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Gina Cunningham (born 1955) is an American multidisciplinary artist who has been producing work about immigrants for more than 25 years.
Early life and education
Fleeing the Genovese family’s oppressive treatment of women, she moved to New York City in 1973, where she attended Hunter College. The following year, she performed in “Emily Likes the TV” with Christopher Knowles and Cindy Lubar at The Kitchen in Manhattan. She holds a Master’s degree in communication from Barry University in Miami and is certified as an art, video and film production instructor.
The plight of immigrants has always been a deep concern of Cunningham’s. Starting in 1991, Cunningham’s family used money she received as compensation for her cement-truck injuries to support refugees fleeing Haiti after the ouster of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. She and Eves purchased Tap Tap Restaurant the following year and hired Haitian artists to decorate the interior; after extensive renovations, it opened in 1994.
Cunningham and Eves raised their two daughters above Tap Tap, which quickly became an award-winning restaurant featuring Haitian cuisine and Caribbean cocktails, Haitian bands and karaoke nights.
Cunningham continued to support the refugee community in other ways, as well. In 1994, she collaborated with Lou Anne Colodny, director of the Center for Contemporary Art (now the Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami), to showcase Haitian artists at a comprehensive exhibition.
Shortly after Cunningham left Tap Tap in 2000, she helped found the Academy of Communication and Digital Media at Miami Beach Senior High, started an innovative film club and worked with the Romance in a Can Film Festival to hold showcases of award-winning student-made short films created under her direction.
In 2007, she produced an award-winning television commercial for Discovery Espanol with her student filmmakers.
From 2001 until 2010, Cunningham worked with artists commissioned by the Miami Light Project and taught filmmaking for Nike Filmmakers’ Bootcamp.
After leaving teaching in 2011, Cunningham became fascinated with boats and water during an artist residency in 2014 in Varanasi, a Holy City in India. There, she watched residents and tourists bathe and pour the ashes of cremated bodies into the sacred Ganges River, a ritual Hindus believe releases the soul from the cycle of rebirth, a concept known as moksha. Since that time, as a tribute to this sacred tradition, she has floated and installed paper boats in Russia, Haiti and Mexico, all of which can be seen in her videos on her website.
In 2011, 2013 and 2015, Cunningham created installations for the ghetto Biennale in Port au Prince, Haiti, and was interviewed by Clocktower Radio Brooklyn. She was awarded artistic residencies in Korea 2014 and Iceland in 2015.
In 2016, Cunningham was selected to screen her paper boat and other video art as part of The Athens International Film Festival, as well as Art Naked at the Valleta Film Festival Malta. Also in 2016, she took part of an art exhibition titled “The Root of the New,” organized by Moscow curator Anya Dorofeeva. Cunningham created a large installation across a pond at Moscow State University's Apothecary Gardens, founded by Peter the Great in 1706. She also was part of a video exhibition Moscow's State Darwin Museum.
In November 2016, she created a short film documenting the Water Protectors at Standing Rock, North Dakota where Cunningham’s boats hung from barren trees as she held space with her husband, son-in-law actor Rhys Coiro and their family doctor, who provided medical care for the community.
In 1978, Cunningham met U.K.-born Peter Eves at the Spring Street Bar in New York City. She gave birth to their first daughter, Katherine, the following year in a small Little Italy apartment. Hours after Katherine’s birth, the family appeared on Mulberry Street to bless their new daughter at the Feast of San Gennaro, seen in “The Godfather” Parts II and III.
The young family led a gypsy-like existence, staying at an American millionaire’s villa in Italy, crossing the heavily armed border to Yugoslavia at midnight, lodging with farmers in Cypress and hunting oysters on the Eastern seaboard.
In 1984, Cunningham was hit by a cement truck. Her right leg was severed in the accident, but surgeons were able to reattach it, and after rehabilitation, she was able to walk again with a barely perceptible limp. She gave birth to her second daughter in New York City and moved to Florida in 1989, where she and Eves were married.
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