RUBEN NATAL-SAN MIGUEL
(b. 1963, Arecibo, Puerto Rico; living and working in Harlem)
Puerto Rican-born artist Ruben Natal-San Miguel is an architect, fine art photographer, curator, creative director, and critic. Before becoming an artist, Natal-San Miguel worked in finance and was in the World Trade Center when it was attacked by terrorists on September 11, 2001. He survived that terrible day, and has since dedicated his life to making art that celebrates the lives of marginalized peoples, especially focusing on communities of color and the LGBTQ+ community. Natal-San Miguel received a BA in Architecture from Boston Architectural College and an MBA from Boston University. Recent exhibitions of his work include Picture This: A Group Exhibit of Vintage Photographs (Gallery 52, New York City, 2022), Transfiguration: leaving reality behind (Postmasters Gallery, New York City, 2021), and Ruben Natal-San Miguel: Women R Beautiful (Postmasters Gallery, New York City, 2020). His photographs are included in the permanent collections of countless institutions, including El Museo del Barrio, the Museum of the City of New York, the North Carolina Museum of Art (Raleigh), the Center for Photography (Woodstock, NY), and The Museum of Fine Arts (Boston, MA). His work has been featured in publications including New York Magazine, the New York Times, the Huffington Post, Time Out, Vice, and the New Yorker.
WORK IN THE EXHIBITION
Much of Ruben Natal-San Migel's documentary photography emerges from what the artist understands as a collaboration with his subjects resulting in images rich with individuality and joy in the face of the gentrification, hardship, and trauma often endemic to life in New York City. He explores neighborhoods, seeking out individuals whose stories and appearances invite complex discussions without gratuitously depicting trauma. Lenox Lounge (Before) documents an intersection of individuality, community gathering, and gentrification. His photograph portrays the Harlem nightclub, once a prominent venue for legendary artists like John Coltrane and Billie Holiday, as empty yet invitingly well-lit amid the surrounding darkness. The title’s inclusion of "(Before)" invites the viewer to consider the space both as it might be before an evening performance and, in the aftermath of its 2012 closure, the way it might have been before gentrification spurred its demise. R.E.S.P.E.C.T. similarly focuses on a community gathering space as an entry point, documenting the Apollo Theater’s marquee commemorating Aretha Franklin after her passing. This subject choice highlights the effects that this tragic event had in creating spaces of collective appreciation of Franklin’s legacy. Through his choice of physical locations as a subject, Natal-San Miguel implies the importance of community and music as a means of collective reaction to hardship.