In the South Bronx, Locals Respond to an Anti-Gentrification Mural

"Tales of the Swarm" (image courtesy of the artist)
“Tales of the Swarm” by Alberto Serrano and Royal KingBee (image courtesy the artists)

In the southwest Bronx’s Mount Hope district, a new visual and verbal polemic against gentrification has been launched by two artists, Alberto Serrano (aka Tita Na Rua or “Tito on the Streets”) and Harlem-born, Bronx-raised graffiti artist Alfredo Bennett (aka Royal KingBee). Serrano, who is now based in Rio (which has its own pervasive housing issues), collaborated with Bennett to construct the mural, which is only one block from a section of the Bronx that has been designated for rezoning as part of Mayor de Blasio’s affordable housing plan — a plan that is reportedly being disputed for several reasons, among them a one-size-fits-all approach, the elimination of parking requirements, an increase in building heights, and other incentives regarded as more friendly to developers than to community groups.

Mural by Tita Na Rua and KingBee on Walton Avenue. All photos by author for Hyperallergic.
“Tales of the Swarm” mural by Tita Na Rua and KingBee on Walton Avenue (all photos by author for Hyperallergic unless otherwise noted) (click to enlarge)

As initially reported by Gothamist, on Walton Avenue, near where it intersects East Burnside Avenue, the artists created a vivid, comic book–like mural depicting bees being driven from their hives by “evil crops developer Dr. Dor,” a white hipster type with skinny black trousers and square-frame eyeglasses. In one panel, Dr. Dor wears a tank of dangerous-looking chemicals strapped to his back and holds a spray nozzle while shouting, “Go, my HIPSTER-MITES! Gentrify these honeycombs with your cultural appropriation and privilege! Give rise to luxury condos and coffee shops!” In another, a bee character who has been injured by the insecticide spray, says “No…not a Wholefoods!” To which Dr. Dor replies, “Yes…and crochet street art as well…” The last panel shows the local citizens (of color) attacking and fighting off the Hipster-mites along with a company of angry bees.

In order to get a sense of the community’s reaction to the mural, I canvassed a selection of people as they passed by the wall, asking what they thought about the piece.

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Gentry Mural 2 (1)

Ingrid [a woman in her 40s who says she’s been in the area for many years]: “It’s very beautiful. It lights up the whole neighborhood and changes it from being full of graffiti.”

John [a young man in his 20s]: “I like it a lot; I never saw no one do this kind of work, like a comic book. You see different types of style, like the Brazilian [lettering], and KingBee from New York. It’s a really nice mural.”

Luz [who grew up in the neighborhood and identifies as Panamanian]: “I know [KingBee]; I grew up with him. Used to live at the building on 179th and Walton Avenue. I think it’s beautiful. It’s amazing. It did take them like a week to do the whole thing. He has other work on Arthur Avenue, on the Rite Aid there. He had a contract for a long time to do this work, but he was too busy.”

Doris [a woman in her 50s]: “It brightens the neighborhood.”

Gentry Mural 3 (1)

Edward [a man in his mid-30s]: “No one messes it up. It took them more than a week to do.” [I asked if he had read the story.] “No, I haven’t really read it.”

Reginald [a black man in his late 20s]: “I feel uncomfortable [after reading the story]. Why pick this neighborhood? It’s poor, low-income, and you supposedly making the neighborhood better, but moving poorer people out.”

Jerry [a black man who says he lives nearby]: “It’s like what they did to Harlem: raising rents, getting people out. It’s nice that they put [the mural] here, but most people aren’t going to understand what it’s about. They’re just going to think, ‘Oh, that’s a nice painting.’”

Gentry Mural last (1)

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