Rejin Leys: PulpMobile / Kantara Souffrant

Wander down the streets of Jamaica, Queens and you’ll find Rejin Leys pushing her PulpMobile, a papermaking station on wheels.  The location of the PulpMobile varies but seek and you will find it along the increasingly commercialized areas of Downtown Jamaica, Queens, an area marketed as a discount shopping destination for all of New York City.

In many ways, the transient nature of the project—Leys’s coming and going without word or incident—marks the transient nature of Jamaica, Queens. Leys is a born and raised New Yorker who has lived in Jamaica on and off for decades.  A paper artist and educator, Leys has seen residents come and go and watched her neighborhood change over the years. For Leys, making paper grew out of observing and drawing her neighborhood, a neighborhood that is simultaneously multiethnic, transient, and underserved in terms of art.

The PulpMobile is a community project that bridges these gaps in order to create spaces where, according to Leys, “people [can] get to know each other across ethnic lines,” especially in a neighborhood where there are few opportunities for such intimate gatherings amidst the growing megastores. Community participants are able to walk up to the PulpMobile and make paper for free, taking home their finished designs or leaving them with Leys to exhibit at JCAL. The art project is a low-stakes way of building community engagement. “It doesn’t require much from people,” says Leys of the project, however, “neighbors have to help each other to do this,” which creates an art opportunity that is fun, inviting, and facilitates community connections.

Leys’s PulpMobile began in the summer of 2015, when Leys took her cart around and tested the project out on a few neighbors.  People asked questions about the project and of the artist, and eventually sunk their hands into creating paper. As a paper artist, Leys approached the creation of paper as a material necessity: the first stage of her art creation. Yet in touring both the early forms of the PulpMobile and its 2016 version, Leys gets the opportunity to relearn the beauty of paper from participants who, at every turn, teach her something new about papermaking. “People who aren’t artists want to make [the paper they create] a finished project,” and because of this participants bring an incredible amount of creativity to their designs, adding elements that Leys herself could never have imagined.
The PulpMobile facilitates moments of creativity and communal gathering.  True to the community-roots of the project, the success of the PulpMobile is measured by whether or not people come back to create more paper or if they come to see the work they made in the gallery.   Thus, in many ways, the PulpMobile is a way of bringing a bit more permanence, regularity and community-based art to the forever shifting and commercial neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens.

Kantara Souffrant

Kantara Souffrant is a Haitian-American artist, scholar, curator and museum educator. Souffrant is a PhD Candidate in Performance Studies at Northwestern University, where her work examines the effects of Haiti’s January 2010 earthquake on feminist and queer art practices in the Haitian Diaspora. Souffrant’s work is forthcoming in two anthologies, Vodou, I Remember (Lexington Books) and Transnational Hispaniola: Converging Paths in the Dominican-Haitian Experience (Palgrave).