Processions, Happy Faces and Papa Ghede

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Back in January, Adrian Fontes and a group of concerned downtown locals organized a funeral procession to mourn the passing of Roosevelt Row (and to draw attention to many people’s attempts to hold back the tide of gentrification for as long as possible). There was a call for art to make fliers for the procession, so on a whim I did one that invoked vodoun loa Papa Ghede. I hadn’t planned on being a part of the procession, but on the day of the event impulse struck me, I carved a Ghede mask and showed up as Papa (and quickly earned the nickname “Mr. Happy Face” because of my grinning skull). I figured who better to attend a funeral/activist action/performance art happening than the god of death AND parties.

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I ended up being enlisted to lead the procession, and so we strutted and strolled through the rain, leaving Bodega 420 and doing a full circuit around the area. Some marchers carried coffins and others chanted at passing traffic. It was probably the giddiest funeral procession these streets have ever and will ever see.

I think about that march a lot, because despite the best efforts of many local activists, the gentrification is moving ahead. Bodega 420 will soon be no more, rumor has it some art galleries may soon shutter their doors due to escalating rent increases and (despite hard community push-back) Circle K is in the midst of constructing a new store on 7th St & Roosevelt (directly across from the street from, wait for it!, another Circle K). I try not to get too maudlin or nostalgic, but it’s sobering to think that the Roosevelt Row that I spent so much of my formative years in as an artist and member of the community will (probably within the next couple of years) soon be no more.

May as well enjoy it while it lasts, I guess. But I am excited for what the future holds, and which communities will fill the void that RoRo’s conversion to the Yuppie Dark Side will leave.

And in case the community needs another funeral march- I’ve still got Mr. Happy Face hanging in my closet.

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