The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks, an exhibition at MoCADA featuring works from over 20 local artists, opened Thursday night, to a packed house.
“We are so excited about the turnout,” said MoCADA’s founder and executive director, Laurie Cumbo. “We want people all over the world talking about gentrification.”
The issue hits close to home for many of the featured artists, like Rosamond S. King, of Bed-Stuyvesant, who left Fort Greene after she could no longer afford to live there. King’s experience with gentrification inspired her poetry, emblazoned on one of the gallery walls.
“Gentrification is part of our lives in Brooklyn,” she said. “It’s very timely, very relevant. It’s part of evolution.”
Michael Premo’s work focuses on how people hold on to the idea of home when they can no longer afford to live where they once called home. Along with his partner Rachel Falcone, he photographs and films how Brooklynites live now as part of an ongoing project called Housing is a Human Right. The project is being featured in a satellite show at the Adriala Gallery in Bed-Stuy through the end of March.
Premo was forced out of his Fort Greene building not long ago. “The landlord neglected the building so bad that when it rained outside, it rained inside,” he recalled. “Just to get these people out. And some ended up homeless.”
MoCADA put out an all-call invitation to artists in October to solicit applications for the exhibit. The featured works represent all forms of media, from painting and photos to sculpture, video, and poetry.
Brooklyn-based author and DJ Rich Burroughs performed a musical set as visitors mingled with artists, sharing wine, hors d’oeuvres and cramped conversations. “Look around you,” said Dexter Wimberly, the exhibit’s curator, and a Fort Greene resident. “This is the gentrification of Brooklyn, live in action.”
“There is no more significant challenge than trying to keep our community affordable,” said Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries, who attended the opening as did Councilwoman Letitia James. “Our great strength- what attracts people to central Brooklyn- is our diversity. Gentrification is a steamroller that threatens to suffocate that diversity.”
James echoed these feelings in an impromptu address to the crowd atop a chair. “We must fight for the invisible people,” she said, “or we will lose the soul of Brooklyn.”
MoCADA is a fitting location, as many of the artists have been forced to leave Fort Greene themselves. “It is the epicenter of displacement,” said Jeffries.
Cumbo hopes the exhibit will get people talking and lead to change. “We want to create a better way to discuss this topic that can’t be avoided,” she said. “The arts are the most powerful way for us to create change in our community.”
The Gentrification of Brooklyn: The Pink Elephant Speaks is on view at MoCADA (80 Hanson Place, Fort Greene) from Feb. 4-May 16, 2010.