After months of controversy, the Park51 Islamic Cultural Center opened in lower Manhattan on September 21 with a photo exhibition that celebrates New York’s diversity. “NYChildren” is an ongoing project by photographer Danny Goldfield, who is photographing a New York City child born in every country in the world. The hundreds of visitors and international journalists who crowded into the refurbished storefront for the opening last night got to see the 169 photos Goldfield has taken in New York City since he began the project in 2004. It’s a feel-good debut exhibition for Park51, dubbed “the Ground Zero mosque” by protesters who opposed the opening of an Islamic cultural and prayer center within a five-minute walk of the September 11 Memorial site.
The day after the opening, Goldfield was still amazed by the crowd at the event. “I don’t know how many journalists I talked to last night,” he told PDN. He noted that some in last night’s crowd may have been wary visiting the space. “My hope is that they’ll step through the threshold and be in this pristine white gallery with 169 photos and feel more comfortable.”
Goldfield, who describes himself as “a proud Jew,” says his NYChildren project was inspired by the idea that bonding with our neighbors can strengthen communities.
In 2003, Goldfield was driving to New York from Los Angeles, where he attended film school. He stopped in Mesa, Arizona, where he met Rana Sodhi, an Indian-born Sikh whose brother was killed in a hate crime four days after September 11. Sodhi told Goldfield that after the murder, rather than living in fear, he made an effort to get to know his neighbors. By the time Goldfield got home to New York, he had hatched the idea to meet his diverse neighbors by photographing a child born in every country in the world – all living in New York City.
To find his subjects, he contacts immigrant organizations, community centers, clergy, phone card stores and restaurants. “I would say there isn’t an inch of subway that I haven’t traveled,” he notes. The project has been exhibited around New York and in Denmark, and been featured in Life, the New York Daily News, on the BBC and CNN. Last year he self-published a book, which he is selling through Amazon and his own Web site to help fund the ongoing project.
He had just received a few advanced copies of the book last summer when a friend who works with the lower Manhattan community introduced him to Sharif El-Gamal, chairman of Park51. After looking at the book, El-Gamal immediately suggested the project should be Park51’s first exhibition. “I just as impulsively agreed,” Goldfield recalls.
The Park51 show, like all of Goldfield’s previous exhibitions, displays the criteria he uses to choose his subjects, and a list of the countries he still wants to represent. Goldfield says he still needs to photograph kids from 25 countries, including Andorra, Benin, Qatar, Kuwait, Palau, the Maldives, and Vanuatu. (The recent formation of South Sudan, the world’s newest nation, meant he had to add one more country to his list.) Visitors are encouraged to contact friends or neighbors and suggest new subjects. “You might catch yourself participating in a community project that’s currently housed in Park51. That’s the experience I want people to have.”
If you know a parent of a child born in one of the 25 countries remaining on his list and currently residing in New York City, you can contact Goldfield through his Web site, dannygoldfield.com/.
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