An Artist’s Ode to New York City Sanitation Workers

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Vuilniswagendans (City Machine Dance), May 15, 1985. Courtesy of Ronald Feldman Fine Arts.Photo: Mierle Laderman Ukeles

As the New York City Department of Sanitation’s official artist-in-residence, Mierle Laderman Ukeles has challenged perceptions of labor and the city’s workers for over 30 years. She began her work long before designer Heron Preston’s sanitation-uniform show this Fashion Week, documenting a range of labor practices from everyday domestic chores to blue-collar public-service jobs.

In subversive performances, unusual installations, and mixed-media works (like trash-dump sculptures), Ukeles often explores cultural status and female identity. A new exhibit opening this Sunday at the Queens Museum showcases her oeuvre, which spans over 50 years. It accompanies the book Mierle Laderman Ukeles: Maintenance Art, published by Prestel earlier this month.

Click ahead to see photographs from the book and Ukeles’s various works, including street sweepers as performance art.

New York Fashion Week’s Most Unlikely Show: A Celebration of Sanitation Workers