"The People First!" | Gallery Opening Highlights / by EMW Bookstore

We had an amazing gallery opening last Friday! The latest exhibit, "The People First!" featured five visual artists and organizations from the Greater Boston Area, each bringing to light their experiences and issues surrounding gentrification.

"Against-Gentrification Mural", a large participatory art piece, measured 30ft across and was organized by artists Wen-ti Tsen, Jasmine Lee, and Carolyn Chou from the Chinese Progressive Association. Wen-ti and the team invited the Chinatown community to a "paint-in", where participants from all backgrounds and skill-levels were encouraged to add to the collective piece.

Facing the mural, on the opposite wall, are pieces from individual artists. Spanning the pillar that borders the gallery entrance is a large hand-lettered graphic reading, “THE PEOPLE FIRST!”, by Boston street artist, SOEMS.  Gallery visitors were encouraged by the artist to “add their mark,” as a spontaneous idea inspired by the "Against-Gentrification Mural". 

Next to the pillar is an installation titled “StreetChange,” created by MIT Media Lab students, Mia Petkova and Nikhil Nail. Set up to resemble an innocuous deskspace, an interactive website on a computer screen displays side-by-side photos of city blocks from 2007 and 2014, pulled directly from the Google Maps API. Using a computer vision algorithm, StreetChange lets visitors view the places that have experienced the greatest level of change on a city-scale.

At the far end hangs a triptych by Jesus Morales. The three pieces symbolize the young artist's experience as a resident in East Boston, watching the process of gentrification repeatedly batter his neighborhood. With his distinct style of ink drawings, Jesus depicts the anxiety and chaos he feels as one of many who have been forced to leave where they call home. 

During the opening reception, poet Tariana V. Little performed 2 intimate pieces that recounted experiences of displacement, getting uprooted, and left unwanted. Tariana's words summarized both the vulnerability and the resistance of individuals in urban centers today.