Bronx-native Michael Cuomo Recycles Urban Refuse into Masks and Engages the Public

March 6, 2013

Michael Cuomo

Working with discarded objects he finds on the streets, Bronx-native Michael Cuomo has been busily creating an alternate universe.  Central to his cosmos are dozens of masks that he displays in a range of public spaces, engaging curious passersby of all ages.  We joined Michael this past Sunday up near Yankee Stadium.

You do magical things with what others have discarded.  When did it all begin?

The idea of working with found objects came to me after I took a three-hour class in “drawing with wire” at Bronx Community College back in 2006. I made my first masks with wire. And as I’d always been drawn to objects that others deem useless, I began to search for these objects and gradually incorporate them into my masks.

You certainly have some strange objects integrated into these masks – from car parts to broken toys to old hats. How do you manage to get hold of such a variety?

I find most of them on the streets, and recently friends and neighbors have begun giving me “donations.”

Michael Cuomo

When recycling these materials into masks, do you work with a defined concept of the final product?

Never.  It’s an organic process. When the mask is finished, it tells me so.  I have dozens of sketchbooks and constantly draw, but I don’t consciously work from my sketches.

What engages you about recycling and working with found objects?

It reminds me that we are all one on this planet.  The objects that I find help connect me with others – their original owners and our anscestors. I also feel that by recycling I am – in some small way – helping our planet.

Why have you decided to share your masks with the public out here on the streets?

It’s the best way for me to connect with the people. My art is “for the people” and “by the people.”  When strangers see my art and engage with it, they break the monotony of their daily lives. I also like the dialog that it spurs.

Michael Cuomo mask

Where have you displayed your masks?

I’ve shared them in quite a few public spaces. On 110th Street in East Harlem…in front of the Hayden Planetarium on the Upper West Side…on the 6 train.

What about galleries?

I’ve exhibited them at NYU, Gallery 69, at the Longwood Art Gallery up here in the Bronx, and I have a show coming up later this spring in New Rochelle.

How does your family feel about what you are doing?

They like it, but I can’t say they embrace it!

Michael Cuomo

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

I see the artist’s role as a transformative one. Art enlightens. My art is an extension of the hip-hop movement that was born here in the Bronx. It is all about empowerment and change.

What’s ahead?

My artworks will continue to evolve and — eventually — will travel the world.

Photos by Lois Stavsky

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Allan Ludwig Street art photographer March 6, 2013 at 5:33 pm

I love this stuff.


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