The painted images in Urban Artifacts represent the discarded objects and trash that I photographed in my neighborhood, near the infamous Fruitvale BART station, the site of the police killings of Oscar Grant, an unarmed African American man in Oakland, CA.
A densely populated area, the Fruitvale and International Boulevard intersection is a hub of small businesses, public transportation, industrial warehouses, artists' lofts, and sex trafficking of minors, with an ethnically diverse population of migrants and refugees. In the first few months after I moved to a gated loft complex in the neighborhood, which in some ways felt like living in a privileged settlement within an occupied territory, I began to notice an unusual amount of trash discarded on the streets, while trash bins are installed on all street corners. In fact, the sight of so much garbage seemed to be the manifestation of how urban occupants treat their habitat, and I concluded it to be a metaphor for our ailing relationship to the planet that sustains us.
However, while my general assessment may hold some truth, it was when I began to render these disgusting dirt-ridden objects with a painstaking precision that I arrived at a new understanding of their meanings. An empty bottle, the abandoned doll, the tossed out diaper and just about every other image I had photographed, many of which I did not use, all pointed to the displacement, evictions, homelessness, poverty, and other struggles that have been the escalating attributes of my neighborhood. The irony of a homeless person who searches the trash bins to recycle bottles and cans and in the process litters the surrounding area cannot be accurately judged with a binary perception. The single mother who was evicted and had to lighten her possessions by discarding her daughter’s doll does not deserve my prejudice and nor does the prostitute that left her shoe behind while running for her life. The pride in the neighborhood cannot be regarded when the community fails to care for and treat its residents as worthy.
By the time I completed the paintings, I had grown into having a new relationship with the subjects of Urban Artifacts. In fact, I no longer see them as trash, but as brief records of strife in an increasingly hostile world, urging the needs for the open discussion of equity as the key component of our collective survival. On a more personal level, I have become aware that I must disarm my judgments and commit to a deeper understanding that can only be possible with an open mind and reflective empathy.