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Daniel Bejar at Socrates Sculpture Park

By Peggy Roalf   Thursday April 1, 2021

Daniel Bejar has built a career that bridges art and design, earning honors such as the prestigious New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Interdisciplinary Work, numerous residencies and a steady flow of group and solo exhibitions. In his 2016 DART Q&A, Daniel talked about the art of managing both sides of his practice, saying, “It really comes down to prioritizing my deadlines between commissioned work and personal work. If I’m not working on commissioned work, then I’ll be working on deadlines for personal work and vice versa. I find the switching between the two provides a mental break from each practice and allows me to come back to each one with fresh eyes. It also allows for some subtle unconscious cross over between the two bodies of work. It’s definitely a balancing act, but I love it!”

On the closing weekend of Monuments Now, at Socrates Sculpture Park, which includes his piece, Monument for Immigrants (In Advance of an ICE Raid), he will be present Friday late afternoon. Following is an interview with Daniel conducted this week by email.   

Peggy Roalf: You quote the theorist Umberto Eco, who described a unique feature of American culture: “The American imagination demands the real thing, and to attain it, must fabricate the absolute fake.” And Robert Musil: “There is nothing in this world as invisible as monuments.” Do you feel that it takes an “outsider” view to deconstruct cultural foibles such as these? And what is there about the fake— fake news, fake identities, and here, fake boulders—that so intrigues you? 

Daniel Bejar: I love that quote by Eco. The quote comes from an essay “Travels in Hyperreality” in which he wrote about his travels throughout America seeking the ultimate fake and experiencing Disney World, wax museums, Western movie sets, and Superman for the first time. In the case of Eco, being a tourist from Italy and traveling to a new land with a fresh set of eyes provided a perspective of a place that a “local” might take for granted.

I find the concept of the fake and the timeless human pursuit to replicate the real world fascinating. Influenced by Walter Benjamin’s essay “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction”, I’m interested in how the history of a copy gets corrupted or can be constructed through the process of replication. 

Applying these ideas to projects like Monument for Immigrants (In Advance of an ICE Raid), The Googlegänger, Operation Guest, and Agloe, NY my work explores and questions where the politics of the body and of space intersect within our physical and digital worlds. 

PR: Political action and propaganda, and the immigrant experience in this case, has always been evident in your work, both in art and in illustration. Can you point to anything in your background as you evolved as an artist that has strengthened your resolve in these matters? 

DB: I think my experience as a Puerto Rican American and knowing the history of the island as a United States territory since 1898 has influenced my historical perspective on the lasting and ongoing consequences of the U.S. Empire’s colonialism. It’s through this lens that I see my work with images, actions and interventions, in both my art practice and my illustration work, as tools to create change within a system of white supremacy. 

PR: There is a conceptually seamless interplay between idea and image in Monument for Immigrants. When it comes to sculpture, I’m always intrigued by how materials can lead an artist on to previously uncharted paths. Can you talk about how you discovered the “RealRock” product and how it played into your thought process? 

DB: Monument for Immigrants was initially motivated by a news story I read about ICE agents setting up a fake university in Michigan, The University of Farmington, to entrap immigrants. This fake university even had a physical location, “professors" (ICE agents), a website, and active social media accounts.

Applying ICE’s strategies of illusion & deception onto a monument that adopts the form of a memorial boulder, I incorporated a fake boulder, most commonly used in landscape design to disguise eyesores in suburban settings, into my a memorial boulder. My monument creates an illusion that provides a very real sanctuary space for undocumented New Yorkers in the event of an Immigration and Customs Enforcement raid. By cutting a concealed opening into the artificial rock hidden underneath its plaque, a person in need is able to enter the monument turned covert shelter. Inside are emergency supplies such as a burner phone, water, and legal information on what to do if detained in an ICE raid. 


The discovery that the fake boulder was made from a trademarked material called “RealRock” was a happy accident as was the fake rock company’s slogan; “Do you have something tho hide? 

PR: As Monuments Now comes to a close at Socrates, can you say anything about your next installation project—what is in the works, in process, or in sketchbook form? 

DB: MONUMENTS NOW exhibition curated by Jess Wilcox at Socrates Sculpture Park was and will be on view until April 4th!
I’m currently working on some projects that are a little under wraps but what I can say is that I’m excited to share that my first book Dear Aisha Volume 1 based on a work from my Operation Guest project will be released very soon. I’m also currently working on a commission from the Public Schools for Public Art program in NYC to create a permanent public artwork in a new school opening in 2022. More details about these projects coming soon, please follow @danielbejar on Instagram for all updates. 

Monuments Now, Park II closes on Sunday April 4 at Socrates Sculpture Park, 32-01 Vernon Boulevard, Long Island City, NY. Info

Daniel Bejar is an interdisciplinary artist based in Brooklyn, NY. His work challenges the politics of space and bodies  within the public realms of our physical and digital worlds through site-specific performance, intervention, installation, photography, video, text, sculpture, and web-based media. 

In 2018, Bejar was commissioned to create a permanent public artwork at a public school in Queens, NY, by NYC Percent for Art & NYC SCA Public Art for Public Schools. Bejar has received many prestigious awards including the New York Foundation for the Arts Fellowship in Interdisciplinary Work (2015), a Franklin Furnace Fund Grant (2014), and the Rema Hort Mann Foundation Artist Grant (2013).

Bejar has also participated in several residencies including The Drawing Center's Open Sessions Program, New York, NY (2016-17); Lower Manhattan Cultural Council’s Workspace Residency, New York, NY (2011-12); and the SOMA Summer Program, Mexico City, D.F. (2012). His work has been featured in publications such as the New Yorker, Harpers Bazaar HK, Magazine B, and Hyperallergic, among others.

His work was also recently included in the Vector Artists Journal #8 which launched at the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has exhibited nationally and internationally at venues including The Drawing Center, New York, NY; Brooklyn Museum, NY; Espai-d'art Contemporani de Castello, Spain; El Museo Del Barrio, NY; SITE Santa Fe, Santa Fe, NM; Georgia State University, GA; Artnews Projects, Berlin, Germany; and The Bronx Museum of the Arts, Bronx, NY. Bejar has an MFA from the State University of New York at New Paltz, N,.

Website: https://www.danielbejar.com

Instagram: @danielbejar

Monument for Immigrants: https://www.danielbejar.com/monument-for-immigrants-in- advance-of-an-ice-raid \Socrates Exhibition link: https://socratessculpturepark.org/monuments-now/ Operation Guest: https://www.danielbejar.com/operation-guest


Note from My Desk at The Home Office
If you want to master transparent watercolor, please join me for a painting immersion in six 2-hour segments: The Interaction of Watercolor, on SculptorsAlliance.org via Zoom, runs from April 12-May 17. Free to NYC residents thanks to Lower Manhattan Cultural Council and NYC Dept. of Cultural Affairs. Info   Register  @peggy.roalf  Contact: peggyroalf@gmail.com

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