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Show at SMUSH was both milestone for artist, test-run for events emphasizing safety

During the last few months, the operators of Jersey City art galleries and artists with studio space who periodically open up their spaces to the public have been imagining and tentatively planning what a return to that would be like.

Last Saturday, Aug. 22, SMUSH Gallery, 340 Summit Ave., featured a two-hour showing of the photography of summer artist-in-residency Anisa Rahim. The collection is called “One Night.”

For Rahim, a Jersey City resident, the show marked a milestone for her during a strange time.

“This was my first completely solo exhibit, and I had to ensure that I shared the content through my networks social media promotion and also be aware that many people are just not feel comfortable coming to an indoor space to see an art show,” Rahim said, in an interview by email. “It’s a mistake to sideline art during this pandemic period because it’s essential to keep our creativity and inspiration during such a difficult and isolating time.”

Setting up such an event that also ensures the safety of the public, foremost according to SMUSH director/owner Katelyn Halpern, is still a relatively new dynamic.

“Our logistical challenges revolve around making art and art-making space accessible while prioritizing the health and safety of our community – which is the most important by far,” Halpern said. “All our artists in residence this summer were provided with a thorough breakdown of what to do with regard to COVID care. It’s all fairly standard at this point, including staying home when sick, wearing masks anytime the space is shared between people who are not already in a COVID ‘pod,’ sanitizing surfaces with provided wipes, limiting the number of artists and visitors in the gallery and limiting visiting time, maintaining physical distancing of at least 6′, and keeping windows and doors open and AC on to encourage air circulation.

“Artists were notified that guests may visit the gallery to see their work/exhibit or to shop if they have work for sale – this is according to the state’s retail reopening guidelines. They were asked to keep these visits short and adhere to the other measures described. We are not able to be open for live, public performance at this time, which is a disappointment for many artists who would have liked to host those kinds of events during a residency, but we’re fortunate that all of our artists and applicants have been flexible and understanding and join us in prioritizing public health.”

Rahim found it challenging, she said, “because I wanted to make sure to keep the space safe but also to share the work in an open way and have a normal opening show experience as much as possible.

“I am also working now on how to share the content digitally now that the work is not longer on exhibit,” Rahim said. “Everyone who came to the space observed the social distancing guidelines and that was encouraging.”

Rahim, a writer and visual artist, applied for the SMUSH summer artist residency with the goal of utilizing the space to create new work and “then find ways to share and exhibit that work with the larger public.”

Her work on display at the Aug. 22 show was black-and-white photography taken at and around a celebration in Journal Square. On her website, www.anisarahim.com/, Rahim’s photography features people in international locations, some of whom are living in the kind of dense, poverty-laden places that have that dynamic in common with areas in Jersey City.

“My photography so far is really just about depicting ordinary people throughout the world and particularly groups of people who are often not portrayed or depicted in what we see daily in our magazines and newspapers,” Rahim said. “I spent a lot of time traveling and living abroad in India where I taught and did human rights work and I took many images because they interested me. Many of those images are of people I knew very well either through family – I have been working on a longer project about my family history, an excerpt of which is published in (Newark-based) Newest Americans – or that I came across through work and travel. So, I feel intimacy with those images and there are often longer backstories to when and why I took those images.”

Learn more about SMUSH Gallery at smushgallery.com, where you can also make a contribution to help preserve its space.

A photograph by SMUSH Gallery 2020 summer artist in residence Anisa Rahim on display for the Aug. 22 showing of her work.

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