Here are two reasons you must go to El Museo del Barrio in East Harlem now–as in, this weekend: It's not only closing on Monday November 6 for a months-long renovation, but this is also the last weekend to see the work of Belkis Ayón, a Cuban printmaker whose mysterious work feels like a portal to the depths of the human soul.
The artist, who committed suicide at the age of 32 in 1999, stood out in a lot of ways: she was a black Cuban woman; she used an unusual technique called collography, in which various textures are collaged and run through a press; and she was obsessed with the all-male Afro-Cuban secret society Abakuá, which never let her join.
Ayón's art is filled with enigmatic figures, mostly in shades of black, white and gray, that are related to the brotherhood's mythology. I stared at them and they stared back, unblinking, as if revealing our shared primitive roots.
Thankfully chef Julian Medina's taqueria La Chula just opened on 116th Street in East Harlem (it's the second outpost, the first being in Grand Central), so you can stop by whenever the mood strikes you. But this weekend is the tail end of the restaurant's Day of the Dead celebrations, during which it's serving special tacos de chapulines (that's grasshoppers in Spanish) and also a seasonal margarita made with pumpkin puree and yuzu.
If you don't happen to feel like eating insects this weekend, you should still try some of La Chula's other mouthwatering tacos like the shrimp, the short rib or the pastor. The corn tortillas are made from scratch right there, and the pork in the pastor, for example, is mixed with freshly grilled pineapple, rotating on the spit above the meat. The fixings, like shredded cabbage and guacamole and salsa verde, tie everything together deliciously.
As a side, order the popular elote, Mexican street corn coated in mayo, cheese and Tajin seasoning. I didn't get a chance to sip on anything at the bar, which serves beer, spicy micheladas, fresh and frozen margaritas and more, but I hope to very soon. You should too.