Recent Rutgers University-Newark graduate Ana Montiero, who emigrated to the U.S. from Portugal at age 2, remembers countless hours making up stories and writing them down while growing up on the outskirts of Newark’s Ironbound district, where she escaped into books, animated shows and movies as a child and loved music and playing with her dad’s digital camera, using it to take photos of family members. From an early age she was passionate about expressing herself and about learning.
It’s no surprise, then, that Montiero, who arrived at RU-N in 2019 as part of the Honors Living and Learning Community (HLLC) and was a Price Humanities scholar within the program, ultimately became a multimedia artist and storyteller while also diving deep into scholarship as an Art History major with a minor in Anthropology and Social Justice.
Montiero was inspired to merge her artistic endeavors and academic interests early on at RU-N after taking an EcoArt class with Associate Professor of Practice Alexandra Chang and a Film and Colonialism class with History Professor Jon Cowans, who directs RU-N's Film Studies minor. Associate Professor Paul Sternberger, who has taught art history at RU-N since 1997, guided her as well, becoming an important advisor throughout her four years here.
My work is centered from my position as a first-generation queer immigrant living in Newark and aiming to highlight the interconnectedness of the human experience across imagined borders and limitations.
“I realized my passions flourished the most in the intersections of art and activism,” said Montiero. “My work is centered from my position as a first-generation queer immigrant living in Newark and aiming to highlight the interconnectedness of the human experience across imagined borders and limitations. Together with my experience as part of HLLC, my time at RU-N has felt very interdisciplinary and interconnected.”
By all measures, Montiero had a remarkable run at RU-N, not only academically, having excelled in her coursework and completed a senior thesis on Cuban Art with Chang (who served as her advisor), but also as a production assistant, curator, artist and presenter.
After taking a class called Stories from the Pandemic with Arts, Culture & Media Professor Timothy Raphael, Montiero was offered a summer 2021 internship to work with Raphael’s Newest Americans project on the launch of the Newark Story Bus, a mobile multimedia lab whose staff collects migration stories of fellow Newark residents. She parlayed that into a Newest Americans fellowship (for credit) during her junior year and loved the experience setting up and striking the mobile audio lab, conducting interviews, and handling production and post-production work.
“Newest Americans expanded how I was able to engage with my community and gave me practical experience and insight into how to use multimedia art as a form of activism and engagement with the people around me,” Montiero said.
Montiero also curated Whose Place? Whose Time? Whose Future? an ongoing art exhibition running at HLLC since last fall, which aims to decolonize our understandings of Newark and recenter the Lenape indigenous perspectives that have been erased over time while also exploring the identities and stories of those who now occupy and live in the city. With a graduate level EcoArt class, she also co-curated the exhibit Metamorphosis: Becoming Speculative Specimens, which ran this April at Dana Library.
Montiero has made her mark as an artist as well while at RU-N, participating in a winter 2023 group exhibition titled Perceptual Engineering at the Express Newark Windows galleries, which was curated by Colleen O’Neal, a Part-Time Lecturer in Arts, Culture & Media who is currently working towards her M.A. in American Studies. And last September, HLLC celebrated the grand opening of its new building by featuring music and an art installation by Monteiro, which honored the history of the site as the original home of Native Americans and the 19th-century Halsey Street Episcopal Church.
In addition, Montiero was a Keynote Presenter at the All In/Co-Creating Knowledge for Justice Conference at the University of California, Santa Cruz, an academic conference in October 2022 focusing on community-engaged scholarship and collaboration toward structural change. In March of this year, she was a speaker at the How We Build Solidarity Through Storytelling virtual workshop run by RU-N's Humanities Action Lab, which explored “mutual aid storytelling” and building supportive methods of collaborative learning. And this April, Montiero served as poetry recitation organizer and judge for the first annual SOMOS NJ Poetry and Culture Festival at RU-N.
Montiero complimented these experiences with study abroad. In May 2022 she spent two intensive weeks in Benin, in West Africa, learning about how the traumatic history and memory of the slave trade is commemorated, debates that arise around place and material culture, and the relationship between tourism and cultural heritage. And this winter she spent a month in Havana, Cuba, studying the impact of African, Spanish and American influences on Cuban Culture and Society, while researching her senior thesis on Belkis Ayon Manso’s artworks.
Amid all this, Montiero won an HLLC scholarship from 2019 to 2022, and four awards in 2022: an SASN scholarship, a Price Humanities Travel Grant (for her Benin study abroad), an RGSA Winter Scholarship and a Falzon Family Scholarship.
Now that she’s graduated from RU-N, Montiero will continue to develop the HLLC exhibition, while working with an art collective started by one of her fellow classmates. She hopes to continue creating her own art, exploring the intersections of her identity and surrounding community, and envisions curating larger-scale exhibitions and collaborating with people she's met throughout her RU-N journey, an experience that has changed her life and for which she is very grateful.
“I am blessed to be able to look back on a really dynamic and fulfilling past four years at Rutgers, and I’m thankful for all the staff here who have put in the work and care so that students like me can have access to resources and opportunities,” said Montiero. “I have so much gratitude for my time here and for how far I’ve been able to venture into the world—how much my eyes have been able to see.”