For a system older than the Spanish flu, the last pandemic to leave an unfathomable amount of human destruction in its wake, New York City’s subway may be the world’s most indelible public resource. With very few interruptions, it deposits and disburses humanity. Through plague, natural disaster and man-made calamity, the system was designed to be steadfast and resolute in its purpose. Of course, the subway and its devotees are just as capable of spreading joy and hope as they are of triggering our anxiety and fears. The second-hand confidence we feel when a fellow rider was meticulous in assembling that night out ensemble. And there are the laughs we get, the ones that momentarily pierce through our worries. The giggle that we have to stifle when we realize we’re sitting across from a bearded dragon that has its own luxurious carrier.
For that reason, Chris Maliwat’s Subwaygram is prescient and a rare body of work. A historical record, a testimony of our values, a parable of inequality. Moments worth preserving and studying. Maliwat wasn’t a safarist or an outside observer. A faithful subway rider himself, Maliwat bore witness to what most would otherwise miss in their routine commutes to work and back home. He told me the work was meditative – a way of working through his own anxieties and finding commonality with fellow riders.
For two years before the pandemic, Maliwat documented the spectrum between self consciousness and unselfconsciousness. And for two years after the onset of the pandemic, Maliwat documented cautiousness and uncertainty. The subway will continue pulling in, opening up and giving polite instruction. But it is not the system that is steadfast and resolute on its own. It is us who must be those things.
(Excerpts from “Steadfast,” by Aaron L. Morrison, in upcoming publication, Subwaygram, by Chris Maliwat from Daylight Books)