Nicholasa Mohr and New York's Puerto Rican Migration
This topical collection explores Antonio Martorell's portrait of prolific Latina author Nicholasa Mohr, and is displayed with a range of resources that offer a view, through art, portraiture, and literature, into the lives of Puerto Rican migrants to the continental United States in the early to mid-twentieth century. The images and resources can be used as discussion or writing prompts in a variety of courses, including history, culture, literature, and language.
The portrait itself, one of a series of 45-minute portraits that Martorell made of his artist friends, captures Mohr's spirit, much in the way that Mohr's writing brings to life the people, sounds, and activities of New York's Puerto Rican migrants in the twentieth century. The collection also includes a bilingual video with National Portrait Gallery curator Taína Caragol, as well as the first page and a review of "Nilda," one of Mohr's most well-known novels, about a Puerto Rican girl coming of age in New York during World War II. This book was selected as an "Outstanding Book of the Year" by the New York Times, and a "Best Book of 1973" by the American Library Association.
The collection also includes images and a bilingual podcast by Martorell speaking about a different work in the Smithsonian American Art Museum collection, "La Playa Negra" ("Tar Beach"), which is the term used by Puerto Rican migrants for the rooftops of tenement buildings. As the label describes, in this painting, "a fashionable woman wears a fur-collared coat and sits in front of a New York City skyline. Her hardworking double on the left sits behind a sewing machine. In his "Playa Negra" ("Tar Beach") series, Martorell juxtaposed migrants' prosperous self-image with a glimpse of their tiring labor."
The collection also includes a series of photographs from the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum, by Hiram Maristany, a resident and photographer of the El Barrio neighborhood. Maristany grew up with eight siblings on East 111th Street.
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