Artists provide the best avenue to learn about the role of art in revolutions. Powerful young activists Nayelis and Maribel, who both use she and her pronouns, are longtime residents of Bushwick, Brooklyn. As the U.S. awakens to the injustices marginalized folks are all too familiar with, Nayelis and Maribel put together their own protest: an art show centering on low-income Black and Brown lives. I had the privilege of interviewing Nayelis and Maribel. I got to further understand how they use art to revolutionize themselves and others.
Their show, “Losing the Hood”, will address issues that affect POC, Maribel explained, but focus on those that disproportionately affect Black people in Bushwick. The theme of the show is housing inequality and gentrification, an issue that has only become worse with COVID-19 and increased rent prices. “Losing the Hood” will showcase pieces by Bushwick residents, primarily people of color and almost all low-income folks, to make a statement against gentrification in their neighborhood and home. White people in Bushwick need to hear the voices of the communities they’re hurting.
Growing Up in Bushwick
It’s incredibly liberating to find a way to express yourself. That’s what Nayelis and Maribel both found in various art programs. Nayelis discovered her love of poetry in a social justice, women empowerment program. There, she learned about the world outside of Bushwick, as well as about gender and sexuality. Maribel was hooked as soon as she found a space where she could make her own films and collaborate with others. These programs show people that art is something they are capable of creating. They also make art a priority in peoples’ lives, which is something capitalism tries to destroy.
Who I Am Influences My Art, and My Art Influences Who I Am
Both Nayelis and Maribel agree that their identities play a huge role in what they create. In fact, their art became political by accident. Maribel explained that as a Mexican woman, her work in film always comes back to her community, sometimes even unintentionally; to where she comes from and who she is. Nayelis explained perfectly that as a queer, Afro-Latina feminist from a low-income family “hearing everything that’s happening in the world… it always feels like it’s happening to you… it just immediately transfers into [my] work.”
It’s easy for cisgender, heterosexual, upper class, able-bodied white people to make art about something that has nothing to do with their identity. This is because they don’t experience oppression. Art by queer folks, people of color, disabled people, and other marginalized communities is often influenced by their identities. How marginalized folks go about their lives, as artists or otherwise, is informed by society’s treatment of them. It is often impossible to just “leave this behind” before beginning their creative processes.
To continue, revolutionary art doesn’t begin when a revolution gains widespread attention. It’s an everyday practice for people still fighting for their rights. When speaking about her inspiration, Maribel said “my daily inspiration is my people, pushing through for them… there always has to be that one person that has to take initiative to tell their story… So I guess that’s where my passion comes from, you know, one of us has to stand up.” Art has given Mirabel and Nayelis power to speak their truths and tell the stories of their individual communities and experiences. This is why art is so powerful: it can communicate the painful, racist, transphobic, homophobic, elitist, sexist history of the U.S. and capture how that pain is still felt today.
My Art is a Revolution In Itself
Media outlets are constantly broadcasting the current painful white supremacist ideologies inflicted by the U.S. government on marginalized communities. We are in the midst of a revolution; a fight for real, permanent change. People are being arrested in the streets for protesting daily as they face violent tactics used by the police. But this isn’t the only way to make yourself heard. Nayelis and Maribel knew they wanted to uplift the voices of their communities during turbulent times. That’s where “Losing the Hood” comes in. They are using art as a form of protest. In the process of doing so, they are also learning so much about the power that art holds. This show is not just an opportunity for Bushwick folks to showcase their art. It’s also a way for people to engage with each other’s ideas and experiences. Nayelis made her’s clear:
“I just don’t believe in the bureaucracies and all that anymore because when you’re poor, America hates you. So I’m kind of done going through the whole talking to politicians, emailing democrats and writing letters… that’s not getting anything done. So we’re trying to go the more art route, and I think art allows you to tap into new ways of thinking. I feel like creativity has really been taken away from Black and Brown people… our art departments are always extremely, extremely underfunded, right. So I think, allowing space to be creative and being creative about solutions for how to have better lives… and spreading the idea that you can have what you want and you do not have to ask the government or anyone for permission to get [it] is going to be monumental.”– Nayelis
But What About Capitalism?
Developing a creative space for low-income people of color that allows them to speak their minds is revolutionary in itself. Maribel and Nayelis agree that this is because this community is otherwise constantly excluded from the art world. They also both spoke on this exclusion and its relationship with capitalism:
Maribel: “Because if you don’t know people and if you don’t have the money to pay for your film, it’s just difficult… capitalism affects me personally because I have to work much harder to network more; to put myself out there more. And always, you know, having a second thought, like “is this good enough, are they gonna like it…” you have to make sure you get the attention from the people who are higher above you who got the money there to sponsor and promote your work.”
Nayelis: “Capitalism doesn’t allow people access to education so you feel like you can’t be an artist because you never took art history. And then there’s the whole thing with if you cannot profit off of something that you’re doing it’s completely worthless… as an artist feeling like I’m never going to be Van Gogh or whatever, you just doubt yourself; come down yourself and then you question your art and you doubt your word. And then the whole thing about needing to be productive and working and going and blah, and that’s not how art works, you sit down, you do it, you give it a week, and then you come back to it, that’s not what capitalism wants for you, it just wants productivity and I don’t know that just hurts.”
Being an artist of a revolution means fighting against capitalism. Nayelis and Maribel recognized that capitalism was a barrier for them as artists. So, they looked to their communities and broke down that barrier by creating this pop-up art show. Revolutionary art creates change; it’s scary and loud and powerful and raw. Privileged people want to keep things the way they are, but Nayelis and Maribel won’t let that happen. Their passion for art and for their communities propels them to ensure everyone’s voices are heard beyond Bushwick. They are doing an incredible job.
Nayelis is going to continue her work as a revolutionary artist by becoming a teacher who utilizes creativity in the classroom while simultaneously destroying the DoEd from the inside. She has no intention of teaching the required curriculum – she wants to help kids find the support she did for her poetry. Maribel wants to open a non-profit dedicated to connecting young people of color with the resources they need to get into the film industry.
If you want to support “Losing the Hood”, you can donate to Art de la gente de Bushwick GoFundMe. You can also donate to support the show’s artists directly through Bushwick Art’s cashapp: bushwicksart. To stay up to date on the show’s progress and needs, please follow @bushwicksart on Instagram.