Repurposed telephone booths stand in New York City’s Times Square as part of artist Aman Mojadidi interactive public art installation “Once Upon a Place”. /AFP 
Repurposed telephone booths stand in New York City’s Times Square as part of artist Aman Mojadidi interactive public art installation “Once Upon a Place”. /AFP 

There’s an immigrant on the phone

Art July 09, 2017 01:00

By Agence France-Presse

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The rise of Trump added fresh impetus to an AfghanAmerican artist’s plans



THEY MAY be fast disappearing from the streets of New York, but an Afghan-American artist has installed public telephone booths in Times Square to spotlight the immigrant experience in Donald Trump’s America.

New York today boasts no more than four public phone booths, the last vestiges of the pre-cell-phone era. The arrival of three in Times Square as part of Aman Mojadidi’s installation “Once Upon a Place” has nearly doubled that number.

Passers-by can pick up the handset but can’t talk. Instead they listen. At the end of the line are the voices of New Yorkers telling their personal stories of immigration – legal or illegal – from around the world.

Mojadidi asked each to narrate their experiences in their own language for up to 15 minutes, without interrupting them with questions. Their testimonies have not been translated into English.

“Even if you don’t understand the language, you can feel the emotion, as if it’s a song maybe,” the artist explains.

The art project boasts more than five hours of recordings from 70 different New Yorkers and will remain in Times Square until September 5.

Repurposed telephone booths stand in New York City’s Times Square as part of artist Aman Mojadidi interactive public art installation “Once Upon a Place”. /AFP 

Mojadidi started working on the project in 2014, well before Trump ran for president and unleashed vehement rhetoric against unauthorised immigrants and took office attempting to restrict immigration from seven Muslim-majority countries.

The shifting political environment saw Mojadidi scrap initial plans to dot the project around the city and hold formal workshops in different communities. He says his subjects became “very nervous” about the idea.

“Why do we need to come there? Who else is going to be there?” he quotes them as saying. “In the end, it was all very one on one. So the way I implemented the project changed a lot.”

Nor is the choice of telephone booths insignificant.

“When I learned how phone booths were starting to be removed from the streets, not just in New York but in other cities around the world, I immediately thought about all of the stories that are trapped inside of these phones,” he says.

“I thought of a natural way to bring stories back to the streets by using the phone booths, bring back the spirit of the phone booths.”