On the cusp of Dominican Independence Day, visual artist M. Tony Peralta cut the ribbon for his two-day exhibit, "Second Home-Coming," at iLon Art Gallery. The ode to Dominican pride is not the first for the Washington Heights native, but under the cloud of "Trump's America," his latest series is a much-needed umbrella of cultural affirmation.
To capture the various facets of life in the Dominican Republic, the Peralta Project founder reached no further than his iPhone camera during his latest trip in January, a yearly tradition he holds close as the son of immigrants.
"With the current political climate, you want to gravitate to something else because the United States keeps trying to remind you that you're not a part of this, so for me it's about learning more and connecting with my roots," he told VIBE Viva at his VIP preview on Friday night (Feb. 24).
"Second Home-Coming" materialized after Peralta shared a hand-lettered snapshot of the island's top brewed beer on Instagram. "I did 'Dead Presidentes' and people really engaged with it online," he said. "I just continued [taking photos] while I was out there and decided to do an exhibit when I got back to New York."
As salsa music pulsed through the classic West Harlem brownstone, a string of guests – several artists themselves – fixated on each photo on display, including the ever-relatable "Everyday Hustle" and "The People," a look into La Marcha Verde that put corrupt government officials on notice in the wake of el Caso Odebrecht.
Throughout the three-hour event, kipe (quipe) and pastelitos one room over coupled with complimentary drinks provided by event sponsor Johnnie Walker at a bar two steep flights downstairs made for an ideal study break, but even then, note exchanges carried on.
"[Peralta's] art creates a bridge," Talia Concepcion, a first-generation New Yorker who last visited the Dominican Republic in 2011, told me. "I've always felt like I lived in limbo [as the daughter of immigrants], and I feel like his art creates a connection between the two worlds because it validates your experience."
Brooklyn-based designer Lizania Cruz echoed similar sentiments. "We can relate [to each other], but there are small intricacies," the Santo Domingo native said in reference to differences between Dominicans at home and abroad. "We were embedded in the culture, and we're more like outsiders here [in the U.S.], but I still relate a lot to his work because it's bringing a new perspective."
As the Dominican Republic rings in 173 years of sovereignty after fighting for its identity under Spanish, French and Haitian rule, Peralta affirms that like defending blackness, championing the common ground among Dominicans is also embedded in his mission. "I definitely want to be a vessel in bridging the gap between the Dominican Republic and New York Dominicans for sure."
Keep up with the Peralta Project here.