Sures fights to maintain affordable housing for the long-time residents of the neighborhood, as well as provide resources like tenant organizing, community outreach, a senior residential center, a senior recreation center, a hydroponic farm, a local food pantry, and of course, El Museo de Los Sures.

We look forward to learning more about Los Sures, as well as the art of Nathan Realm Bunce and will be heading back to Brooklyn several times over the next few weeks to create short documentary pieces on El Museo de Los Sures and Nathan, whose art will remain on display in the museum until March 28 so be sure to check it out before it comes down, and try to make it to the related events listed on the flyer above. Hope to see you in Los Sures!

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