Tag Archives: Social Justice

Latimer House, museum for African-American inventor, rethinks museum concepts

| ejankiewicz@queenscourier.com

THE COURIER/Photo by Eric Jankiewicz

Anarchy is the word of the day at the historic Latimer House in Flushing, where the African-American inventor Lewis H. Latimer lived in the early 20th century.

“We’re embarking on an experiment here where we let people touch and interact with the historic displays. That’s why we’re calling it an experiment in anarchy,” said Monica Montgomery, director of the historic house. “When people are being killed on our streets, we want people to come here and grieve and explore ideas for social justice. And celebrating Black History Month is a great way to begin that.”

On Friday, Parks Department officials and representatives of New York City’s historic houses met at the Latimer House to celebrate Black History Month and receive a check for $100,000 from the Historic House Trust, a public charity organization that runs a network of the 23 historic house museums across the city. The Latimer House will receive $5,000 from the check.

Latimer lived in the Flushing house from 1903 until he died in 1928. The son of runaway slaves, Latimer is known for his work with Alexander Bell in creating the first practical telephone, and he is an inductee of the National Inventors Hall of Fame.

Lewis Latimer

Lewis Latimer

“A lot of the remembrance during Black History Month surrounds this idea of oppression and negativity, but I want people to see that black people have invented things and contributed to our society,” Montgomery said. “So it’s very important for us to remember Lewis’ story as an inventor overcoming obstacles.”

The Latimer House stands as a monument to Latimer’s work and many of his items, like a piano, are on display. Until recently, visitors were prohibited from touching historic items, much like at most museums. But the Historic House Trust, which provides funds to the house, decided to try a new model with the Latimer House by loosening the rules.

“The project, Latimer Now, is meant to engage more with the community and become more than just a sleepy house with dusty items,” Montgomery said.

Frank Vagnone, executive director for the Historic House Trust, said the project is meant to change the way people look at museums. In the fall, they plan on publishing a book called “The Anarchist Guide Process” that will outline methods for museums to change their model into a more engaging institution.

“We want anarchy,” he said. “So go ahead, play on Latimer’s piano, touch his tobacco pipe.”

Along with the hands-on approach to museums, Montgomery launched the “Unconquerable” initiative, referencing a poem by Latimer, a man who was born at a time of slavery, lived to see the Civil War and contributed much to America’s industrial period.

“This house was a salon during Latimer’s lifetime,” Montgomery said. “And we’re bringing that back. We’ve started to have gatherings here where people discuss the problems of our times and try to figure out solutions. That’s Latimer’s legacy.”


Looking into the artwork of LIC artist Luba Lukova

| aaltamirano@queenscourier.com

Aeroblue © Luba Lukova

What was only supposed to be a one-week visit to New York for an international exhibition has turned into about 25 years of success for Long Island City artist Luba Lukova.

As a young girl in Bulgaria, Lukova never had a doubt as to what she wanted to be when she grew up. Influenced by her grandmother who was an artist, Lukova began to attend art classes and then graduated from an art academy.

Through an invite from Colorado State University, where school officials had seen some of her early artwork, Lukova came to New York for an organized exhibition featuring artists from all over the world.

Her initial idea was to stay in New York for a week and then return to Bulgaria, but she decided to stay indefinitely, and in 1991, she began drawing illustrations for the book review section of The New York Times. She then moved on and drew for the publication’s Op-Ed section covering subjects such as the Middle East.

These illustrations opened up doors for Lukova, exposing her to a larger audience, which got her into theatre work creating posters, and years later she even got a call from then-presidential candidate Barack Obama’s campaign to use one of her images months before his inauguration.

“It was just a miracle. I never went back [to Bulgaria],” she said. “For a young artist, it was a mind-blowing experience and when I saw the reaction of the people, it was really very exciting for me.”

Lukova’s pieces, whether they are on a canvas or theatre poster, all convey social and political issues in what she calls a “simple and accessible way.” She tells a whole story with just a few colors and images and creates visual metaphors for viewers to take in.

“[My artwork] involves thinking and the viewer’s participation,” she said. “All of my work is like that — it’s always provoking stuff. I try to make it accessible and bring something to the contemporary viewer that can stop them and make them think.”

Her “Social Justice” poster portfolio, the first publication from her own publishing company, has gotten her national and international acclaim. Currently some of her work is part of a show at the Museum of Modern Art and Denver Art Museum.

After moving out of Manhattan following 9/11, Lukova has been working and living in the booming art scene found in Long Island City. Last year she took part in the LIC Arts Open festival, which introduced her to a community she has now become a part of and loves.

“I think it’s a great group of artists with a lot of energy,” she said. “The art community here is growing and it is so huge.”

This year Lukova designed the poster for the LIC Arts Open, and her exhibition “Drama on Paper: Posters for the Stage” can be found at The Local at 13-02 44th Ave. throughout the festival.

     LIC ARTS OPEN POSTER © Luba Lukova

“I’m excited to be a part of it again,” Lukova said. “I think what [the festival organizers] do is very admirable and I hope we will keep the community here and we will expand. Because New York without the arts would be a very sad picture. We don’t just want New York to be the city with museums; we need the real art here.”