Artist Arantxa X. Rodriguez on painting murals at Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx

The following text is by Mexican artist Arantxa X. Rodriguez, who will share her experience creating the Lincoln Hospital murals with Untapped New York Insiders during a virtual talk on April 21 at 12 p.m. This event is free for Untapped New York Insiders. If you’re not an insider, become a member now (JOINUS code to get one month free).

A Conversation with Arantxa Rodriguez – New York Hospital Muralist

At the beginning of 2020, I was selected via an open call to create a fresco inside Lincoln Hospital in the Bronx. This opportunity was organized by the Arts in Medicine department of NYC Health + Hospitals, in collaboration with Residency Unlimited. I was thrilled to produce such a large-scale work in such an important public place and eager to begin the project. We had our first team meeting just before Covid-19 started, and the project was put on indefinite hold. During a time of uncertainty and fear, I flew to Mexico, finding peace and refuge in my parents’ house. I found a lot of comfort there, but I quickly realized that this withdrawal in the life and the house of my parents affected my independence and my identity as an artist. After three months in Mexico, I decided to return to New York to fight for my project, my career and my artist visa.

My return to New York was tumultuous and the summer of 2020 had some of the highs and lows of my life. I decided to give up my Manhattan apartment, which I could no longer afford, and lived a nomadic existence. I didn’t know where I would go next or how long I would be in the country, as I wasn’t sure if I would receive my artist visa. It was around this time that I received the crucial email from Lincoln Hospital, explaining that the mural project was back on. I immediately agreed to come back to this project, and it gave me something to focus on when so many other things seemed unresolved.

mural by Arantxa Rodriguez at Lincoln Hospital
Photo by Anders Jones

When I initially received this mural project, I submitted two potential sketches: one that would adorn the escalator, and a second that would hang in the maternity ward. We decided to go ahead with the first mural. I rented a room in Harlem and started putting my plans into action. I painted the mural on a material called Polytab, a very thin fabric that allowed me to paint offsite in my studio and then glue the mural to the final destination. The painting itself took about a month and a half, then I spent about three weeks on site installing the mural at Lincoln Hospital. I titled this fresco The formation of abundancee.

At a time of personal and community uncertainty, this project affirmed my identity as an artist and taught me the power of public artwork. The Bronx has a large Latin community, which is extremely important to me as a Mexican artist. During the installation, I met so many people from different backgrounds: doctors, nurses, staff, patients and community members. I received a thousand nice comments and “God bless you” from passers-by. I have seen many patients recover from Covid-19 and other illnesses. I was so moved by these encounters that I promised to return one day to complete the second mural as a donation.

Arantxa Rodriguez in front of her fresco
Photo of Arantxa X. Rodriguez by Anders Jones

After completing the first installation, I applied for as many grants and opportunities as possible, and eventually received the City Artist Corps Fellowship. This grant, coupled with help from NYC Health + Hospitals, got me started on the maternity ward mural. All the while, the pandemic has continued as different threatening waves and variants have emerged. Delays pushed the project further into 2022, but when we finally settled on a date for the unveiling, we hit the perfect one: March 8, International Women’s Day. I couldn’t imagine a more fitting day to unveil this mural, which I titled Blooming flowers.

Visually, both murals are very geometric and full of mandalas, something that has been present in my work for a long time. In the motherhood fresco, in each mandala, I painted figures of ambiguous gender and ethnicity, highlighting the diversity of mothers and caregivers. These life forms grow and develop, radiating outward in images that refer to cells, flowers and other organic forms. The mural shows a universe in constant motion: past, present and future.

These visual cycles of life and time are particularly significant given the history of New York City’s public health system, and Lincoln Hospital in particular. In the 1970s, the Young Lords and Black Panthers advocated for better public health care through activism and protests. Much of this activism was concentrated in Harlem and the Bronx, areas largely overlooked in favor of wealthier neighborhoods. In response to the city’s continued indifference, the Young Lords eventually occupied Lincoln Hospital, forcing the government to consider the needs of the community and improve poor health care conditions at the hospital. New York City’s current public health system was made possible through Young Lords activism.

Photo by Linda Morales

Although the healthcare system in this country is very imperfect, Lincoln Hospital today offers many public resources. No matter who you are, what language you speak or your legal status, you can receive care here. I have heard so many amazing stories about the unique care provided at Lincoln Hospital. One in particular that stood out to me was that of a couple in Paraguay who were expecting their first child, Candela. They were told that their baby would be born with a serious heart condition and only difficult and expensive surgery could help them. The parents were desperate for funds to save their baby. Marcello Villagran, who directs communications for Lincoln Hospital, learned of the couple’s struggles and made contact with the Paraguayan consulate in New York. He was able to arrange for the couple to come to New York, where the operation would be possible.

This story is just one of many that echo through the corridors of the hospital. I made so many meaningful connections to Lincoln Hospital and the surrounding Bronx neighborhood. These murals pay tribute to the work of the activists, doctors and staff who contributed to this legacy. Painting there really filled me with life and inspiration, and I wish I could decorate every hallway in the hospital.

Mexican artist Arantxa Rodriguez, who will share her experience creating the Lincoln Hospital murals with Untapped New York Insiders during a virtual talk on April 21 at 12 p.m. This event is free for Untapped New York Insiders. If you’re not an insider, become a member now (JOINUS code to get one month free).

Arantxa Rodriguez in front of her fresco

A Conversation with Arantxa Rodriguez – New York Hospital Muralist

Then read about 10 new public art installations in New York for March 2022!

About Catharine C. Bean

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