Basement Sanctuaries Book

by Gesche Würfel


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I am currently working on a book project entitled Basement Sanctuaries and I would like to ask you for your support.

A few years ago, my husband and I went apartment-hunting in Uptown Manhattan (Inwood and Washington Heights). At first, I was mainly interested in the apartments until my husband, a New York City native, insisted on seeing the basements to make sure they were clean. What I encountered in these basements of NYC was truly amazing. Over the course of two years, starting in early 2011, I photographed how superintendents decorate the basements of apartment buildings in Inwood and Washington Heights by illuminating the process of migrant adaptation to the metropolis from an intimate perspective.

Superintendents are caretakers that usually live in the basements of apartment buildings with more than thirteen units. They are in charge of the building on behalf of the owner, do minor repairs in the apartments and deal with the tenants’ concerns. It is a job that is mainly done by migrants. In Northern Manhattan most of the supers originate from Latin America or the Caribbean. 

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 semi-public/private space.

Before every photo shoot I was excited about what super I would meet, what decoration I would encounter, how the super would curate the space using found objects (in fact, most of the objects were discarded by tenants) and what references I would find to the super’s culture and/or dreamscape.

The project has been initially supported with grants form the Northern Manhattan Arts Alliance (NoMAA) and the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council (LMCC).

Execution of Project

By supporting Basement Sanctuaries you will help make my dream of publishing this project as a book come true. As an additional element for the book, I have also photographed and interviewed the superintendents to present their personal stories.

This book is for the people who are essential to the lives of many New Yorkers but hardly recognized. Your support helps to present these unique unseen spaces to a larger audience and makes aware of the conditions the supers live and work in.

As an artist, my projects are followed primarily by a fine-art audience.  This is also true for Basement Sanctuaries. However, the project has already received a lot of attention from local media and the local population. Since superintendents do not only work in Northern Manhattan, the book will also reach New Yorkers from other boroughs, people who are interested in NYC’s culture, architects, urban planners, ethnographers and sociologists, just to name a few. 


I’m raising money to publish a book of the Basement Sanctuaries project and I would like to ask you for your help to support my campaign. My minimum fundraising goal is $6,000, which will cover the book production. If I exceed my goal, I will use the money to pay for related expenses like professional fees (e.g. for the graphic designer, writer, translator), image proofs, creating and shipping­ the perks. 

I have created various perks in return for your tax-deductible donations. All levels of giving are welcome, from small to large. For example, if you donate $50, you will receive a signed copy of the book. If you spend $100, you will be mentioned as a sponsor in the book and receive a signed copy of the book.

Thank you for taking your time to read about my ideas. And thank you in advance for supporting Basement Sanctuaries. If you have a friend who might be interested in supporting the project, please pass this along. 

Thank you for your time and I hope to hear from you.

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