The Market

How one twee mural ended up as the avatar of Bushwick gentrification

By Virginia K. Smith  | September 22, 2015 - 2:07PM

A crochet mural inspired by Moonrise Kingdom and The Shining isn't going to everyone's cup of tea, aesthetically speaking. But late last week, this temporary installation at the Bushwick flea also blew up into a massive controversy over the neighborhood's ongoing gentrification.

It all started with a Facebook post: Will Giron, a tenant organizer and housing advocate whose family owns the building that abuts the Bushwick Flea, put up a post decrying the mural—which he says was put up without his family's permission—and its larger implications about racial and economic dynamics in the neighborhood. The post quickly garnered a few thousand shares, and lots of negative feedback for Bushwick Flea owner Rob Abner, as well as London Kaye, the artist who actually put up the mural.

A few key excerpts below:

Gentrification has gotten to the point where every time I see a group of young white millennials in the hood my heart starts racing and a sense of anxiety starts falling over me. [...]

I phoned Mr. Abner about the mural politely informing him that he didn't ask our permission to put it up, and that it couldn't stay up for too long due to some work my aunt was planning on doing to the house in October. Abner started to yell at me, curse me, and even threatened to call the city on my family because one of my aunt's sells Salvadorian food on the front yard - something she's been doing for years and is well loved in the community for doing. Abner later sent me a condescending email with a meek apology asking that he keep up the mural until October. "Besides", he said "we've just raised your property value." Little did he know that I am a community organizer and legal coordinator, specializing in dealing with asshole gentrifiers like him. 

Now consider the sense of entitlement, privilege, the blatant lack of self awareness, and condescending attitudes towards people of color. Consider the fact that it's art when white people put up murals on private property but when we create our own art in Bushwick it's considered "vandalism". 

Abner denies using that language in his dealings with Giron, but some intrepid Redditors tracked down his Facebook page, and well, it doesn't exactly read like the postings of a person who's especially concerned with gentrification. (As one Gothamist commenter puts it, "He's like your Benghazi-obsessed uncle.")

More to the point, the DoB does have provisions in place to "prevent illegal signage from being placed on private property and fences," as Gothamist points out, and Kaye herself has since apologized, saying she'd sought permission from Abner—who gave her the go-ahead—rather than the building owners themselves. 

In truth, we can't really blame her for being startled at the swift, negative reaction to the piece—whether or not you like the way it looks, crochet art on public places like street lamps, bikes, and fences, has been around in the city for years at this point without much controversy, thanks to Kaye and other artists like Olek NYC.

Still, as Giron puts it in a follow-up interview with Gothamist, "I don't feel like London was doing anything malicious. I truly believe that from the bottom of my heart. At the same time though, that's a lack of awareness of your own privilege. If any black or Latino person were to do what London did, we'd have to worry about being bashed by the cops." 

For his part, Abner has said that he should be thanked for cleaning up a lot that was formerly a "junkyard," not vilified. (He has also since said, "We covered up nasty graffiti with nice graffiti.") Whatever your taste in street art, can we all at least agree that it's a good idea to ask permission before you embark on a huge art project on your neighbors' property? Just a helpful rule of thumb to keep in mind.


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