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Got gentrification? MoCADA’s new show certainly does

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Brooklyn has been gentrified. Now it’s time for the art show.

Starting next week, the Museum of Contemporary African Diasporan Arts will confront the issue with “The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks,” a collection of the works of more than 20 artists.

“Now is a good time for this show,” says curator Dexter Wimberly, who lives in Fort Greene. “Brooklyn is becoming so homogenized.”

That said, not everyone sees the issue through the same lens. For some, gentification is simply about real estate. For others — specifically, the displaced — it’s about a fundamental human right.

For artists, it is about exploring the truth about our own neighborhoods. That’s why Wimberly didn’t limit his stable to just one message or media.

“As a curator, it was important to me to make sure this exhibition was not just an African-American perspective, or a white perspective or an Asian perspective or a Latino perspective,” he said. “It was important to try to involve artists that were representative of all these ethnicities.”

And while most of the artists live in Brooklyn, some of them have been forced out of their neighborhoods due to the exact issues the exhibition explores.

Alexandria Smith said she moved out of Bedford-Stuyvesant last summer because of skyrocketing rents. That situation informs her painting, “Good Neighbors,” which shows a young woman building (or perhaps dissembling — it’s purposefully unclear) a fence. The meaning of the painting stems from a line in a Robert Frost poem, “Mending Wall,” which discusses how people use boundaries or walls to avoid the outside world and its problems.

“As I created this painting, I thought about its relevance to Brooklyn and the rise of expensive condos and co-ops springing up in areas that have long been neglected or ignored by the city,” said Smith. “People have difficulty relating to one another because of differing beliefs which in turn leads to people closing themselves off to one another. In actuality, we are a community and should operate as such.”

The best pieces in the show aren’t even on the walls of MoCADA. Gabriel Reese, who does outdoor work in his neighborhood of Crown Heights, created hand-painted billboards that address a different impact of gentrification, from housing to food to demographics, to be placed in different areas of Brooklyn.

“I use humor, subversion and references to popular culture to illustrate the issues,” says Reese, one of whose billboards features, in a fake advertisement, two white women, one wearing a gold “Brooklyn” chain, above the words “Ghetto Fabulous Condos.”

“Some of the billboards are downright offensive,” Reese said, “but I would rather offend someone and have them notice these works than be politically correct and no one see them.”

Regardless of which side of the fence who stand on, Wimberly hopes the exhibition sparks a conversation about these timely issues.

“It’s about taking what has been historically an uneasy topic, and making people more comfortable with the idea of talking about it,” he said.

Reese, in his way, would agree: “My only goal is to get people to discuss the topic of gentrification. If they go home after seeing one of my pieces and rant about it, I would be very pleased.”

“The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks,” opens Feb. 4 at MoCADA [80 Hanson Pl. at S. Portland Avenue in Fort Greene, (718) 230-0492] and runs through May 16.

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Reader Feedback

Mark from Bay ridge says:
Interesting points, though I wonder if the public would be as open to art making fun of the first transition that Brooklyn went through - when the prodominantly white and upper class burough became poorer and more ethnic.
Jan. 29, 2010, 8:26 am
joey from Clinton Hills says:
freedom of movement is in the Constitution. When I moved to my street, no one paid rent in most of the neighboring buildings...the residents just hung out on the street all day. I don't love the yuppies that have displaced the bums, but I won't glorify the bums either. Anti-Gentrification whiners are lame.
Jan. 29, 2010, 1:55 pm
Aspen from Colorado says:
I wish Coney Island Avenue would be gentrified.
Now it's a mosh pit of used auto dealerships, auto repair shops, gasoline stations, and a succession of parochial interests groups whose stores,such as they are, all cater to their own enclaves. No bookstores, sit-down restaurants, diners, even. No bars, plant shops, bakeries. No galleries, museums. No retail to speak of and it's dreary to boot.
Jan. 29, 2010, 3:25 pm
Phil Vitale from Ditmas Park says:
Brooklyn homogenized? Yeah if you only look from downtown to Park Slope and around the park. There are two million people living in this borough. It's as heterogeneous as any place in the world. Drive the length of Coney Island Avenue. (It's not just car dealers and repair shops etc. either) Walk along Flatbush Avenue. Try Linden Boulevard into Queens and Atlantic Avenue, not to forget Flatlands Ave, Pennsylvania Avenue and Nostrand Avenues. Walk along Cortelyou Road from the F train to the Q train. Have you looked at Dahill Road, Bay Parkway and even Ocean Parkway. I mean really looked? Come on. You only see what you want to see to justify you existence.
Jan. 31, 2010, 4:47 pm
Queen Bernice from Brooklyn via Africa says:
Everyone seems to be talking about the gentle-ification of Brooklyn, but you all seem pretty rough to me. Let this home-oganizing gentleness overtake you, then we will all be like one.
Jan. 31, 2010, 6:03 pm
Aspen from Colorado says:
Also, the Junction, at Flabush and Nostrand Avenues, desperately needs upgrading. Now it looks worse than Port-au-Prince after the earthquake. To hell with nostalgia. Bring on a massive upscaling at this location.
Feb. 2, 2010, 11:33 am
richie rich from parkslope says:
We need the Mayor, Ratner or Trump to fix Crown Heights, Bed stuy and Red hook.
Feb. 2, 2010, 4:48 pm
Africanasha from Bed Stuy says:
to Mr. Richie Rich
Excuse me for being black, but some of us like bed stuy as it is - and we don't want honkeys coming over adn starbucksing us!
Feb. 2, 2010, 6:13 pm
Queen Bernice from Brooklyn via Africa says:
Nah na! Africanasha - how can you be so cruel?
You be hatin' when you needa be lovin'!
Remember the diaspora and be proud my beautiful nubian sister.
Feb. 3, 2010, 7:06 am
Uganda from Congo says:
Oh Africanasha. Black is beautiful, ramshackle poverty is not. Most Bed-Stuy commercial streets need a make-over.
Feb. 3, 2010, 10:22 am
Africanasha from Bed Stuy says:
To Uganda -
My butt is beautiful, but I don't want to live there.
Why would our neighborhood be better if it was made cookie-cutter "beautiful" with soul-less park-slope-ification?
I don't want it, and I don't think there is a problem with Bed Stuy as it is now. We don't all agree with what you call "beautiful" - some of us find it pretty ugly.

And my sistah, I don't really believe you are from Afrca.
Feb. 4, 2010, 5:14 am
Uganda from Congo says:
The residential streets in Bed-Stuy are quite handsome. It's the dank commercial streets - Fulton, Nostrand Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, --which need a greater variety of retail stores, better lighting, improved signage, bars, clubs, theaters, etc.
We African BROTHERS only want the best for our American cousins (Even though our hands are dirty from the slave trade, but that's another story).
Feb. 4, 2010, 12:08 pm
Africanasha from Bed Stuy says:
@Uganda

Maybe you don't get it, we don't need lights and shopping. They are a waste of the enviornment and of money. Stop trying to clean us up to be white pretty. We are rough, we are nostrand avenue, and we don't want you to turn us into Bedford Stuyvesant by the Disney Corportaion.

Whether or not you are african (and I don't think you are) - you are certainly not my "BROTHER". More like my embarassing cousin who I don't want to talk with.

Black Power!
Feb. 5, 2010, 7:22 am
Uganda from Congo says:
Thanks for letting me remain in the family, however "embarrassing" my thoughts are.

You need'nt worry. It's likely that the commercial streets in Bed-Stuy will remain as they are for many years to come and might begin to rival Camden and Detroit in deterioration instead of Bourbon and Beale streets in vitality. Remember: Fulton Street once had a vibrant black night life ---the Apollo,the Brevoort, the Regent, etc.? All gone now. Keep roughing it as you like.
Feb. 5, 2010, 11:13 am
jiggaboojones from Harlem says:
Man I hate dems Crackuhs
July 20, 2010, 9:48 pm
Frances from Prospect Heights says:
Interesting short documentary about gentrification in Brooklyn called "Affording Progress"
http://vimeo.com/19003237
Jan. 20, 2011, 6:31 pm

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