New York – Danielle DeJesus' art work is typically about Latino culture and the gentrification of the Bushwick neighborhood where she grew up in Brooklyn, New York.
But currently she is the taste of New York and social media, following a photo she took of a $10 bill she’d painted with the face of Broadway actor Lin-Manuel Miranda as Sec. Alexander Hamilton — inspired by Miranda's portrayal of the Founding Father and the show's huge success.
“I have to admit I didn’t know much about Alexander Hamilton. But I was so inspired by the show and Hamilton’s Grammy win, I was blown away when I saw Anthony Ramos holding up the Puerto Rican flag [while accepting the Grammy Award]. I had to paint the bill. I posted a photo of it on Instagram and Facebook and it got a ton of likes and shares,” DeJesus, 28, told Fox News Latino.
She even got a ticket to see the show, from a friend.
DeJesus’ road to being the gem of Instagram was rocky. She says she got a half-a** education, and was rejected from practically every art school in New York. She ended up at Washington Irving High School, which she says was rated one of NY’s worst schools. But it was there she found a love for photography.
“After high school I applied to but was rejected from Fashion Institute of Technology for photography. I wanted to go there so badly. I was determined. I had to literally go to the head of the program at the school and convince them to let me in,” DeJesus says. She was finally accepted.
While a student at FIT, DeJesus worked at FAO Schwarz as a toy demonstrator. She discovered she had a skill for drawing complicated portraits on the Etch-a-Sketch.
She was invited to paint a mural in the Bushwick collective; a renowned graffiti and street art project of artists from around the world.
“I’d never painted anything as large as a mural. I actually painted it using my pink Etch-a-Sketch as the drawing,” DeJesus says.
She recently had her first solo show, "Made in Bushwick," at The Living Gallery, where she told the story of her continually gentrifying neighborhood.
“Being from Bushwick used to be an embarrassment for me as a student at FIT – they couldn’t relate to it. To me it’s an urban place with bodegas and the smell of sofrito and knowing everyone who lives there,” DeJesus said. “You could knock on your neighbor’s door and ask for toilet paper because maybe you don’t get paid until the end of the month."
Now, she said, there are no Latinos left in the Brooklyn neighborhood — "It’s all brunch places and cafes,” she noted.
DeJesus’ mom, for example, lives in a building where she pays the same for rent she’s been paying for decades. Her neighbors pay almost triple that. DeJesus says her mom gets calls from the landlord almost daily offering to buy her out of the building.
“I put a sign in the window of my mom's apartment that read “Stop Gentrification,” and the landlord took us to court saying that he couldn’t rent the apartment next door because of the sign. The judge agreed with me that I had a right to free speech, but my mom took the sign down because she didn’t want to cause problems,” DeJesus says.
DeJesus says she’ll continue to work on photo documenting her neighborhood. She’s been working on the project since 2008. Today she uses her photos as reference for her paintings.
“I want to use my artwork to share my pride as a Latina and a Latina from Bushwick,” DeJesus says.