Shanequa Benitez: “But It’s Ours”: The Redline between Poverty and Wealth

Co-sponsored by Groundwork Hudson Valley
March 5, 2024   -   April 10, 2024

This exhibition is co-sponsored by Groundwork Hudson Valley, Yonkers.

Curated by Nina Serrano ’25

There will be an opening reception at the Barbara Walters Gallery on March 5 from 5 to 7 pm, and a community workshop at CURB on March 9 from 12 to 3 pm.

Barbara Walters Gallery hours: Weekdays 10-4 and Weekends 1-4

CURB hours: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday 12-3 and Tuesdays 3/12, 3/19, 3/26 and 4/2 5-7 pm

Listen to Groundwork Hudson Valley’s Green Team and Shanequa Benitez talk about environmental racism.

 

In large-scale, vibrant paintings and documentary photographs, Shanequa Benitez visualizes the experiences of environmental racism and redlining in her native Yonkers, NY. Beginning in the 1930s, Yonkers was divided by racist, discriminatory housing policies that segregated the city through racial covenants excluding Black buyers from white communities and by denying loans to Black owners––forms of systemic oppression with ongoing impacts on the community such as financial inequity, food deserts, and poor or nonexistent access to health care. As a member of the Climate Safe Yonkers Task Force, Benitez draws on research by partner organization Groundwork Hudson Valley to connect redlining and the climate crisis, which shows that redlined neighborhoods experience extreme heat disproportionately when compared to “greenlined,” historically white neighborhoods in Yonkers, where Sarah Lawrence’s campus is located.

 

Through portraits, scenes of urban life, and photographs, Benitez explores environmental injustice on the ground, intimately making visible the experience of extreme temperatures, the lack of access to green spaces, and inadequate healthcare. She makes vivid the forms of “slow violence” through which the climate crisis impacts her community.

 

Benitez’s paintings stem from her photographic practice––she used her grandfather’s Vivitar 35-millimeter camera to document friends at Cromwell Towers, in the Locust Hill neighborhood of Yonkers, where Benitez grew up. In paintings that shift in scales and move between surface and depth through collage techniques and inclusion of the written word, Benitez explores themes of injustice, joy, and healing. As Benitez writes in a statement from which the exhibition’s title is drawn, “Even when faced with adversity, denial, and the lack of resources, POC have learned to be resilient. One thing most POC share is pride for their community and neighborhood, because IT’S OURS!”

 

Shanequa Benitez personifies the resilience inherent in adversity. Through her art, Benitez not only reflects the essence of contemporary times but also embraces it as a medium for personal storytelling, enabling her to reclaim her narrative on her own terms. Raised in the housing projects of Yonkers, NY, she confronted the harsh realities of drugs from a tender age. At the age of 18, she became entangled in the drug trade, an unfortunate turn of events that resulted in a broken jaw stemming from a botched transaction. Witnessing the loss of friends to violence or incarceration served as a profound awakening for her. In 2010, Benitez’s transformative journey found a pivotal moment when she was featured in the documentary “The House I Live In.” This influential film shed light on America’s ineffective and costly War on Drugs, as well as its dysfunctional prison system. Benitez attributes her involvement in this documentary as a catalyst that forever altered the trajectory of her life. Today, she channels her focus into artistic endeavors encompassing painting, photography, and writing. Additionally, she has ventured into the realm of clothing design. In 2021, she was the inaugural artist-in-residence for the nonprofit Yonkers Arts and the Municipal Housing Authority for the City of Yonkers (MHACY), and in 2023, she had a solo exhibition at Yonkers Arts. She is a member of Groundwork Hudson Valley’s Climate Safe Yonkers Task Force.

A Collaboration Between Groundwork Hudson Valley, The Center for the Urban River at Beczak, Bronx Community College, and Sarah Lawrence College