CUNY Macaulay Honors College at Baruch College/Professor Bernstein
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Who She Is: Toya

Listen to my interview with Toya!

Her real name is Santas Victoria Coto, but we call her “Toya.” She lived in Honduras until she came to New York twenty-odd years ago. She came in her early 40s, to accompany her younger sister, who was working as a housekeeper in Brooklyn. She too acquired a job as a housekeeper.

Toya has no formal education of the English language. After twenty years in this country, she has a decent grasp of English, though she still speaks with a certain hesitance. She is much more comfortable with her native tongue and prefers to speak Spanish even to the English-speaking family she works for. When asked where she learned English, her answer is “no cahmin’ en my hair – no viene en mi cabessa.”

Maybe that’s why many of her answers are simplistic. ‘Muy bueno’ seems to be one of her favorites. She says she walked to school as a child because it was “muy cerca.” Her family was “muy bueno.”  When asked about the dynamics of her neighborhood, she answered, “everybody in my neighborhood was from the same place.”

Toya has no recollection of any “crimen” nor of any “prejuicios” in Honduras. When asked about either, she says “nunca” – never. Maybe she lived in somewhat of a bubble?

I was curious to know what she thinks of American culture and how it is different from the Central American culture in which she was raised. Her answer? “El religión.” She says that in America, religion is “confudida”, whereas in Honduras it was strictly Catholic. She found it difficult to explain further the differences she sees between the two cultures, mostly because she lives with a Jewish family, so she cannot comment on the culture of America as a whole. What I found interesting is that she herself seems to have grown up with more than just the Catholic faith. Apparently, her father had a religion but “no se cual era”. I asked, was it a secret? She told me, “he had the Old Testiment.” Apparently, it was a secret; no one knew anything about it, but her father was secretly Jewish.

Toya is funny. She can’t point at any time in her life that is a turning point. Though an obvious one exists—her move to America. I asked her “what was your initial vision of America?” and she responds, “the airport was so big!”

Of course, her life is different now from what it used to be. She says she is “muy feliz” because she “no speekee anybody.” “Now my life is more quier.” She firmly believes she is living the American dream. She works but she earns money. “Es más fácil de ganar [dinero].”

Toya ended off by telling me a really exciting piece of information—“soon come mis papeles!” Her papers! She is working on citizenship and that is really exciting for her.

I love Toya.

December 9, 2010   7 Comments

Guest of Honor: Sara Krulwich

Spotted: Sara Krulwich, New York Times photographer, guest of honor at Baruch.  In her classroom visit, she outlined the progression of women’s rights through the lens of a female photographer. In an exceptionally well-delivered performance, she moved swiftly through various stages of her development. She showed us that what began as a passionate hobby as a college newspaper photographer ended up being a full-time job. Now a much sought-after photographer for the New York Times, her gender is hardly an obstacle.

Krulwich delivers a certain comic relief to the sad reality of the male chauvinism that existed in the 1960s. She says of her alma mater, University of Michigan, “No women, children or dogs allowed on the field.” It sounds like a joke, but it is far from comical. In fact, “there were no women in the marching band; no women cheerleaders; no women security guards.”

I know Sara Krulwich is coveted photographer, but her storytelling skills are also pretty impressive. She describes the fate from which she was saved when she was a novice photographer in college.  In her sophomore year, with a certain measure of defiance, she stepped on to the football field, camera in tow, ready to cover the game. The male security guards were about to physically remove her from the field, but decided not to make a huge commotion once the game was in session. That she remained on the football field was a direct lead for her to become a star in the photojournalism field. By doing so, her civil disobedience made a huge statement in women’s “power” in the workforce.

The other side of her presentation was more technical, discussing how she managed to buy camera equipment for very cheap in second-hand shops. Sara Krulwich struck me as exceptionally real person, a hard worker. She knew her limits and she fought them to get what she wanted. She had a goal and she was determined to reach it. Neither financial concerns nor sexual discrimination stopped her. She proved that nothing could stand in the way of motivation. Her presentation left us empowered. Krulwich shouts YES-WE-CAN! to women in every field.

December 6, 2010   No Comments

A Chic Exhibit at MoMA

1940s: As wounds were still healing in Europe, New York City jumped on the opportunity to steal the spotlight. The result? Abstract expressionism. Abstract expressionists in NYC ushered in modern art into the post-WWII era.

Much of modern art is just simple ideas that one person decided to display. Although some may peg it as a ridiculous extortion of the definition of “art,” anything may be considered art so long as it expresses some creative skill or imagination. Since new forms of art are modern in their use of color, texture, design, and subject, they are the manifestation the imagination of modern man. The MoMA Abstract Expressionism exhibit showcases the abstract art of the 1940s, the progeny of New York City’s then-chicest artists. These  artists brought new ideas to the artist’s palette, shifting the focus from more conventional to more modern.

In Jackson Pollock’s “drip painting” pieces, he throws paint all over the canvas. What makes this art? He creates texture by embedding objects in the surface of layers of paint. Actually, the paintings reminded me of ice cream flavors. His “No. 1A” (1948) as cookies ‘n cream, and “Full Fathom Five” as mint chocolate chip. An even bigger cookies ‘n cream is his “One: Number 31” (1950).

“No. 1A” (1948) Jackson Pollock

"Full Fathom Five" (1950) Jackson Pollock

Texture was very important to William de Koonig, as apparent in his “A Tree in Naples,” in which he creates a certain depth unusual for a 2-D painting. What makes this art? The purposeful inversion of color to expand the color of nature. In doing so, it produces visual enthusiasm for the viewer. I noticed a similarity between Saul Leiter’s photos and de Koonig’s “Valentine.” Hedda Stein’s use of reflections and blurriness capture the New York City scene in “New York, VIII” (1954) was also oddly familiar to me. Then I remembered reading that abstract paintings were Leiter’s stated muse for his photography.

"Valentine" (1947) Willem de Koonig

Ad Reinhart introduced a new art form, in which he experiments with different shades of color. The different shades of black are divided into sections of thirds, and become visible only after prolonged viewing. His “Abstract Painting” (1957) is simply a painting of three blocks of black, lined up next to one another. It is a simple yet brilliant piece of art. What makes this art? It broadens the idea of what color is.

The new art is all about experimentation. Arshile Gorky plays with shapes, Ad Reinhart with shades of color, Jackson Pollock with lines, Willem de Koonig with color and texture, Mark Rothko with layers. Together, they create an expanded register of talent, eye candy for museumgoers. To that end, MoMA ought to be renamed Musem for the Chic. The exhibits are bright, vivid, colorful, fun. Chic. The people are even chic. Take a look at the people walking through the galleries. Lots of hip, well-dressed Barbies with their Kens. A bunch of people who think abstract expressionism is “rad.”

December 5, 2010   No Comments

A Balanced Production

Photo credit to

Photo credit to Rosegg of The Daily News.

The only wobbliness in this show was my legs, shaking from nerves because I was seated so high up in the balcony. Other than that, The Scottsboro Boys struck me as an extraordinarily balanced production.

Some scenes tugged at the heart (like when Haywood Patterson, the most outspoken of the nine Scottsboro boys, is thrown into solitary confinement), others poke fun at harsh realities the Black teenagers struggle with (when the youngest of the crew asks so innocently and genuinely what “rape” is, or when one boy relays his account of his cousin being lynched). Though it’s not the kind of musical that will lift the whole audience out of their chairs and have them dancing in the aisles, there is a certain joviality that left me tapping my feet in my own seat way up in the balcony.

Perhaps the greatest thing about this musical is that it presented this most delicate topic with extraordinary care and great talent. The Scottsboro Boys, a most controversial legal case that stands as a symbol of bigotry and racial stereotypes, sits precariously on an onstage seesaw. The actors teeter-totter with keeping the show entertaining and conveying the sense of gravity the topic deserves. In that respect, the directors of Scottsboro do a superb job. They leave most of the racism up to the cast members to relay through speech, and the amusement is mostly accomplished through dance, song, and occasional jokes. Racist comments are balanced with funny scenes to lighten the atmosphere. The actors really set the crowd in motion, causing theatergoers’ “haha”s or “ooo”s. At times, I felt that familiar “oooooh” like OUCH! pierce through the crowd. And at times, I heard laughter. After all, this is a musical about battling racism.

What is most ironic about Scottsboro is that it is a minstrel. “Black-face” has a long tradition in American entertainment as a most effective means of keeping things in perspective, especially appropriate for this Broadway show. Though by the 1950s minstrelsy had nearly disappeared, today it has become a symbol of the past. Scottsboro is a reminder of the harsh racism that existed and perhaps continues to exist on a lesser scale.

What a great show!

November 25, 2010   No Comments

New York City Moves. Moves. Moves.

Mondrian-inspired Collage:
Click on a photo to view. [photosmash=]

Dutch-born painter Piet Mondrian  (1872-1944) discovered an artistic form in the dynamics of New York City street life. A true cosmopolitan, he yo-yoed between Holland and Paris before making his mark in New York. There, he created his most famous painting “Broadway Boogie Woogie,” (1942) a slight modification of his typical style that still used his signature primary colors and vertical and horizontal bands. The intersection of red, blue, and yellow lines seem to respond to the vibrations from the city’s jazz music, the flashing of its neon signs, and the honking from its traffic. In a most creative way, Mondrian crafts a mosaic using interlacing blocks of color.

My own Mondrian-inspired collage highlights the moving pace of New York,  a city that tolerates no slowpokes. To show that, I handpicked typical New York City street photos and singled out one moving object in the scene. I created my artwork by applying a black-and-white filter to street photos and, in some cases, a motion blur to create a sense of motion. I then used bright contrast colors to apply a Mondrian-print onto that moving object, which is meant to pop out from the rest of the black-and-white street scene.

My collage photos portray New York City as a sea of umbrellas on a rainy day; an outdoor exercise complex on a sunny day, and a fashion runway just about every day. Cyclists. Cabbies. Skateboarders. Joggers. Pedestrians. All compete for space. Foot traffic has become part of the city landscape.

My three collages set the spotlight on three categories of foot traffic:

  • All The Pretty Ladies steal the city’s gaze as they promenade along the sidewalks. Roll out the red carpet, here I come!
  • Exercise fanatics and cyclists own the road. I like to Move it, Move it. Get outta my way!
  • Umbrellas reign in the rain. A rainy day in the city looks like Umbrella. Umbrella. Umbrella. Make way, people!

Mondrian’s minimalist style is often imitated, though no artist has been able to achieve the same effect. His grid style has gained popularity among designers and similar prints have shown up on Nike sneakers and women’s dresses. Mondrian continues to inspire the art, fashion, advertising, and design worlds, as New York City continues to attract worldwide attention. New York City is a city like no other.

Photo credit:

November 23, 2010   2 Comments


Last week, I was made aware of the concept of driving lingo. I use it all the time without even realizing. Last week, I was behind the wheel, and I mentioned to my passenger something about flashing people on the road. A non-driver, she heard “flashing” and her imagination immediately was way off the road. She resisted the urge to question my most unexpected exclamation.

When I talk about “flashing people,” I mean repeatedly shining my bright lights at pedestrians who walk dangerously on the road. It’s something I feel is my duty as a driver. I flash people who do not wear reflectors. I flash people who are too close to oncoming traffic. I flash my bright lights all the time.

Apparently, it was a foreign concept to my passenger that “to flash” could have any other meaning.

November 23, 2010   No Comments

Anna Traube/foliage


Sometimes I feel like I’m cheated out of the Fall season. Like a ballerina, she flutters onstage and whirls off so quickly, before I even get to watch her dance. School starts, and before I know it, it’s twenty below zero, the grass is frozen solid, and my favorite tree is naked, shivering in the cold. It happens every year, sometime mid-November. I turn around and she is gone. She escapes, stealing all the color with her, and leaving her evil winter twin to take the reign.

This year, I beat her to it. I met her onstage, and instead of staying in my seat, I swirled and twirled out of my chair and got right on stage to waltz with her. I promenaded along her rainbow foliage, pausing every so often to get snapshot of her beauty. Her radiant leaves seemed to spell R-O-Y-G-B-I-V across the azure sky.

Fall danced so brilliantly for me this year. I guess that was good timing on my part that I caught her midstep. In my Fall photo shoot, I captured the natural decor lining the streets of New York. Perspective changes from photo to photo: in some, I zoom in on her vivid hues; in others I give her room to breathe (and dance).  I try out all the different sections of the theater, trying to get different view of the dancer on the stage. I watched the Fall dancer from different angles.

Each screen shot in my collection accents the season’s colors. But in all of them, the color shimmies around the streets of my neighborhood, skipping around the bends, and twirling down the hills. Fire-engine reds and sun-kissed yellows and burnt auburns and gleaming greens make up the rainbow of Fall. This year I did better than a box seat;  I got up and danced in the aisles.

November 15, 2010   No Comments

No One But The Leaves

For those who aren’t afraid to spend time with themselves, I highly recommend a Sunday morning run. Minus the cell phone. Plus the iPod if you insist. But get ready to face your own self. I did just that this Sunday morning.  And, phew, I’m still alive and breathing. Here’s what happened to me:

I met no one but the leaves. And I crunched those crunchy leaves in peace. I found the occasional passing car to be just a nuisance disrupting my leaf-crunching.

In the hilly Suburban area I fondly call home, my twenty-five minute run spells out twenty-five minutes of solitude. A very well received twenty-five minutes of solitude, I might add. A time I can truly feel alone. Not lonely. Alone. Enjoying my own company.

I see myself as part of the hoards of people who parade the streets of New York every day. Yet, sometimes, when I’m the city, I just can’t knock the loneliness out of me. That loneliness is stubborn as a mule and no amount of foot traffic can fill that void. My fellow streetwalkers might be right alongside me, but really, they’re just too absorbed in their own selves to notice or care that I’m there.

After my run, I can say that I finally understand the difference between loneliness and aloneness. Loneliness is a certain sadness caused by a lack of companionship. Because sometimes we forget to be our own companions. But alone? Alone just means being in your own presence, with your own self as your companion.

So on my mid-morning run, I spent some time with the leaves and myself. And the air was crisp and my mind was clear. And I had a good time accompanying myself. As for you, though, here’s a thought to ponder: how good of a companion are you to yourself?

November 8, 2010   No Comments

The Mexican Suitcase: Cool but BYOB (Bring Your Own Background)

The brainchildren of three early war photographers have come home at last. I’m referring to the nearly 4,500 negatives that have been recovered from Mexico City, the photos that captured the scene of the Spanish Civil War, now on display at ICP. The proud parents are Robert Capa, Chim (David Seymour), and Gerda Taro, Eastern Europeans who based themselves in Paris in the 1930s.

The Mexican Suitcase exhibit features war photography in its earliest, and perhaps purest, form. A keen observer might notice the tiny block letters on the rolls of film that spell out “Eastman Kodak.” Perhaps the most striking characteristic of these early Kodak prints is their candidacy: the subjects’ sad, unknowing eyes and worried expressions are very telling of the reality of Spain at the time. Negatives, original contact sheets, and newspaper clippings dotting the walls of ICP highlight the progression of this up-and-coming field. Maybe the 30’s was the Golden Age of war photography?

I was struck by the fact that the coverage of the Spanish Civil War was done by foreigners. Photographers Taro, Capo, and pseudonymous Chim, who exposed the harsh truths of the Spanish Civil War, were all intellectuals who fled Eastern Europe to align themselves with leftist groups in the cultural hobnob of Paris. The demand for their work, sadly, was short-lived; the rise of Nazi power put an abrupt end to anti-fascist, pro-Communist publications. But during their high point, these powerful photographs surfaced all over France and the United States, and were instrumental in shaping the public’s view on the war.

As an example, Samuel Schneiderman of Warsaw, Poland used Chim’s photos to complement a Yiddish commentary he wrote on the goings-on of the war. Chim’s photos also appeared in the French newspaper Regards, which, in one image, cast the spotlight on the internment camps in France, where Spanish refugees were being held.

Thankfully, Chim, Taro, and Capa enjoy posthumous recognition for their work vis-à-vis The Mexican Suitcase. As an exhibit, though, you really need to bring along your own interest in this historical time period. That is not to say that The Mexican Suitcase is not one of the most interesting historical mysteries unraveled. Just a friendly suggestion: come equipped with a background of the political landscape in the 30’s if you want to fully appreciate the exhibit.

November 8, 2010   No Comments

Oh, Manic Medea!

A high-pitched wailing heard off-stage initially sets Medea as a manic, morbid, bitter, ranting lunatic. A sort of woman gone wild. The Greek tragic play Medea is a peephole into the story of a woman who takes revenge against her husband who has betrayed her for another woman. In an extended fit of rage, she is driven to mental insanity and kills her children at the play’s end.

Medea is not the only one who uses exaggeration. October 5th’s dramatic reading of Medea was jam-packed with exaggerated expression in all forms; sardonicism, sarcasm, and rhetoric saturate the entire performance. Characters are careful to communicate their emotion through their speech, but also play with their tone of voice, body language, and facial expressions.

The synchronization among the chorus, Medea’s central triumvirate, is especially noteworthy. The three chorus men are wary of their facial expressions, altering it appropriately in response to the changing plot. Several instances throughout the play, characters kneel on the wooden stage, in a sense taking the place of elaborate costumes or props. All characters maintain eye contact, and body movements are carefully choreographed across the stage. Mention must be made of their fluctuating tone because of the sarcasm inherent in the text of Medea.

Hooray to the cast for their excellent use of pathos, because the performance as a whole left me with an ambiguous taste in my mouth. Which side deserves my sympathy? With only fifteen hours of practice on their backs, I gotta give them a hand. They had my attention wrapped around their little pinkie!

November 3, 2010   No Comments