New York Memory Project: Susan Schwalb
Susan Shwalb is a visual artist from NYC. Interviewed by Antígona González.
Keywords / Subjects:
Childhood, Family, Heritage, Being Jewish, Spiritual beliefs, Travels, School, Highschool, Art, Women in Art, Women Activism, Pandemic from home
Notes from the Interviews
“We talked about her childhood in the Bronx, her Jewish heritage, her parent’s life, the passing away of her sister at a very young age, and her first impulses to become an artist. She shared with me the results of her husband’s studies, he was diagnosed with Esophagus cancer. The day we agreed to talk, I also felt that she was very worried and not in her best mood. When I asked her if she would prefer to talk another day she responded: ‘No, let’s go ahead and talk about my life, that helps me to get distracted by things at home.’ Again we talked for about half an hour.”
Quotes from the Interviews:
“An artist never retires. I always wanted to be an artist, since I was 5 even when I didn’t know what that meant, the MET was my second playground”
About her sister passing: “You have these moments in your life which are like a crossroad, where you like it could have been different and something big happened and it switches completely, my life would have been different if she had stayed alive, no question in my mind, but she didn’t”.
“I think about a lot of of people, friends who are not alive , at this point there is so many people that you’ve lost, is not the virus, just getting older”
“An artist’s life is essentially a solitary work. Artists are by nature solitary. A lot of us couldn’t go to our studios during these times”.
At the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City, FABnyc responded by dedicating staff time to aiding local efforts to calling senior members of the LES community to make sure they had all they needed during the lockdown. As we talked with the elders, we realized that beyond basic human needs, connection and conversation can also be meaningful, particularly for those with limited online access. Out of this realization came the New York Memory Project, which was taken on as an oral history project by artist and FABnyc collaborator Antígona González.
The New York Memory Project aimed to achieve a deeper understanding and create dialogue between the artist and the interviewed elders in order to communicate and share their (and our) truths, in spite of what we all were facing: isolation, uncertainty, and fear throughout these difficult times.
After recording several interviews, González has developed her own narrative of the project, and highlights interviews with folks who have lived through times of social injustice, political upheaval, personal growth, and, now, a global pandemic exacerbating all of the above. The New York Memory Project, in centering the artist’s experience and work, seeks to uplift the voices of the most vulnerable and yet most powerful of our community: our elders.