Local artist captures borough’s “hidden stories”

Artist Carol Sun explains the meaning behind her work. Photo by: April Warren

By April Warren

Growing up in the Kingsbridge and Fordham sections of the Bronx during the late 1960s wasn’t always easy for Carol Sun, the daughter of immigrants from Shanghai.  Street fighting and name calling often reminded her that not too many of her neighbors shared her Asian-American ancestry.

“There was a lot of racism, a lot of people had a lot of hostility because of the Vietnam War,” said Sun, 52, an art teacher at the Bronx High School for the Visual Arts, explaining her Chinese background was sometimes mistaken for Vietnamese.  “It was kind of intense, but I survived my childhood.”

Sun, an artist in her own right, uses images from her childhood in her art.  Samples of her work can be found in the stained glass artwork at the 167th Street subway station where scenes from the New York Botanical Garden, Orchard Beach and Van Cortlandt Park are pieced together from memory.

Sun’s latest work inspired by the borough can be found at the Bronx Museum of the Arts in the exhibition “Urban Archives: Happy Together,” which opened last year and has now been extended to June 6.  The space is the only contemporary fine art museum in the Bronx and will celebrate its 40th anniversary later this year.

The museum’s charter indicates the organization’s commitment to displaying artwork by artists with Asian, Latin American and African ancestry, a reflection of the borough’s immigrant roots, according to the museum’s program director Sergio Bessa.

First conceptualized in 1971 in a nearby courthouse rotunda, the museum later moved into a neighborhood synagogue.  The current 16,000 sq ft. museum space opened in October of 2006 on Grand Concourse.

For decades, the museum has reached out to local artists and the community through various programs ranging from curatorial practices to public art opportunities and legal issues associated with the profession.  One program, which launches this year, will send 15 artists abroad to set up community-based art projects in countries such as China, Ecuador, Egypt, India, Kenya, Turkey and the Philippines.

“We are not a community center but I think the Bronx is very proud of its network of grassroots organizations,” Bessa said.

The museum also focuses on bringing the appreciation of art to the borough’s youth.  Specifically, a Teen Council program allows students to make art through videos and participate in other events.  In addition, the museum partnered with P.S. 73 to form a curriculum where third and fourth graders visit the space eight times per year to learn about art and what archiving entails – a process the museum staff likens to archiving baseball cards.

“We are interested in offering an alternative model for kids to engage in culture,” Bessa said.  “A lot of kids in the Bronx come from families who aren’t aware of what museums are.”

To attract youth, the museum has held exhibitions on hip-hop and other cultural related topics such as film and theater over the years.  It has also worked with artist Sun’s academic home, the Bronx High School for the Visual Arts in order to show students what career opportunities are available for artists after graduation.

Sun’s career has no doubt been influence by the borough she grew up in – and it’s helped her artistic vision in the classroom and at the easel.

“I like lost or hidden stories,” said Sun of her artwork.  “Things that are overlooked in the mainstream.”

Sun, who now lives in Brooklyn, received a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Cooper Union and a Masters of Fine Art from Vermont College.

The background of her new artwork hanging in the museum is a large strip of wallpaper displaying various scenes, often referred to as a “toile” that is common in French wallpaper. Instead, Sun’s is a “Bronx toile” depicting indigenous birds taking flight, weeds growing up through fence links and a scene from the Grand Concourse.

The second layer of the piece is a series of plates, which Sun has collected for years.  Each plate has been customized with something from her world, including a cartoon painting of Felix the Cat, a plush toy she once collected from a fast food restaurant and fence links on another.  A pair of plates next to each other, show the components of a chain lock for the inside of an apartment door.  She titled this piece of the artwork, “Marriage.”  “If you have one side without the other side its kind of useless,” Sun explained.

For Sun, the museum serves more than one purpose.

“I love the museum, said Sun.  “It serves a very important role in the Bronx community and certainly in the art community, showcasing artists that are not part of the mainstream.”

“Urban Archives: Happy Together” is on display through June 6.  The museum is open Thursday through Sunday and admission is $5 for adults, $3 for students and seniors and free for children up to age 6.

One Response to “Local artist captures borough’s “hidden stories””


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by bronxmuseum and NYPL Kingsbridge , KHCC NYC. KHCC NYC said: Go see the artwork of Kingsbridge Heights native Carol Sun on display at the @bronxmuseum http://bit.ly/dUBGO2 […]

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