A Wes Anderson-inspired crochet mural that appeared on a residential wall bordering the Bushwick Flea — and was hastily removed last week after sparking controversy — has come to represent “the systemic brutality of gentrification,” according to Brooklyn anarchists. As Gothamist reported, Brooklyn Solidarity Network, a self-described “group of committed dissidents” who desire a landlord-free city, arrived at the market last Saturday, handing out flyers urging people to boycott the weekend market. The flyers also denounce Bushwick Flea owner Rob Abner, who authorized the artwork even though the wall belonged to longtime Salvadoran residents, pulling posts from his Facebook that portray him as racist and homophobic. Although the mural, spun by yarn artist London Kaye, is gone, it has served as a catalyst for a greater conversation that is far from over.
“You can think of the artwork more of a symbolic act that’s representative of the gentrification process itself,” one protestor, who identified himself as Durruti, told Hyperallergic. (His pseudonym, as Gothamist pointed out, is a nod to the Spanish anarcho-syndicalist militant Buenaventura Durruti.) “These artists are basically used as agents of gentrification to culturally appropriate the spaces of Brooklyn to create profit for real estate developers.”
While it’s certainly true that hand-painted commercial ads are popping up in Bushwick, it’s important to note that Abner never commissioned Kaye to create the work: Kaye confirmed with Hyperallergic that she reached out to Abner about the wall, which originally had black graffiti on it. Abner has since admitted that he should have asked the homeowner for permission, although Durruti described his response as “a half-assed apology.”
“We don’t want these types of people profiting off our neighborhood,” he said. “They’re taking this supposedly decrepit, poor neighborhood and revitalizing it through yuppie culture and paving the way for more rich people to eventually push those artists out and take over the neighborhood.”
The flyers show a Facebook post by Abner that links to the article, “Judge Orders Colorado Cake Maker to Serve Gay Couples,” and includes his comment, “The end of freedom …” Abner is now insisting that it was “a pro-business comment” and that the diversity of his vendors proves that he isn’t homophobic or racist.
“My vendors are way more diverse culturally than the protestors were,” Abner told Hyperallergic. “I have black vendors. I have Hispanic vendors. I have gay vendors. I have Asian vendors. The protestors were pretty much five white kids and then maybe there were two black people.” According to Katie Hydell, a member of Equality for Flatbush also present on Saturday, at least 10–15 protestors showed up, with individuals from other organizations like Reclaim Bushwick and Brooklyn Anti-Gentrification Network joining Brooklyn Solidarity Network. Abner confronted them and offered similar reasoning he gave us as a defense.
“He was trying to talk about how he has black and Latino friends,” Durruti said. “That’s just all stuff racist people say when they’re confronted about their racism. It’s a very poor excuse.”
Abner maintains that he is simply a businessman struggling to make a living and plans to keep the flea, which launched in April, open. Hydell tells us, however, that three activists who visited the market again yesterday heard from two vendors who agreed they would leave — although one was clear that he was leaving because of all this drama.