It’s called “Once Upon a Place” and it is the last installation from Afghan-American artist Mohammad Mojadidi in Times Square, New York. Three phone booths, reminiscence of the past, as they are nearly non existent anymore in the five boroughs of the city, have been revived by the artist, and ring every 7-9 minutes. On the ground messages like: “Take a moment, step into a booth”, and “Pick up the phone and listen”. In the booths it is possible to listen to the stories of the immigrants of the city: presented in form of phone calls they are oral stories of their personal path, touching themes like belonging and displacement.
In order to carry out the project Mojadidi, son of Afghan parents from Kabul migrated to Florida, spent a month looking for immigrants’ areas in the city, finding participants to the project in mosques, synagogues, and community centers, as reads an article on artnet. For two months he recorded the stories of the men and the women who left their homeland for New York. The result? 70 stories collected all over the city, stories of people coming from all over the world, from China to Liberia, from Sierra Leone to Tibet.
Mojadidi hopes that his installation can remind people of the inherent humanity of migrants, as reads an article on artnet: “In the era before cell phones, phone booths were a refuge, a place where you could step inside and create an instant connection to friends, families, and loved ones. For Mojadidi, the phone booth lent itself naturally to the intimate nature of the project”.
Once Upon a Place has a particular political value of immigrants rights claim in a historic moment of “anti-immigration hysteria” and of restrictive migratory policies by Donald Trump administration.
“I wanted people to understand that cities like New York, great metropolitan cities around the world, are largely built by the immigrants who come there, work there, settle there, live there”, explains Mojadidi on artnet. “None of that should be anything that’s feared, but something that should be celebrated and accepted”.
The installation, that will be on show until the 5th of September, is part of Times Square Arts, the public art program of the Times Square Alliance, which is the largest public platform for innovative contemporary performance and visual arts.
As Mojadidi says in an article on The New York Times: “ I hope that the installation will prompt listeners to explore their lineage and to challenge stereotypes about immigration”.