Making Rhythms Out of Barriers: Infrastructural Interventions by Migrant Artists on the Lower East Side (1975-1989)


Luce/ACLS Dissertation Fellowships in American Art




This dissertation examines a network of (im)migrant artists on the Lower East Side (LES) of Manhattan, using the local as a frame for understanding artistic production as embedded in the cultural, social, and spatial intimacies of urban geography and migration. Artists central to this project engaged with an aesthetic of ruin both historically resonant and immediately responsive to their environment: repurposing architectural detritus as material, embracing qualities of non-permanence and degradation, and documenting post-industrial decline.

Through methods of oral history, spatial art history, and social history, “Making Rhythms Out of Barriers” considers the artists’ convergence in relation to two interrelated conditions: immigration policy changes and municipal divestment in anticipation of gentrification. Examining how artists responded to the atrophied LES in their work, this dissertation contends that artistic practices were intertwined with the cultivation of a communitarian ethos to address the conditions of the neighborhood as well as the cultural and personal isolation of migration.