The House Is on Fire: Race, Gentrification, Houston and the de Menil Family Legacy

On August 16, 2016, a Houston Chronicle article, “De Menil Plans Artist Enclave in Acres Homes,” detailed a new plan to build a development of fourteen single family houses for artists in Acres Homes, a historically Black neighborhood on the north side of the city. The homes would be in the $300-450,000 range, far higher than the median home price in the city in 2016: $230,000. The development is to be called NoLo Studios, a common real estate move to invent a new name that sounds like a high-rent New York City neighborhood (NoLo means North of the Loop). Though the press is new, it appears from what is available online that the efforts to develop Nolo Studios are not. 

Of course, this happens all the time: developers build new housing with stratospheric pricing in working-class Black and Brown neighborhoods around the country without engaging in dialogue with community residents. The open debate happening in Los Angeles and in other cities around the country about gentrification is uncommon here in Houston, and rarer still is a substantive and critical analysis of what is happening. Though there are occasional pieces in the local daily, weeklies, and arts and architecture press, what is missing is a vibrant and systematic analysis of this process that considers the perspectives of local residents, especially Black and Brown folks.

Keep reading at here at Entropy...
“There is now a vast amount of artistic production that is temporal, discursive and post-object centered,” writes John Roberts in Revolutionary Time and the Avant-Garde. And this immaterial work is “identified explicitly with a whole range of non-artistic skills and activities (scientist, ethnographer, anthropologist archivist, teacher, engineer, activist).” If we agree with Roberts’s assertion that the avant-garde is moving toward practices that don’t look much like art, then poets are uniquely positioned to participate. If avant-garde artists are trying to dematerialize their work, then poets have already done it. If the avant-garde artists want to disseminate their work freely or cheaply and outside the gallery system, poets have been doing this with self-publishing and small presses for a very long time.

There is this great and vast river called World Literature that is racing by us all. Our literature, our endless arguments about national literature…it’s like a thin stream that flows out of that grand river and ends at a tiny pond. And in that pond a group of toads are croaking and yelling at each other about the importance of that pond, the loftiness and the sanctity of the pond. All the while the great river runs on, heedless of the toads’ vain pronouncements. 

- Minsoo Kang in "Writer of a Small Country" here at Entropy.
this history that won't absolve anyone

- Dan Vera
Nomás pensar en que estaría bueno hacer una convocatoria para manifestarnos en contra de nosotros mismos, o a favor, qué sé yo, tomar las calles para cuestionarnos cuál es nuestra responsabilidad en todo esto, cómo llegamos hasta acá, porque acá estamos y estamos todos hasta el pescuezo. Pero acá estamos, y vos y yo y si es el sistema, entonces también somos vos y yo.

 - Julio Serrano aquí



by Nuria Montiel and John Pluecker

An installation at Project Row Houses during Round 44: Shattering the Concrete: Artists, Activists and Instigators, curated by Raquel De Anda

A collaborative visual and sound poem that meditates on language and memory in the context of colonial structures of power that attempt to erase one of the indigenous cultures that inhabited Southeast Texas: the Karankawa. The project first emerged out of an investigation into the archival documentation of the Karankawa language assembled by colonial settlers, explorers and scholars in Southeast Texas; this investigation found a poetic form in Pluecker's book Ford Over. The dominant historical narrative in Texas contends that the Karankawa people were driven to extinction; however, through research and conversations, it became clear that members of the Texas Carrizo-Comecrudo tribe along with other Native Texans refute these accounts as they reclaim their own Karankawa ancestors, sometimes grounding themselves in the stories and lifeways of their own families. Through this sound and visual poem (with audio work by Lucas Gorham, a sound artist and musician of Karankawa descent), we are asking: can languages be completely lost or might they survive in ways both perceptible and imperceptible? How might they be heard?

"Montiel and Pluecker’s installation is based in an ongoing activism and community engagement, but the exhibition itself makes use of visual language–both literally and figuratively. In delicate floor reliefs made of dirt, the two reproduce words from the Karankawa language. A First Peoples nation native to the Houston area, the speakers of this language and the language itself have been almost entirely erased from Texas history. The installation (which also includes a sound piece), then, is a reclamation, but also a statement of the many intangible points of disconnection that eventually undermine both personal and collective memory-making. As the installation succumbs to the elements and is bumped by visitors, it starts to dissemble and fragment. In fact, its dissolution is part of the piece’s power." - Laura Wellen in an insightful review of the installation and the entire round at Arts + Culture Texas.

Nuria Montiel installing the Karankawa words with sand from a Houston bayou and earth from Carrizo-Comecrudo lands near Floresville TX.

Pluecker, Montiel, Gorham

Cuando salgo y platico con gente, a veces me hablan de cosas interesantes. Así que cuando estas personas hablan, me pongo a hacer apuntes en mi teléfono sobre lo que me están diciendo para hacer investigaciones posteriores. Luego las listas se van alargando y allí se quedan en el celular. Y desde allí en el celular las listas crecientes me ponen nervioso, ansioso. Hay que sacar esas listas del teléfono para que ya no me atormenten. Aquí va una lista de cosas que estoy sacando del teléfono ahora:

Bellerman and Humboldt

the 40 loop

Alejandro Cesaro & Stuart Krimko

Goldsmith England PhD

Houston movies - Terms of Endearment and Reality Bites

Jennifer Doyle

Lothar Baumgarten German Paraguayo

Luis Jorge Boone

Luis Enrique Belmonte

literatura venezolana - Marta Durán & Alejandro Castro
It's not just being a single creative force as an artist, but you connect to something that is based in the community how you can make an e ffective impact on your community directly. It doesn't have to be done in prosperity and over a period of time to be appreciated later on; you can have an immediate e ffect. You don't have to be muttering in your studio months and weeks and years: No one knows the creative genius I am and what I'm doing here, they don't appreciate me... Forget about that! Get out and do something , because to me that's your role as a creative person. Seize the moment. It's not always about you. It's about us.

 - Bert Samples in Houston Reflections: Art in the City 1950s 60s 70s
In 1950 John Biggers won a contest at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, for his drawing, The Cradle. The museum, which permitted blacks only on Thursdays, did not allow Biggers to be present at a reception in his honor.


Karankawa Carancahua Carancagua Karankaway

Where this round [Shattering the Concrete: Artists, Activists and Instigators] really shines, though, is in the contrast between two installations: The Natural History Museum, presented in a collaboration between New York-based Not an Alternative and T.E.J.A.S., and the installation Karankawa Carancahua Carancagua Karankaway, by Nuria Montiel and John Pluecker. Both ask for a deeper engagement and careful looking at a specific place–Houston–over time. And both pose significant questions about museum and community, politics and organizing, spaces between things and people, and how change happens. Most importantly, they consider how Houston’s own history is based on making certain peoples, histories, and things invisible.

- Laura Wellen on Karankawa Carancahua Carancagua Karankaway. Read the rest here.
Whiteness isn’t intellectualism.
Whiteness isn’t indigenous.
Whiteness isn’t anything.
Whiteness is just that blank space where a theft has occurred.
- Chiwan Choi, here
To be clear: disengagement or non-response is not possible for me right now. Friends have told me to walk away, to take a break, but I am a writer who wants to exist publicly. If I disengaged every time I was approached this way, it would likely mean disengaging from the professional poetry community entirely. When, in specific circumstances, I’ve disengaged, when I have said yes or okay or have just let it go, I have regretted it. I realize not all writers feel this way. I realize the burden brown and black or trans or queer people face to even exist, let alone write, could absolve some of us from engaging: the danger of this poison is real.

- Jennif(f)er Tamayo - more here

Antígona González