One only has to look at the artworks by Aliza Nisenbaum to see an interpretation of the fabric of human culture.
Nisenbaum, a Mexican-born, New York based artist has spent years capturing the essence of those less likely to be caught in the limelight. Unlike celebrities, whose faces pepper broadsheets and electronic media on a daily basis, Nisenbaum looks for the faces of undiscovered individuals, who form the very essence of society.
In the words of Aliza, ‘the problem today is that we are not sitting with real people, face to face, we are shouting to each other on social media. I’m much more interested in what it means to sit silently, in a relaxed setting, chatting with someone while you go through a very slow process of looking and paying attention, then translating that to paint. These sittings can often turn to discussions that are intimate, political or difficult.’
Inspired by her own experiences of Jewish persecution, when her family fled war torn Russia to settle in Mexico, Nisenbaum found her true calling in combining two of her passions, art and psychology, into painting murals that depict her subject’s own journey in life.
Having grown up painting still life and large abstracts, Nisenbaum eventually took a position in 2013 as an Art and English teacher at the Immigrant Movement International (IMM) Community Hall.
Here, she was charged with helping Mexican and Central American Immigrant Women learn the basic skills of English through art. It was through her class ‘English through Feminist Art History’, that Nisenbaum learned of the courageous stories that the student women told of their journey to the US. Being a part of the undocumented immigrant population, many of whom felt ignored and in part suppressed, Nisenbaum paintings have given them a voice through which to express their opinions and feelings. In a way, one can view it as ‘art without borders.’
Nisenbaum recently took her artistic talents to London, with her first public commission at the Brixton Underground Station. Her mural ‘Transport for London Staff’ depicts a montage of fifteen individual paintings, where the subjects make up a diverse community that use the underground for shuttling between places.
Whether having grown up around the area or using the station for their daily commute, each wanted their portrait to stand for the change one can see across the generations. Although the subjects did not know one another initially, Nisenbaum describes having worked with them in groups as being a way of unifying the different communities that make up the area.
Interestingly, she goes on to describe the way they sit, and their expressions all reflect their feelings about something. In this case, it was an example of what they felt about Britain’s departure from Brexit.