Art in Fighting Displacement

For my blog post, I am focusing on the Development Without Displacement Art Show that occurred from September 1-30, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland. The Development Without Displacement Art Show exhibited local artists, poets, and musicians focused on displaying the power of art in building community and fostering people’s relationship to their community, land, and shared history. Because I could not find any documentation on the exhibits themselves, I will be focusing on the video created by the event’s organizers that appears at the beginning of the event description that speaks to Baltimore’s history and the issues within the community, specifically the push against Baltimore becoming a waste ground.

The beginning of the video introduces its two overarching elements: a quote about art from W.E.B. Du Bois and an image of the last house remaining in Fairfield, an area outside of Baltimore. The two concepts are seemingly disconnected, and resonate with the viewer in how bold and startling they are individually. It is also notable how the quote featured is from a prominent African American civil rights activist, who seemingly has no direct connection with art yet acknowledges art’s importance and impact. The video is narrated by Destiny Watford, an African American girl around the age of sixteen, who was the 2016 Goldman Prize Recipient in North America and a resident of Curtis Bay, a neighborhood a few blocks away from Fairfield. Watford uses a passionate tone and speaks candidly to the audience, drawing on both empathy and reason as she lists out facts that are supplemented with the montage of newspaper articles, images, and videos. The video does not discuss the art show, or talk about how art can be impactful. However, the video itself is a form of impactful art, combining multimedia forms such as print, photos, song, and video to create an example of how art can help restore a community and connect people to their community’s history. An example of this is how the video plays a song while a montage of protest photos flash on the screen, and the song transitions into a live rendition done by a choir group at a town hall meeting. The harsher images are balanced with softer elements that resonate hope and highlight the spirit of the community and its individuals through the usage of multiple forms of media.

The video tells a story, starting with the singular house in Fairfield and connecting this object to the existing community of Curtis Bay, and how the house symbolizes the possible future of Curtis Bay. The video then discusses how this future was momentarily actualized with the plans to build a large incinerator, and how Curtis Bay fought back. A series of images of protesters with yellow flowers in their hair and against fences softens the otherwise more serious subject matter, and again represents the hope alive in Curtis Bay. I believe a common issue with using images in videos is that they do not seem to adhere to the flow of video, but this video reflects how images can be powerful, as well as demonstrating the contrast between the disparity that exists within a marginalized community, and the hope and humanity alive in its citizens. This is seen again in the slideshow of images that transition from volunteer gatherings, to the creation of a community garden, to the trash-filled, abandoned houses that stand next to the garden. Watford emphasizes not looking at the trash-filled homes as a problem or as separate from the community garden, but rather working the environment as a whole and incorporating the houses within the dialogue of the community and the process of working against failed development and displacement.

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~ by Alyssa Jiang on March 20, 2018.

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