In South LA, A Pop-Up Art Show Takes On The Housing Crisis
Now through May 20, Community Coalition — a nonprofit that’s been in South L.A. since 1990 — is hosting an art show that grapples with the housing crisis’ impact on Black and Latino residents.
Titled South L.A. Is Still Home, the show takes on an expansive and historical perspective, placing housing and homelessness in a national context that includes redlining and subprime lending during the housing boom.
“We were very intentional about the name,” said Glauz Diego, who serves as the nonprofit’s director of arts and culture. “It’s a reminder to residents that, even though we’re facing displacement and are being victims of gentrification, we’re still a community.”
The exhibit opens with a display of signs with phrases like “WE BUY HOUSES FOR CASH.” These items, said Diego, were “procured by volunteers” — local residents who see such signs on a daily basis.
“They really beg the question: Who has those kinds of resources, to just buy homes for cash?” Diego added. He says the signs show a concerted effort to push out longtime residents and make way for the highest bidder.
What to expect in the exhibit
Further into the exhibit, visitors will come across an installation called Living Room At Risk, which features a couch, a coffee table, lamps, and an old television. Portraits of local residents, shot by Diego, adorn the walls.
At first glance, it all looks like a typical living room in South L.A., said Ernesto Rocha, associate director of arts and culture. He encourages visitors to “pay attention to the small details.” On the coffee table, for instance, there’s a pile of unpaid bills, including envelopes that read “FINAL NOTICE” in ominous red ink.
At Community Coalition meetings, Rocha said, many members have voiced that they’re struggling to pay their rent and utility bills. The installation is meant to get visitors to reflect on how seeing bills pile up can affect one’s mental health. One of the portraits in the room features a man who recently completed a prison sentence. His image serves to underscore how difficult it is to secure housing after being incarcerated, given that tenant screening often involves background checks and landlords who demand excellent credit scores.
The living room also has placards with statistics about how the housing crisis is affecting Black and Latino residents in L.A. County. One of them signals that Black Angelenos are overrepresented among those who are experiencing homelessness. Another warns that when it comes to unhoused residents, Latinos are the fastest-growing demographic.
The exhibit warns that “many of our neighbors are on the brink of losing their homes,” said Rocha.
Celebrating everyday life and resilience
Still, Diego and Rocha do not want visitors to leave in despair; the show also includes works that emphasize the ties that bind the community.
One of Diego’s favorite pieces is a painting that features a tamal (tamale) vendor in front of Hank’s Mini Market, a Black-owned family business on Florence Avenue. He values that the owners transformed the liquor store into a place where local residents can find fresh produce. Diego also appreciates that the vendor — “a woman who is hustling, up at 6 a.m. to earn a living in this expensive city” — is the piece’s subject matter.
Saturday, May 13, 5 p.m.: Community Coalition will host a poetry night, where spoken word artists will address themes of housing and belonging.
Saturday, May 20, noon to 7 p.m.: The show closes with a festival.
To RSVP for a tour of the exhibit and related programming, visit the nonprofit’s website.
8101 S. Vermont Ave., Los Angeles
South L.A. Is Still Home has been in the making since January 2023, Rocha said. He and Diego interviewed every artist in the show. During these conversations, they asked the artists about their process, along with their relationship to South L.A., housing, and homelessness.
The show commissioned three pieces from artist Jessi Ujazi. Her collages set local landmarks, including the historic Dunbar Hotel, against neon, dreamlike backgrounds. Terrick Gutierrez, an interdisciplinary artist who grew up in South L.A., also contributed two pieces for the show. One of them features the Jordan Downs public housing complex, made up of pieces of paper towels.
Gutierrez shared that when he was starting out, “he didn't have the resources to pay for big canvases or expensive art materials,” Diego said. “So he used what he had. And one day, while cleaning his brushes, he noticed how the paint took to napkins.” Now that his work appears in galleries across the country, Gutierrez continues to use nontraditional materials.
“Part of why [Gutierrez] depicts landmarks and cultural treasures in South L.A. is because he wants to celebrate them. But he's also very intentional about the napkins,” said Diego. “When we think about napkins, we think of something that’s disposable, right? We use them, throw them away, don't even think about it. [Gutierrez] says that’s very similar to how people think about communities like South L.A.”
The show also includes a photo project by 11 high school students who are part of the South Central Youth Empowered thru Action Arts Council. They collected 30 images about everyday life in their neighborhood, including simple pleasures like hanging out with friends, school, and toys in a backyard.
The exhibit is coupled with weeks of programming, including a panel where experts and community members discussed organizing efforts and policy recommendations to keep local residents housed.
These events, said Diego, acknowledge that “we are experiencing a housing crisis, but you also will be met with juxtaposing messages of residents who are really showing resistance, messages that show that we’re a community that fights back.”
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