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Longwood Bodega-Turned-Art Center to Host New Photo and Hip-Hop Shows

By Patrick Wall | March 8, 2013 8:44am

LONGWOOD — A bodega-turned-art center will host a photography show on Saturday featuring images of working women from around the world and later this month throw a party celebrating hip-hop's 40th anniversary.

El Fogon Center for the Arts — a 2-year-old performance and gallery space housed in a storefront previously occupied by a bodega, video store and hair salon — will kick off the photo exhibition, “Straight Shootin’ Mamas” on March 9, and the anniversary party, “Hip-Hop, Spirituality and Empowerment,” on March 23.

“We wanted to create an urban version of an evening in [Manhattan], going to great galleries and listening to great music,” said Alberto Brooks, co-owner of the art center at 989 Home St., about a half-mile from Crotona Park East.

“We’re trying to make The Bronx an artist hub," he added. "It’s not just Yankee Stadium.”

Brooks and a business partner came across the abandoned storefront at the base of a three-story brick building that was up for sale about 10 years ago.

They bought the building and rented out the upper-floor rooms, but they left the storefront empty for several years while they planned their art center.

Finally, they cleared out the old bodega equipment and installed a small stage, retro couches, wall coverings made of recycled wood, decorative art from Latin America, and a mini-bar with beer and wine.

“We wanted to create a living room,” said Brooks, an art enthusiast who works in the financial industry.

Since the center launched in 2010, it has hosted weekly Afro-Cuban music nights, Puerto Rican drumming and dance lessons, spoken-word slams, and visual-art shows that have drawn visitors from across the city and even out of state.

In fact, a photograph above the bar shows the actor Matt Dillon inside El Fogon with the famous, now-deceased Afro-Cuban dancer Felix “Pupy” Insua.

“It has become a destination,” Brooks said.

The photography show, scheduled to coincide with Women’s History Month, features the work of 13 female New York City photographers who shot female subjects in Latin America, Africa, Europe and the United States.

Some of the artists are professional photographers who have been shown in galleries around the world. Others are hobbyists who had never even printed one of their pieces before the show, said curator Mia Roman.

In all the photos, the women are working, whether as day laborers, artists, models or mothers, Roman said.

“This is a great way to show what women are doing across the world,” she said, "and how they’re no different from women here in the States.”

Some of the proceeds from the show will be donated to the family of Rachel Price, a Florida teenager killed by an allegedly drunk driver last week who was a cousin of one of the artists.

The hip-hop event later this month will honor the art form’s five elements with dancers, MCs, DJ’s, live graffiti artists and post-performance discussions (representing the element of “knowledge”).

It will mark a milestone in hip-hop — the 40th anniversary of the 1973 rec room parties thrown by DJ Kool Herc and his sister at 1520 Sedgwick Ave., which many consider the birthplace of hip-hop.

The El Fogon event will embrace this early era of hip-hop, when the culture was inextricably linked to the community and its struggles, said co-organizer Alba Mota.

But, as the title suggests, it will also push the view that hip-hop can transcend worldly matters, helping to connect its adherents with a higher power.

“You don’t need to be within the church walls to experience the spiritual,” Mota said.

“Straight Shootin’ Mamas” opens at 7 p.m. on Saturday, March 9. Admission is $5. The exhibition will be on view each weekend through March 23.

“Hip-Hop, Spirituality and Empowerment” takes place from 4 to 9 p.m. on March 23. Admission is $5, with proceeds going to the nonprofit Border Health Mission.