exploring art in Washington Heights

Written by: Shannel Paulino 

Photos by: Jay Espinosa 

Interviewed by: Haronys Orelus and Shannel Paulino

The documentation of someone else’s life is not just about asking questions; it is about observing how they interact with others, how they show their humility in ways that go unseen, and how they feel and look when they talk about their passion(s). However, we must also understand that as people of the diaspora, of Africa, of black culture, of the waters and the land — that we have a spiritual connection to each other; and when in each other’s presence, we feel this. Throughout my interactions with Adalky, I felt at home. I felt like we could talk for hours and we will both take care of each other and learn and grow. That is the beauty of being of the DIASPORA. 

Adalky represents Family, period. And family is community; community is compassion, and being compassionate comes from the soul. Throughout this article, you will see the different ways where Adalky shows compassion, not just for her family (which is expected of us) but how she shows it with herself and the people around her who protect their own as well. 

Before the interview, I got to hang out with Adalky. Unbothered by my presence (which I loved), she took control of what needed to get done: clean up her studio, go to the bakery for a papaya smoothie and stay alert for the other crew members that were coming to assist in the interview. 

She cleaned her studio as I walked around touching and grabbing the things that attracted me like her vision board, which sits over her desk, and all the diagrams on her wall. These diagrams outlined her art focus and what she looks for in the pieces she creates. Around her studio, you’ll find pictures of her family, books about psychology, blackness and womanism, and the different aesthetics in which we normally show our culture — sage, coffee, house plants, ramen noodles, colors, tea bags, and our comfy blankets // I thought to myself: wow this is such an incredible moment where I finally get to meet a Dominican woman who sees the world, and her art, THROUGH PEOPLE. I saw myself in her. 

Mirrors // we are reflections of each other, of our guides, and of land 

The interview

Tell Us About Yourself 

“I am an artist…who am I…I am a person of community. I have been in the community since I was born, my mom always had aunties in her house; when I wake up at 7, there’s already 5 aunties having coffee with my mom and I’m like, mami I haven’t even showered yet, and she’s like ‘come in, they’re not seeing anything new’” [some parts translated from Spanish into English]

Let’s analyze this real quick: There are polarizing ideas of Dominican women, of black women, of women in general who are assertive, righteous themselves and let out this I don’t give a fuck attitude. Take Adalky’s mother–they’re not seeing anything new is like chill out, be comfortable, they share the same as you. But see how in that simple phrasing, she unites us all together young with old generation. Because regardless of it all, we are all connected based on having skin and bodily functions.

Community + Art 

Art is about being reflective of the time, she expresses. “And doing it is a privilege and people forget that. When art is reflective, there are lessons that we can hear and listen to and take from. There’s a lot to relate to that doesn’t have to be from my area, it might look different but we are all people going through the same shit just different words and policies.”

She told us about her organizing work: Her building has not had gas since July 2019. Now, sink in. You have no gas, no fire for your food. This means that everyone in the building has to buy food, microwave food, or get others with gas to cook for them. Now, it gets deeper. Her building is not the only building without gas. Hundreds of people in the Heights have been dealing with this issue and none of the insurance companies or investors want to fix it. They keep pushing their dates further. Adalky has been mobilizing and holding building meetings with many folks who are having landlord issues. She is constantly being stopped by folks on the streets about a new issue. And although this is needed work in the community, she expressed how she would get bad dreams dealing with all these violations. For over 7 months, she was gathering folks to make sure the gas comes back on.

As a community organizer, she wants to see what she can teach and what kind of exposure she can give to her community to rise up! She knows that the people in her community do not take bullshit and that you cannot lie to them. They know the truth before you know it yourself. She speaks of her community with pride; she is not ashamed–she is unapologetically who made her. And she shares that art was founded on white man privilege in “discovering” “exotic” “ethnic” art and putting it in their expensive homes where his friends–of his same social and economic network–critic and view the art of us, of our pain, of our stories, of our reflections and angry and nothingness and all. They got it. They have access to it because they have money which not everyone has the money to buy art plain and simple. 

Adalky also says that she works with multi-generational households and not all of them can afford the art. That is just honesty. So she plans on creating ways to provide her art for low or no cost. 

“Support the people who support you. It is okay to have someone’s back.” – She says at the closing ceremony of her art exhibition.

She had a recent exhibition “Reclaiming Our Time, Space and Community” Presented by Broadway Housing Communities and Gallery Showing at the Rio Penthouse Gallery on Ft Washington. 

Bridging the gap older + newer generation

What happens if people can’t use technology and need to, how do they learn? She teaches many people, particularly older folks how to use their devices and apps. She noticed that most of them work the app based on how they been told on how to use an app; they do not try to figure that you have sometimes learned techniques to operate devices more efficiently. 

“It is the small things that can deepen our relationships with younger folkers and older folks. We have to learn from each other. And we have to leave our ego and help our mothers, grandmothers, and aunties–they don’t gotta be blood-related either. Take the time to teach — sankofa “it’s not taboo to go back to what you forgot.”

Process of art // STEP BY STEP 

She tells us that every process for her art is different. This particular show is about the markers of the community–the people she grew up seeing and still continue to see. Charlie and Pancha are amongst the community members that she painted. With the rise of gentrification and its multilayered issues, people are buying and buying which are pushing out the community and all the businesses that have been there for decades. And although no one wants to live in  2 by 4 rooms for the rest of their lives, Adalky emphasizes how we have to make with what we have and appreciate the subways, museums and the access to different resources. 

For her painting process, she uses a layer of watercolor to occupy all the white space. She does not like any white spaces as it makes the piece look undone or too spacious. And from there, she paints with no exact imagine. 

Extra Spice
Three things that she needs to create art: 
1. Lighting
2. Have to eat beforehand so there are no excuses 
3. Use her silencing headphones for the first 20 mins/ all notifications
are turned off/ and she works in a series of 45 mins
If I had one day to myself: 
1. Run in the morning
2. Go to the museums
3. Then go swimming mid day
4. Bike — “caliente” is the name of her bike who she got from Walter whose from Canada 
5. Code — use cold to draw characters from Adventure Time using


I am a multimedia artist, plant lover and researcher. I love being with people, especially when they have stories to tell and lessons to spread.



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