Brooklyn-based artists Oasa DuVerney and Mildred Beltre, the duo behind art collective Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine, have long used their artistic skills and shared experience as Black Caribbean women to build community with those around them.

Using art to take up space in the community has been a way of fighting the pressures of gentrification and an impending sense of no longer belonging, DuVerney said. 

We wanted to use our skills as artists and educators to build a sense of community.”

Photo: David Andrako. 

Their latest project Inspired By “What is Left” was recently installed at Prospect Park’s bandshell. The text-based project quotes the late poet Lucille Clifton’s work, “won’t you celebrate with me,” and serves as a reminder to the Brooklyn community to remain resilient in light of the recent Black Lives Matter Protests and conversations surrounding police brutality and gentrification.

“We were invested in thinking about how we could strengthen our communities, rather than have the typical role artists have, which is gentrify communities,” Beltre said.

Brooklyn, like many other boroughs in the city, has seen rapid gentrification in the past twenty years. As more high-priced condos are built, more and more of Brooklyn’s residents of color are being displaced. For both DuVerney and Beltre, it’s led to feelings of discomfort within a community they’ve lived in all their lives.

“There’s always this constant threat of policing, as these white or more affluent faces continue to pop up everywhere,” DuVerney said. “There were doors and storefronts changing. It was just this impending doom and we wanted to counteract that.”

The new project, they both said, was rooted in the community, adding many artists had used Brooklyn as a stopping point, but that simple act of gentrifying created an alternate community that presented the current community in need of saving.

But Brooklyn Hi-Art! Machine isn’t just about fighting gentrification, it’s also a call of acknowledgment to the everyday struggles of Black women. DuVerney said the struggle to stay alive each day was central to their work and one of the many reasons they chose to quote Lucille Clifton.

DuVerney said she understood the importance of highlighting Black joy, but felt struggles should not be glossed over.

“What does it mean to have to celebrate that you didn’t die that day? Our whole existence is not just the ones they choose to acknowledge when they feel like it.”

 Inspired By “What is Left” is open for public viewing until May 2021.

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Yannise Jean

Yannise Jean is a Brooklyn-based writer and editor. Her work has appeared in publications like Okayplayer and Well + Good. Follow her on Twitter @yjeanwrites.

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