Is it Possible to Fight Gentrification and Win?

'Boom: The Art of Resistance' puts forward a variety of tactics for resisting gentrification.  (Lakshmi Sarah)

Boom: The Art of Resistance isn't on display in a typical gallery, but in the rented home of an East Oakland resident, Juan Carlos Quintana, a social worker and community member. Bringing together history, video and political protest art, the show is a collaborative effort of both organizations and individuals from around the Bay Area. It serves as a reminder that despite the region's cultural changes and rising rent prices, a solid crew of artists, activists and organizers are still here resisting -- each in their own way.

“The fact that this show isn’t in a typical institutional space feels better,” says curator Leslie Dreyer, an artist and housing rights organizer and advocate. Dreyer first took over the gallery space, then the kitchen area and finally the roof above the house to showcase all of the art involved in Boom.

A variety of art takes over the gallery as well as the kitchen and roof of the house.
A variety of art takes over the gallery as well as the kitchen and roof of the house.

At first glance, the show feels as though it is taking on too much. Boom serves as a visual archive of Bay Area anti-displacement tactics, featuring over a dozen projects.

How can all these different people, organizations and art be part of the same larger struggle? But as Dreyer says, the many voices at play are intersectional and interconnected. Here’s a glimpse into three projects on display and the tactics they use to fight gentrification:

Leslie Dreyer and the San Francisco Anti-Displacement Coalition (Tactic: Unsanctioned Installation/Tactical Intervention)

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In November 2015, on the day before San Francisco voted on Proposition F, a group arrived at the Airbnb headquarters. “I do a lot of performative intervention work," says Dreyer. The group carried painted banners, balloons and boxes of pizza; the Brass Liberation Orchestra provided music.

In collaboration with multiple San Francisco housing groups, Dreyer formed the action team to highlight the relationship between wealth inequality, evictions and homelessness. Their action publicly demanded a right to homes in a city where many are being pushed out.

 

Sogorea Te' Land Trust and Shummi Land Tax (Tactics: Land Trust, Land Reclamation, Prefigurative Program)

A poster created by artists and printmakers Jesus Barraza and Melanie Cervantes of Dignidad Rebelde and a map of indigenous communities serve as reminders that, before many of us arrived on this land, there were indigenous people living in the Bay Area.

Poster art by Dignidad Rebelde
Poster art by Dignidad Rebelde

The Sogorea Te' Land Trust is an urban indigenous women-led community organization that facilitates the return of Chochenyo and Karkin Ohlone lands to Indigenous stewardship.

"For us, much of the movement work we do is about the intersection of relationships, trust and politics," says Cervantes, adding, "As Xicana/os we find it deeply important to address how settler colonialism undergirds the country we live in and is constantly reproduced."


Amara T. Smith and Ellen Sebastian Chang's House/Full of Black Women (Tactic: Public Performance Ritual, Public Intervention)

Women dressed all in white walk down Oakland streets looking like ghosts in the dark of night. They wear hats and carry parasols, but the purpose is unclear. House/Full of Black Women describes itself as a “multi-site-specific performance ritual project addressing the displacement, wellbeing and sex-trafficking of Black women and girls in Oakland." The work is performed as a series of ritual-based episodes throughout Oakland, taking place between 2016 and 2018.

Inspired by the lantern laws of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, which required slaves and indigenous people to carry lit lanterns so their movements could be tracked and surveilled. Ellen Sebastian Chang tells me the episodes are about ritual and purpose. "The intention was very much inspired by Audre Lorde, 'poetry is not a luxury' and the understanding that we have to look at the dark ancestral spiritual transformation for our survival."


The closing event and discussion for Boom: The Art of Resistance takes place on Saturday, Sept. 10, 4-8pm at Random Parts in Oakland. For more information visit randomparts.org.

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