By: Jessica Manchester
Guest curated by local Brooklynite Dexter Wimberley, "The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks" his latest exhibit, had already raised eyebrows prior to its opening Thursday, February 4th. Showing at the Museum of Contemporary African Diaspora Art (MoCADA) in Fort Greene), the group exhibit features twenty artists, working in various media whose art takes a deeper look into the impact of gentrification and "deciphers and reconciles the sweeping changes taking place" in Brooklyn. I made my way into the small, packed to the brim studio space.
Media range from video, photography, audio, sculpture, drawing and painting. As you walk into the space more than just the visual is instantly engaged as Adele Pham's Fulton Street video footage of interviews and the hardships endured is all you can hear. Meanwhile, blaring in the background is a constant babble of 3 audio/video art installations such as Zachary Fabri's The Big Paycheck hip hop video which spits out lyrics as art. Before I even had time to absorb the lryrics my eyes were immeadiatly drawn to the ground the first thing I noticed was Josh Bricker's Anatex or rollercoaster toys that lined the bottom of the wall. The Order of Things breathes new life into a nostalgic childhood toy, and brings light to the visual shift in the urban and cultural landscape, by use of color and differentiation, each toy becoming slightly more unrecognizable than the last by use of color and differentiation and complexity.
Josh Bricker, The Order of Things (partial). Image courtesy of http://dailyserving.com/2010/02/the-gentrification-of-brooklyn-the-pink-elephant-speaks
Along the opposing wall was an innovative piece, which at first glance looked like an abstract installation of a map of New York’s subway system, lately known as Mess Transit according to various articles and. Locations and Dislocations by Sarah Nelson Wright is a visual mapping of six individual's travels, moves and endeavors due to the effects of gentrification, urban expansion, rising rent and personal hardships. Each individuals journey is a color-coded line drawing of the local's literal movement around the borough and collaged together upon a no longer existing map of Brooklyn. Alongside the collage and mixture of several lives is a simple mapping of their independent adventures and simplified list of their locations and dislocations in Brooklyn. Whether it was motivated by love, heartbreak, rising rent or lost job, the piece has a lot of soul and is beautifully composed.
Sarah Nelson Wright, Locations and Dislocation (detail). Image courtesy of www.sarahnelsonwright.com
One wall in particular invites you to interact and engage with the artwork through the use of headphones, perched alongside four photos, individuals from around Brooklyn telling the stories of gentrifiers and gentrifyees. Adele Pham’s work includes stories that move you to really think and ponder over the pros and cons of urban expansion and gentrification. I highly recommend Track 6, telling the story of a mother, Maisha Morales, and son, Anthony, a 9-day eviction notice, Bloomberg’s involvement, or lack thereof, and the demise of her boutique . Directly after this is the heart wrenching interview by a Brooklyn native of over 60 years, an old woman, who tells the story of her appreciation for the physical changes in the landscape, how Brooklyn used to be and the dropping crime rates. However, what is most telling about this interview is the angst she expresses in no longer having all this beauty to share with all of her old friends who have been forced out and were once the very people that made Brooklyn so full of culture and character.
In the last room, nestled in the far back left corner of the exhibit, is an ongoing communal sculpture that thrives on your personal touch. Law of Growth is a collaborative effort by both the artist and the viewer and by anyone willing to spread his or her ideas. Accompanied by a note pad, these living giant seeds made of wood, canvas, sisal, quartz and salt invite you to plant an idea into Brooklyn Society and cultural landscape. Reminiscent of tribal art they look like giant seeds gently wrapped in hemp like something out of the South American indigenous tribal art at the MET. At the end of the exhibit the artist intends to plant these ideas throughout Brooklyn and put them to action The 3 seeds stand about 5 feet tall nestled into the far corner spilling into the middle of the room. Simple messages such as “love” or peace are inadvertently scattered next to thoughts of extracurricular leagues, more parks and bringing back the soul of Brooklyn that has been lost.
The final piece that I had the pleasure of coming upon was Nathan Kensinger's Nathan Kensinger’s series of 16 photos taken over the past 5 years. The photos take you on a visual exploration from the historic water front neighborhoods that have been destroyed to make way for eco-friendly establishments....to the remaining piles of rubble resulting from this change/destruction.The ironic and satirical nature of some of these photos seems to lighten the mood that settles in once you realize what is happening here, there and everywhere throughout Brooklyn.
Nathan Kensinger, Ikea Rising, 2006. Image courtesy of http://kensinger.blogspot.com/2007/03/ikea-rising.html
Scrapbook-style photos and essays from The Brooklyn Community Arts and Media High School documenting the impact that gentrification had on the next generation are also on display. The museum intends to have ongoing programs to compliment the exhibit throughout its run, which goes until May 16th. Situated in the midst of Fort Greene, which is a gentrification success story in and of itself, the funky juxtaposition of mediums that spell the stories of the modern movement of Brooklyn allows artistic exploration to thrive. Judge for yourself and see whether the transformation of Brooklyn is a story of success or of a shattered culture.
"The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks" at MoCADA through May 16th
Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts (MoCADA)
80 Hanson Place
Take the C Train to Lafayette or the 2,3,4 or 5 train to Atlantic Ave
Gallery Hours: Wed-Sun, 11 am to 6 pm