Heidi Howard




Exchange Place Portraits in Jersey City through Exchange Place Alliance curated by Deirdre Newman

I came to this space, fortuitously called “Exchange Place,” with my mother Liz Phillips. I brought with me stories of the location where my mother was born upside down (feet first) in a taxi, as well as stories of my grandfather’s office with its view of the Statue of Liberty. These fluctuated with memories of the skyline and my imaginings of what my ancestors first saw when they landed in this country. Liz Phillips and I came to Jersey City to imagine another iteration of our 2018-2020 Queens Museum project, “Relative Fields in a Garden” that imaged the Sunnyside-garden of my mother and her family over the four seasons. I originally thought I would paint a family tree, but photographs of my relatives were scarce and my conception of home and space were forever changed by the pandemic. Instead, I came to focus on the part of my Jewish ancestry that I most cherish––our history as nomads able to adapt to new lands, new cultures, and to our practice of embracing questions and change. I now define my concept of home as a state of accepting complexity and as a space where people build community in spite of transience.

When I grew up in Queens, it was the most culturally diverse place in the world. I was delighted to hear from Nur-E Gulshan Rahman that Jersey City is now in competition, sometimes superseding Queens in that ranking. In this space, so permeated by water and human ambition, I wanted to paint some of the people providing nutrients to the environment and its people, literally and culturally. I painted Nur-E Gulshan Rahman and Nur-E Farhana Rahman–– the amazing mother/ daughter duo who run the delicious Korai Kitchen. I painted Midori Yoshimoto, who directs the New Jersey City University Art Galleries and has a beautiful garden like her mother's in Onomichi. She also often writes about postwar Japanese art and its global intersections, with a special focus on women artists and feminism. I painted Tatiana Smith, who is also a gardener and a doula, and started a community fridge that feeds around 600 people a week. It is a pleasure to bring my portraits off the wall, to let them be changed by intense wind, rain, day and night light, and then to share them with passersby–– new friends and potential allies.