MetroCard Mosaics Celebrate Migration

close up of heron's head

Migration. Freedom. Diversity. For artist Juan Carlos Pinto, birds are powerful examples of how life needs all three to thrive. As the vibrant songs and bright flutterings of returning birds bring spring to the Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn where Pinto lives and works, there’s no better time to celebrate the wild beauty of difference. And as the news cycle continues to chronicle human and more-than-human crises at the southern border of the United States, there’s no better time to insist on the necessity of doing so.

Homelands, watersheds, and migratory paths of people and wildlife have crisscrossed the boundaries of national borders since before those lines were drawn. By connecting these many migrations, Pinto’s new project, “A Manifesto about Migration, Freedom, and Diversity,” responds to the dividing walls built by jingoism and thinks beyond the often-simplistic framing of migration as a purely national—and human—issue.

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Pinto is a Latin American artist who emigrated to the United States from Guatemala in 1998 and has made Brooklyn his home for the past two decades. In a conversation with Colombian artist and fellow bird-enthusiast, Zulu, the two discussed making avian art and building Latin American solidarity in the United States amidst pockets of racism, xenophobia, and cultural ignorance. “We are all Mexican here,” Pinto quipped, describing the same kind of homogenizing brushstrokes that recently painted El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras as “3 Mexican countries” on a Fox News graphic. “What’s beautiful about Brooklyn,” Pinto said, “is its diversity. Cultural, ethnic, racial, and gender diversity. There’s room for all these different things.” And for Pinto, birds join their human fellows in creating the joys of diverse collectives and the energizing freedom that comes from openness to varieties of lives and landscapes.

Fashioned from recycled MetroCards, “A Manifesto about Migration, Freedom, and Diversity” embodies Pinto’s commitment to both environmental and social justice. The collection includes birds that call New York home all year round as well as those who journey north from Mexico and Central America through paths charted by so many generations before them. His flock of eastern bluebirds, rose-breasted grosbeaks, magnolia warblers, and more is a dream for possible futures and a celebration of the communities made possible by migration today.

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Featured image: Great blue heron. From “A Manifesto about Migration, Freedom, and Diversity.” Pinto, 2019.

Introduction written by Addie Hopes.

Juan Carlos Pinto is a Brooklyn-based artist. The scope of his art covers abstract painting, tile work, wood work, stencil spray, and the use of non-biodegradable plastic and glass. Most of Pinto’s media comes from salvaged material and found objects. He is a founding member of the Brooklyn Recycle Project, and he is currently at work on a mosaic made from re-purposed ceramic and glass for the Audubon Mural Project. “Twenty feet of pure joy and freedom” will be installed at West 163rd Street and Broadway in New York City. Website. Contact.