Gesche Würfel

Basement Sanctuaries

These images explore the ways in which superintendents decorate basements of apartment buildings in Northern Manhattan, NYC, by illuminating the process of migrant adaptation to the metropolis from an intimate perspective.

In many ways, basements are special sanctuaries for supers and their families. Supers often live in basements that are hidden from the public and from visitors, which creates a form of privacy. However, the basement is also a space of work for supers and their environment is on display for the residents of the building. Under these circumstances, the supers’ decorations function as a territorial claim over the basement’s public/private space.

Most of the supers in Northern Manhattan are migrants from Latin America or the Caribbean, and images from their home countries might connect their new home to a past they have left behind. This can be especially important given the grueling nature of their work and the difficulty of establishing oneself in New York City.

When photographing the basement decoration I was interested in the visual culture of the supers, how they project their local cultures onto the spaces and how they approach the space as curators by using found objects. I consider the images as fine art within a process of research that includes interviews with supers.

Basement Sanctuaries will be published by Schilt Publishing in spring 2014.


Gesche Würfel is a German visual artist based in New York City. She received her Diploma in Urban Planning from the University of Dortmund, Germany, and her M.A. in Photography and Urban Cultures from Goldsmiths, University of London.

Her work has been exhibited nationally and internationally. In 2007, Würfel was selected as one of the Bloomberg New Contemporaries. Some of her recent exhibitions include solo shows at the New York Public Library and Field Projects, New York, NY; Wolk Gallery, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Cambridge, MA; Goldsmiths, University of London. She has a solo show coming up at Blue Sky gallery in 2014.