When Aman Mojadidi came up with the idea for his big public installation piece in the heart of New York City, he never thought it would be so relevant to the current political climate. But now his three phone booths placed expectantly in Times Square have become an element in a fight for immigrants’ rights.
The work, titled “Once Upon a Place” and running through September 5, was first conceived as a simple storytelling project when Mojadidi learned that phone booths were being removed from public spaces and decided to reclaim them. “It seemed to be an interesting format to use, to not only bring back this form of the phone booth as a conduit for storytelling but to fill it with a different kind of story of some of the people who have come to New York within the last generation,” the artist said.
As the political conditions surrounding immigration changed, however, Mojadidi, whose parents emigrated to Florida from Kabul, Afghanistan, in the late 1960s, found himself on a more provocative mission as he traveled through New York’s five boroughs to collect stories from a variety of émigrés. Now, 70 of those stories can be heard in three phone booths in Time Square that sit on colored carpets bearing messages like “take a moment, step into a booth” and “pick up the phone and listen.”
The overstimulating setting of the city center creates a sharp contrast with the isolated booths, which bear their original minimalist form. “It’s such a visual cacophony here that it didn’t make sense to try to make an artwork that challenged Times Square,” Mojadidi said. Most of the material making up the booths is original, sporting authentic graffiti that can’t quite be made out, though certain panels have been swapped with new ones that feature subtle maps of the five boroughs. The tops of the booths read “New York” in 12 different languages.
By Carolyn Twerky for ArtNews
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