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Swagger and Tenderness exhibition showcases people and faces of the South Bronx

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NEW YORK — There’s a unique exhibit on display at the Bronx Museum of the Arts called Swagger and Tenderness. 

As CBS2’s Zinnia Maldonado reports, the stars of the show are people from the neighborhood.

It all started back in 1979 when local artists John Ahearn and Rigoberto Torres began casting people from the South Bronx, continuing to do so for nearly four decades.

Now, more than 60 portraits are on display at the Bronx Museum of the Arts. It’s the first time the artwork has been exhibited together at home for the very people represented therein. 

“It just gives you Bronx, it gives you like this is me,” Bronx resident Kiera Beltran said. 

Casting involves making a mold and pouring liquid material onto the skin. The result is a life-like self portrait. 

Beltran was casted by the artist duo several years ago. She said to see not only herself but many members of her family now on display for the world to see is unbelievable.

“It feels good, especially with the pearl earing, because everyone knows me as Kierra with the pearls,” she said. 

The exhibition mirrors all different residents of the South Bronx — from firefighters to fortune tellers, to bakers, to lovers of basketball. 

“You look at every statue and it tells a story. Everyone has an important person with them or an object, an animal,” said Beltran. 

The artists say to share their unique experience of casting people right in the middle of a neighborhood or inside someone’s home gives more meaning to the art on display. 

“Many of the pieces have already been shared by people in the Bronx locally, but in this show we can make it more public and everybody can see it together… There’s a lot of love in these sculptures and a lot of love for each other,” Ahearn said. 

“You’re bringing some kind of happiness of thrill that people enjoy seeing themselves, being a part of it,” Torres added.

Literary activist Ron Kavanaugh, who co-organized the exhibition, says the show’s main goal is to bring attention to the value of every individual who has helped shape the proud, unique and influential community of the South Bronx. 

“This exhibition is about them, it’s about their history, their culture,” he said. “This is not some abstract exhibition of people they’ve never seen or will never meet. These are their neighbors.”

“It’s giving a message, it’s giving a story, it’s giving the truth,” said Beltran. 

The exhibition will be on display at the Bronx Museum of the Arts from now until the end of April. 

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