NEW YORK – The public telephone has joined the VHS tape and the floppy disc as a relic of a (rather recently) bygone era. But three repurposed phone booths in a section of New York’s Times Square are finding new lives as the sites of some very 21st-century messaging.
Aman Mojadidi’s project Once Upon a Place allows passersby in Duffy Square (46th Street and Seventh Avenue) to enter the booths, pick up a phone, and listen to the personal stories of recent immigrants to New York. Each booth is also provided with another relic, a “telephone directory” that actually contains more information about the 70 storytellers’ countries and communities abroad and in New York.
Afghan-American artist Mojadidi collaborated with local businesses and nonprofits to set up 18 workshops across the city’s five boroughs where the newcomers could record their experiences coming to New York for political asylum or economic opportunity. Locations ranged from the Bronx Museum of the Arts and the Liberian Cultural Association on Staten Island to New Immigrant Community Empowerment in Queens and Brooklyn’s Yemen Café and Restaurant.
The speakers hail from Bangladesh, Belgium, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, China, Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Egypt, Gambia, Ghana, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Japan, Jordan, Liberia, Mexico, Nigeria, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, Russia, Sierra Leone, Spain, Sri Lanka, Tibet, and Yemen.
Once Upon a Place, which will continue through September 5, is a project of Times Square Arts.