“Ground Zero Mosques and other Tales” (A continuing conversation among construction workers)
A collective of union construction workers including a manager for the MTA, a plumber, and several Local 3 electricians who attend SUNY Harry Van Arsdale Jr. School for Labor Studies collaborated with me to create an ongoing installation. A few of the participants have also at one time taken a course entitled "Contemporary Islam" at SUNY and/or my class about public art and wondered whether using art and altering physical space in specific ways could create a place for pedagogy,dialogue,and maybe greater understanding of others.
Initially taking up the contentious issue of Park 51-of special significance in the building trades-and the representation in the media of construction workers fiercely and viscerally protesting the “Ground Zero Mosque,” the collective has built an open shanty, the provisional structure well-known to construction workers on the construction site to stage an on-going dialogue sparked by the controversy. According to the members in the building trades, the shanty is where very spirited conversations occur during coffee break, bitter arguments take place, and strong camaraderies flourish.The mock shanty the workers fabricated occupies a corner of my studio, but can be adapted to fit in a variety of places as is the case when on the job.
The workers spoke about the monolithic portrayal of Muslims, and inadvertently, construction workers. How the union work ethic impacts this discussion for construction workers was raised, as well as how someone creates space for patience and tolerance of others differences.The space created by the installation--and by being questioned by a fellow worker in the trades- encouraged a candor, depth, and kinship amongst the participants, that necessarily bridged to issues of difference and otherness in and out of the workplace.