May 5, 2013

ART: We The People - Rico Washington and Shino Yanagawa

Rico and Shino at the opening reception
Photo Credit: We The People

Yesterday, I stopped by the Gordon A Parks Gallery & Cultural Arts Center in the South Bronx is see the "We The People" collaborative arts project by Rico Washington (journalist) and Shino Yanagawa (photographer). 

This incredible exhibit showcased the faces and words of residents that live in buildings regulated by the New York City Housing Authority (NYCHA). Those that live in these buildings are often not heard from unless an election is near (to be brutally honest). This exhibit is an eye opener to those who have not lived in or know anyone who has lived in a NYCHA housing complex. 

We The People features interviews and photographs of such notable former NYCHA residents as Hip-Hop artist/ actor Yasiin Bey (formerly known as Mos Def), author/ filmmaker/ cultural critic Nelson George, lauded photographer Jamel Shabazz, Young Lords co-founder/ original Last Poets member/ Emmy award-winning news reporter Felipe Luciano, venerable jazz musician/ recording artist Olu Dara, author/ Emmy award-winning filmmaker Dennis Watlington, Hip-Hop artist/ music industry CEO Buckshot, Hip-Hop icon Afrika Bambaataa, and many more.

What I found enlightening was the work about Felipe Luciano. The revealing nature of this interview that Washington led and the visual capture by Yanagawa was captivating as Luciano delved into the cultural racism that existing as a youth living in public housing - a legacy of not-too-distant past, I might add.  

Inspired by the documentarian works of Jacob Riis, Gordon Parks, and Ruiko Yoshida, Washington and Yanagawa brazenly explored the concept of second-class citizenship as applied to blacks and Latinos residing in New York City's Housing Authority sites. Both former residents of housing projects, Washington and Yanagawa aimed to lift the ubiquitous cloak of darkness cast onto the citys housing projects through candid interviews and photo shoots facilitated over the course of 12 months in various housing projects throughout New York City's five boroughs.

The exhibition has closed but I have hopes that it will re-open soon in order to continue to spread the gift of this exhibition's message as well as to "debunk the myth" of those living in public housing.