Saturday, October 23, 2010

The SCAR Project

“Oh! Let’s go in here.”

I quickly swerved my pace into the stark white open space of the Openhouse Gallery at 201 Mulberry Street as TDS, ALiCo and Krito followed, curious, behind me.

I had seen a flyer for The SCAR Project as I stepped off the bus one day after work. Taped humbly on a lamppost, the small white flyer displayed a pregnant woman with a large scar where her breast had once been. As a member of a family twice afflicted with breast cancer, the exhibition was something I definitely wanted to see but, with friends visiting that weekend, I didn’t think I would be able to.

Somehow, though, as my friends and I were traipsing through SoHo, Little Italy and parts of Chinatown, we wound up heading north on Mulberry Street, right past the gallery. I saw the photo of the same pregnant woman, this time in a larger than life portrait, and dragged my friends inside.

On the stark-white painted brick in the Openhouse Gallery were a series of these portraits. Portraits of breast cancer patients and survivors diagnosed with the disease at age 35 or under who had undergone disfiguring surgeries like double or single mastectomies to get rid of it.

Courageous women who allowed themselves to be photographed shirtless, scars fully displayed. They were beautiful beyond the disease, even in spite of it. And the photos gave the women a persona beyond the disease—each woman was distinctive, whether it be with a pair of glasses, a special piece of jewelry, tattoos, makeup. The photographs allowed the women to be women again, to transcend disease and no longer be a patient or a number.

I was especially struck by the photograph of Cary G., a beautiful, raven haired woman with dark lips, porcelain skin, and eyelashes for days. She reminded me of my grandmother who passed away from breast cancer in 2004, a woman who spat fire and wore red lipstick until she couldn’t anymore. I paused in front of Cary’s photograph for a long time, eventually quietly crying in the middle of the gallery.

The project, ongoing, is the work of photographer David Jay, a fashion photographer based in New York. Jay began the project after a dear friend was diagnosed with breast cancer at just 32.
Subjects of the SCAR project are between the ages of 18-35, a group of women with breast cancer who are often overlooked. It is for this reason that the mission of the SCAR Project is to “raise public consciousness of early-onset breast cancer, raise funds for breast cancer research/outreach programs and help young survivors see their scars, faces, figures and experiences through a new, honest and ultimately empowering lens.”

The project is a challenging one to look at, especially if one or one’s family has experienced the effects of breast cancer. And it’s true, some people may not want to look. But that doesn’t mean breast cancer will stop affecting women early on. According to photographer Jay, “For these young women, having their portrait taken seems to represent their personal victory over this terrifying disease. It helps them reclaim their femininity, their sexuality, identity and power after having been robbed of such an important part of it. Through these simple pictures, they seem to gain some acceptance of what has happened to them and the strength to move forward with pride.”

If you get a chance, please visit the SCAR Project website at or on Facebook. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month but, as the SCAR Project says, breast cancer is not just a pink ribbon.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Night Moves

“Is it weird that I like this smell?” asked TL as we stepped out of the D train and onto the corner of Chrystie and Grand. A stunning stench of wet paper, rotting fish and shitty pleather handbags, the streetcorner in Chinatown was no bucket of rose petals.

“…yes,” replied TDS while we decided which side of the street to cross. We were looking for 131 Chrystie Street, and tried to spot building numbers buried in a word search of Chinese characters (“Ugh, everything’s written in Asian,” joked our half-Chinese friend ALiCo). After a short jaunt in the wrong direction, we found our way there. Past closed up grocery stores, bundled up homeless men on benches and wet sidewalks littered with a smattering of early fall’s yellow leaves, was Home Sweet Home.

Every Friday night at Home Sweet Home is the funky fresh dance party called “Shakin' All Over Under Sideways Down!”, the brainchild of acclaimed DJ Mr. Jonathan Toubin (yes, both DJ and Mr.) The party features “maximum rock and soul dancing,” to grungy fifties and sixties (and occasionally seventies) blues, jazz, and R&B deliciousness. We’re talking for real old school, like Little Richard’s “The Girl Can’t Help It”—the kinda stuff our parents and grandparents weren’t supposed to listen to.

“Shakin’!” is just one of the parties Toubin runs almost nightly known as “New York Night Train.” All of the parties involve virtually only 45rpm records of the early rock and soul variety and a whole lotta dancing. I love me some dancing no matter what form, but New York clubs tend to be expensive ($20 cover? Ouch.). When I read that the Night Train parties are $5 or less, though, I simply had to get on board.

Who would go with me? My Etas (our college crew of  twentysomething disaster areas; short for Eta Alpha Mu, long for HAM, short for Hot Ass Mess) were coming to visit. And sometimes it’s just better to try something out with a bunch of people who simply won’t say no to a good time. So there we were: TL, TDS, EH, ALiCo, Krito, SC, JCB, and me (Eta President-for-Life RE sadly couldn’t be there).

“Is this 131?” I asked the brunette girl with the choppy bangs. “Yeah,” she laughed as she checked our IDs and sent us below street level, down the steel stairs to a brick alcove lined with darkly comedic taxidermy. A curly-haired girl stamped our hands and took our $5. Normally the party was $3 (if you know the password, so they can “root out the d-bags”), but tonight was special.

Punk legend David Johansen of the New York Dolls would be spinning along with DJ Mr. J, and I could barely contain my excitement. I would be in the same room as the voice of “Vietnamese Baby,” “Puss in Boots,” and countless other early punk gems, a man who was one of the unwitting godfathers of an entire music and cultural movement.

We entered the bar, which is about as close to the literal definition of “hole in the wall” as you can get, with walls of brick, a floor of concrete, and exposed pipe up above. A disco ball with the word “Wierd" happily misspelled on it spun over the dance floor while  cardiganed and plaid-shirted hipsters flapped their arms and feet in strangely cool-looking and jerky movements. We put a little Eta bump and grind into our steps because, well, that’s just how we roll.

DJ Mr. J was spinning when we got there but eventually David Johansen took the booth. “Ohmygodthereheis,” Krito and I whispered to each other, fully aware unlike many others that we were in the presence of greatness. He was a skinny thing, with shoulder length hair pressed into the shape of a perfect upside-down U, thick, round black glasses and a long-sleeved t-shirt that read “Village” instead of “College.”

He played some sweet jams, and I even recognized his voice on a couple of tracks. Comically enough, though, he wasn’t the greatest DJ, leaving a rather large pause between songs—an act at which the dance crowd repeatedly groaned. Well, okay, maybe punk gods weren’t meant to be DJs. But that doesn’t mean he’s any less cool when you go outside and end up standing less than 10 feet from him while he smokes a cigarette.

Overall, though, the party was great—I would gladly descend into a hole in the wall for some old school jams, riding the New York Night Train until it falls off the tracks.

If you’re interested, visit the New York Night Train site here or check it out on Facebook. Better start working on your night moves.