Carlos Morales, a Port Jefferson artist, put the finishing touches on a piece in Stony Brook — a nearly floor-to-ceiling ofrenda — an altarlike work in tribute to migrants who crossed the U.S. southern border and never saw their loved ones again.
Morales' ofrenda is part of a showing at the Long Island Museum in Stony Brook that includes more than 85 works by 82 artists in a new exhibit, "SOMOS/We Are," in honor of Hispanic Heritage Month. The exhibit began Thursday and continues through Dec. 17.
Morales, 46, who helped start the Latino Arts Council of Long Island, said he wanted his piece to stand as a tribute to migrants and those who crossed the border and died before ever seeing their families back home again.
He also said the exhibit is a rarity on Long Island.
“This is an amazing opportunity for us. This is the first time for Latino artists on Long Island to show off their work,” said Morales, who was born in Mexico City. “Many people, when they think of undocumented immigrants or how they’ve been portrayed on Long Island, it has never been in a positive way. I want to show this is important. These people are part of the fabric that contributes to Long Island. Many times, they’ve been ignored and not mentioned like in this piece.”
The exhibit has been years in the making, organizers said, and includes artists from Huntington, Central Islip, Brentwood, Farmingville and throughout the East End as well as New York City.
It is being guest-curated by Kelynn Alder, a Mexican American artist from St. James and a professor at the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan. When she moved to Long Island 30 years ago, Alder said, she felt isolated, but soon connected with other Hispanic artists and learned to paint New York and Long Island locales that reflect her heritage.
“It’s like family in a way,” Alder said. “We realized we have so much in common. We could fill this museum again with people not represented here. The point is to show the massive amount of talent we have on Long Island. This is to say that we’re not alone. We express ourselves in different ways about our culture.”
Another exhibit features a "living memory box" by Adrian Roman, 46, of Brooklyn who said his hanging interactive charcoal painting serves as a tribute to the people of Puerto Rico and relief efforts after Hurricane Maria nearly six years ago.
Hanging from the ceiling in the middle of the museum, Roman’s three-dimensional painting depicts the elderly face of a woman he met in Puerto Rico who lost her belongings during the storm.
Memory boxes generally include belongings buried with family members after they die, but Roman said he wanted to create a tribute to the survivor of the storm, Digna Quiles, to allow the viewer to look into her eyes.
The piece is equipped with an audio reading of a poem and once you walk underneath it, the inside of the box shows belongings and refuse Roman collected from the streets of Puerto Rico. It includes a crucifix, trophies Roman found in the streets, caution tape, military ready to eat meals and expired medicine.
“There were a lot of people who asked what was their life like. They look into their eyes and think what are they thinking. This is to honor those we pass every day and may not acknowledge their presence,” he said. “She was a survivor of Maria and I felt like she needed her story needed to be told. She represents the collective experience of hundreds of thousands of people who experienced similar things.”