Bushwick native uses art and Etch-A-Sketch to fight gentrification

Bushwick native uses art and Etch-A-Sketch to fight gentrification
Danielle DeJesus

A homegrown Bushwick artist is hoping to etch out some space for her neighborhood’s old school population.

Danielle DeJesus, who was born in Woodhull Medical Center in 1987, has seen the best and the worst of Bushwick. The artist said she has watched the neighborhood transition from a rough and tumble but tight-knit community of Latinos toward a high-priced playground for artists and transplants.

Now, De Jesus is celebrating and documenting the fading face of the neighborhood in a new one-woman exhibition. “Made in Bushwick,” which will be at the Living Gallery on April 2, highlights photos, paintings, and even Etch-A-Sketch art she has made of people and places in her home ’hood. Ideally, DeJesus said she hopes her work inspires activists to slow the change. But at the very least, she will have an archive of what will eventually be Bushwick past.

“I am trying to preserve what I have left of what I grew up with,” said De Jesus.

De Jesus, who grew up on Jefferson Street, said she started documenting the neighborhood when she was a sophomore at the Fashion Institute of Technology. She began by taking portrait shots of her neighbors, who had started moving out of Bushwick in droves. One of De Jesus’s professors saw the power in the photographs and encouraged her to keep working on the project.

“I had an emotional connection to the work,” said De Jesus, who also focuses on still-life shots and portraits of skateboarders around the city.

De Jesus said she has spent the last decade helping her mother stay in her rent stabilized apartment on Jefferson Street, as the landlord has pushed out all the other tenants. Her mother is now secure knowing that she can stay in her apartment, but that does not stop the landlord from constantly knocking on her door and offering her money to move out. De Jesus moved out into a more expensive apartment, and said she now worries that she might have turned into a gentrifier herself.

“I almost do not fit into what Bushwick once was and it breaks my heart,” she said.

“Made in Bushwick” at the Living Gallery [1094 Broadway at Dodworth Street, in Bushwick, (631) 377–1998, www.the-living-gallery.com]. April 2 at 6 pm. Free.

Reach reporter Danielle Furfaro at dfurf[email protected]nglocal.com or by calling (718) 260–2511. Follow her at twitter.com/DanielleFurfaro.