Allie Stewart Photography
Allie Stewart Photography


Travel commentary and a closer look at some of the photos featured

The Day the City was Silent

November 2017.

I smile when I think of the absurdity of it all: how I, a girl of her early twenties, decided to leave my family for Thanksgiving exclusively to go to Manhattan and explore unknown art galleries by myself. In my parents’ defense, this probably was the next stage in the “my daughter became a vegetarian, went to college, started liking women, and began relying on her art for salvation” life sequence. This adventure was certainly more than that assumption, as I would soon discover. After the emergence from a recent toxic relationship, I knew I needed a sense of freedom, a sense of positive loneliness, a sense of me. Under the pseudonym of Yayoi Kasuma’s new “Festival of Life” show at the David Zwirner, I Mega-Bus’ed my way to the city and lost myself amongst bagel shops and street-layered construction sites. I was so relieved to be on my own, to be residing in a minimalist room with only a small bed and some pins in the walls to hang clothing. I loved the way my feet felt after miles and miles on flat pavement. I trusted so heavily in the directions of street signs guiding me through Chelsea and lower Manhattan and places never fully figured the name of. The morning of my arrival, I gripped a large bagel between gloved fingers and strolled to the David Zwirner gallery to experience Kasuma’s lights and mirrors and oh-so-famous dots, the music of the city rumbling in my eardrums. It was here that I not only found a three hour line, but a phone call from my mother, alarming me of the passing of my grandmother. I immediately sensed that I should be home with my family, somewhere other than this choice of loneliness. The next three hours, despite Kasuma’s talent, held more for me in a queue than any gallery could have. I breathed heavily, eyes welling with tears, as I realized I was surrounded by stranger streets and stranger people and a stranger situation. I listened to my mother’s voice on the other end of the phone line as she reassured me that I was exactly where I was supposed to be. I remembered feeling frustrated at her for trying to be so strong for me, when I should have been supporting her. The whole situation felt disingenuous, as if we were looking at the reality of this passing of our loved one from the top of a skyscraper rather than on the ground, where all of the cars were honking and people were hurrying and life was happening in what seemed to be a fast-forward pace. It took until the second hour in line for me to see that maybe this, too, was a gift. My mother and I exchanged quiet moments, deep breaths, fond memories. We recalled my grandmother’s affinity for the city, her independence in raising three children on her own all whilst writing textbooks and getting her doctorate. We remembered her for the person she was, rather than who we might have wanted her to be in retrospect. It was by hour three that I knew I was here for her, and that I would have to use this city as a way of saying goodbye. Leaving the gallery after my viewing, I chased the overhead sun into it’s shining upon the brick walls of Greenwich Village, running into a flower shop and purchasing a bouquet of reds and pinks, the same colors of her ever-polished nails. I perused the streets of this area I did not know, and began to wonder if my grandmother had ever walked through this area too. I left a flower next to a statue of three women, and was on my way. I began to realize that my grandmother was a woman who loved people; after all, she was a psychologist. Within moments, I found myself handing the flowers to strangers: one to a girl about my age and her mother who was going through chemotherapy, one to an old man selling goods at an Asian market, one to a security guard, one to a younger lady who gave me directions, another to a homeless woman with a beautiful smile. I continued on until the bouquet was finished, wandering aimlessly for miles until I realized it was sunset, and I was outside of the Whitney museum. I knew this was where I was supposed to be. I paid for my ticket and immediately took the elevator to the top, stepping through a cafe and large glass doors to stand at what felt like eyes-height with the tallest buildings in the city. I looked at the sun bounce off of a silver tower aside me, a playground below it, and the vast miles of buildings beyond. I would never know each of the buildings, or the people inside of them. I would never know all of the streets, or the stories they’ve held. I would never see it all, but I would see this, and, for just a few moments, I knew that it was absolutely enough. She was there with me, the two of us alone in some quiet bubble atop one of the loudest places in the world. For just a few breaths and a few eyesights full of visual sensation, this was ours.

Allie Stewart