Founded in 1993, the Sumei Multidisciplinary Arts Center serves as a platform for artists around the world to connect with communities in Newark and supports emerging and established artists through exhibitions, lectures, seminars, workshops, and residencies. Its programming includes an annual exhibition, “Havana/Newark,” which features works of Cuban artists living in Havana, and its African Art initiative, which includes panel discussions, music and dance performances, and an annual exhibition. All of these initiatives include materials from Sumei’s permanent collections.
Yoland Skeete, one of Sumei’s founders, initiated the Newark Chinatown History project upon discovering that Newark had once had a thriving Chinatown. At its peak, Newark’s Chinatown was home to 3,000 residents but by the 1950s, they had dispersed and many families moved into New Jersey’s suburbs. To recover the largely forgotten history of the neighborhood and the people who had once lived there, Skeete embarked on an ambitious archival and archaeological research project. As part of her research, she scoured local churches, Newark’s public libraries, the National Archives and Records Administration, and the New Jersey Historical Society for records and xeroxed or photographed documents to begin building a collection. She spearheaded an archeological dig of the area, unearthing privies and other objects from Newark’s Chinatown, some of which are included in the collection. She also conducted oral histories of former residents and their descendants. Since building the collection, Skeete has organized various public programs at Sumei, including lectures, exhibits, and reunions of Newark Chinatown residents to raise awareness about these valuable materials. Comprising of historical research files, photographic compilations, oral history documentation and artifacts, the collection reflect Skeete’s extensive effort to reconstruct the history of a once thriving Chinatown community that existed in Newark from the 1870s through 1970s.
To learn more about the Newark Chinatown Collection, located at the NYU Tamiment Library & Robert F. Wagner Labor Archives, view the collection’s finding aid.