Using cardboard as her canvas and Q-tips, glitter, fishnets, and coffee filters to curate colorful portraits, mixed-media artist Annie Legnini asks Bronx, New York residents to submit pictures of themselves upon which she creates textured faces. The portraits are made out everyday materials in Bronx Faces, a series that is titled with the participant's name, birth year, and neighborhood they live in to identify the different ethnicities, ages, and diverse narratives found in the Bronx. Legnini's series documents the multitude of the Bronx experiences through the intersections of culture, race, and class.
"A huge part of Bronx Faces was to learn about different restaurants through people who live here [The Bronx] because I was tired of going to the same spots. Eventually I noticed I didn't even know my own borough. This lead me to ask people questions and make the project focused on oral storytelling."
The Bronx-born artist's interest in creating art out of anything she could get her hands on started after finishing a course on mixed collages at Fordham University taught by Amie Cunat. Legnini's financial struggles pushed her into using recycled materials. She began repurposing recycled, cheap materials into beautiful portraits as a way to challenge herself to create, despite her lack of funds for traditional art supplies.
The artist starts by sketching out the portraits on cardboard, adds watercolor paint and then overlays items such as plastic for a necklace, glass lens or fabric from an old fan. Legnini says "I don't need to do my work on a piece of canvas. I can do it on cardboard and still make it look gorgeous. It pushes me to be more creative as an artist while having fun. This isn't about using trash, this is about repurposing everyday items to show that there's no excuse for me, personally, to not make art."
The Italian-American artist says her mission through this project is to get unfiltered stories from people within the community while removing the stigma placed upon them for living in the Bronx. Growing up, Legnini was exposed to negative narratives about the New York
borough so she decided to challenge those notions through stories collected in her series. The 23-year old artist gathers information through an ongoing open call with a fixed selection of questions. The interview responses are then paired with a painting.
"I became very prideful of being from the Bronx later in life after growing up not feeling that way. In the past year, I realized that if I'm repping the Bronx I need to know more of it beyond the neighborhood I grew up in. I wanted to know about the best local food spots outside of the neighborhood I grew up in, the project evolved from that idea. I never thought it would get this deep but I'm enjoying it so much and learning from my community," Legnini says.
Legnini collects submissions on a rolling basis. So far she has made seven portraits and participants have noted over 30 restaurants in their stories from cherished places to eat to their favorite street vendor. She says, " I'm hoping that this art project not only helps me learn about the borough beyond the history books but provides as an accessible resource for everyone."