Sunday, November 11, 2018

A November Note

When I was in high school there was this park I would go to.  If you followed the street down the hill from my house, it dead-ended at a footbridge that went over a creek, and then the road became a bike path which wound behind a golf course and went into a very small park.  It was on the edge of a neighborhood where green spaces and a network of ponds wrapped around small enclaves of condos, and I would bike those loops after school like a kind of liturgy.

I would go to the park to journal, to be out from under the eyes of my parents, to negotiate my high school angst in the open air between me and God.  I remember journaling on November 11th of my sophomore year (2008), marveling at the fact that by 11/11/11, I would be out of high school.

I made a conscious decision to refer to the intervening ‘November Elevenths’ as checkpoints, ways of marking time, until I got to 11/11/11, the one when I would be in college.  As a high school sophomore, making it to my freshman year of college seemed like it would be making to the end of the world, to the top of the mountain.

Years later I would read David Mamet’s On Directing Film wherein he describes how narrative and the passage of time can be conveyed through ‘the juxtaposition of uninflected images,’ which gave language to my love of montages.  I read his work while on a Megabus trip south, headed to Tennessee for the very first time.  Our hours on the road consisted of reading David Mamet, listening to an audiobook of Donald Miller’s road trip chronicle, Through Painted Deserts, and waking up on the bus to the sunrise screaming towards us from the east.

The random visual memories from years between 2008 and now are little those uninflected images: the floor events in my Res hall in college, the Gordon woods in fall, my contra dancing world in Concord, and then the move(s) south: the farmers markets in Jonesborough and Johnson City, the faces of my neighbors in Houston and vistas from bus routes by which I first learned to navigate this dazzling city...

When I made it to November 11th, 2011, I felt like I had made it so far.  I felt like the past three years of high school had contained so much and I’d ended up at Gordon, a ‘finale’ to that succession of November Elevenths.

In each and every season, we have so little grasp on all that is to come.

More than anything else, I find this incredibly comforting.  C.S. Lewis supposedly wrote, “There are far, far better things ahead than anything we leave behind.”

Most of my major life transitions have been marked with fear, with alarming anxiety about everything that could wrong and with consuming grief about everything I’m leaving behind.  As someone who ‘dwells in possibility’ often to excess, any kind of decision that restricts me to one future and shuts down others [think of Sylvia Plath’s fig tree here] feels like a kind of death.

However, each major life decision is also like a birth, because it ushers in possibilities in an existence that never could’ve been conceived before.

Even back my freshman year at Gordon, I never would have imagined myself living in Houston.  I NEVER would have imagined myself living in a historic Black neighborhood, and working in the arts full-time feels like something I wouldn’t have been bold enough to dream.

I woke up this morning – November 11th, 2018 – in my own apartment, with just me and my cat.

Sometimes I feel like every post on this blog is about rejoicing in the life I never could have imagined for myself.  It’s been ten years since that afternoon in the park, and I’m so beyond grateful for where I am.

Thursday, October 11, 2018

New Seasons: An Update

I'm moving.

I think it started in July.

For the entire time I've lived on Beulah Street, there's been a house across the way from us that held a rotating cast of Mission Year alumnae.  As of July, however, the three remaining women all moved out: one got married, one moved to be closer to family, and I spent a weekend helping Abbey move into her apartment.

Toting boxes of dishes and pieces of furniture alongside some sweaty friends from church, I was struck with the novel idea of living alone.

The idea has been percolating since then, making me feel alternately anxious, hopeful, devastated, unfaithful, imaginative, and more.

I was caught off guard by the idea of living alone.  For so long, I had believed that living in atBeulah #B would be everything I ever wanted.  Living in intentional community had been my dream for years, ever since the first time that I came across a copy of Shane Claiborne's renegade memoir/manual, the Irresistible Revolution (A).  

And yet, I suddenly felt this growing desire to have my own space.  I started imagining what it would be like to have jurisdiction over a particular area, to decorate according to nothing but my own taste, to have complete freedom of exploration, discovery, and expression. 

Longing for this space of expression, which seemed to exist beyond the horizon of everything I'd ever known, became an insatiable hunger.  The more I longed for a space to fully express myself, the more I realized how little room I'd created for myself in my current life.

I love living in community, especially at Beulah #B.  Drawn into questioning everything through the emotional roller coaster of wanting unexpected things, I went in search of the clues left by my past self.

I re-read through nearly all of the blog posts that I shared during my first Mission Year, the transformative year that redirected my life and lay the foundation for where I am now.  Those revisited blog posts became a forum for my past self to challenge my present self, holding me accountable to all the lessons I had learned when I first started living in intentional community.

Community forces us to open up and connect with others at the same time as it pushes us to know ourselves more deeply.  Community is created and strengthened through shared vision, shared participation in uninflected activities... I wrote about the gardens we planted together, the seeds we were sowing in the world, our common rhythms of washateria trips and grocery shopping, washing dishes and reading books.

And reading all those posts ushered me into the gracious recognition that I'm not in the same place I was when I wrote all those things.  I'm not the same person who I was when I moved into Beulah #B, largely because of all the ways I've grown in community at that house.

And it might be time to go.

I realized that throughout the past year, I've felt myself flattening.  I have grown too comfortable with my place in community and I've fallen into all the familiar habits that make it easier (but not necessarily more meaningful) to live in close quarters among other people.  As a peace-keeping middle child, I have refused to make decisions or voice opinions that upset the delicate conditions in our house.  I have played the role of buffer between other personalities, reducing myself to a body in a space to facilitate the appearance and feeling of intentional community -- because my day job has been busy and stressful and my housemates and I have different aims and directions and I didn't have any space where I could refuel for the work.

I keep my posters in our water heater closet.  I have pictures in a pile on my dresser rather than hung up on my walls.

And none of these things have anything to do with my housemates or anything being bad; it's just shifts and seasons and that the things which were right for me and so fitting at one time aren't what's right for right now.

So I started looking at properties.

I made calls and a spreadsheet and calculated my budget and prayed a lot and ugly cried several times.  I went and viewed a garage apartment that was affordable and tiny and too far away from where I currently live, and I prayed and cried some more.

And then I went and viewed a place that is beautiful and spacious and like six blocks from my current house.  It's still in my neighborhood and it's a five minute walk from my work and I'd have a guest bedroom so people can come visit me!  So I prayed and cried and sent in an application and got a call back, and then on Wednesday night I signed a lease and got keys to my very own apartment. 

A week and a half ago a friend called me to say he was moving out of a place and asked if I wanted his perfectly good, barely used queen size mattress.  For good measure he threw in a desk, a chair, and a lamp.  Provision of the Lord.

My mom is coming to Houston, to help me move my stuff and settle in and get all those things that I wouldn't otherwise think of, like a shower curtain and silverware divider and welcome mats.

And I have a cat.

Just over a month ago, I was walking home from work and heard the tiniest, most high-pitched distress meows.  Upon further inspection (like wandering into a vacant lot to follow the sound), I saw a small moving body, swarmed with flies.

I'll spare you the details, because they're pretty gruesome.  I called my boyfriend Michael (B) in a panic and he immediately was on his way.  My roommate Shannon helped procure a dish towel and we fished the struggling little creature out from under a tree where she'd been seeking shelter.

She was probably about a week and a half old and she had a hole in her body, filled with maggots and buzzing with flies.  [Ah I'm sorry; I said I would spare you the details.] . We took her to the emergency vet and after a couple weeks of bottle feeding and bandage-changing [further shoutouts to Michael; little kitten has been living in his bathroom for a month], she's doing okay!

As in, she's tripled in size and her wound is completely healed.  She had a pretty vicious bout of ringworm in there but the vet dunked her in sulfur and now she's even grown back all her fur.

So when I move in, the kitten moves in with me.

It's a lot of big shifts.  It's incredibly bittersweet, and as mentioned above, I've been doing a lot of praying and a lot of crying.  I've also been doing a lot of dreaming.

I'll leave you with a Donald Miller quote that I've carried with me for several seasons, over several years:

"It might be time for you to go.  It might be time to change, to shine out.

I want to repeat one word for you: leave.

Roll the word around on your tongue a bit.  It is a beautiful word, isn't it?  So strong and forceful, the way you have always wanted to be.  And you will not be alone.  You have never been alone.  Don't worry.  Everything will still be here when you get back.  It is you who will have changed."

(A) It's a common narrative.  The Irresistible Revolution still recruits a handful of participants to Mission Year even now, more than a decade after publication.
(B) Have I mentioned him?  Boy probably deserves his own post someday ;)

Thursday, July 19, 2018

the Wheatpastings

"I would probably reach more readers
if I went on tour, but I'm dead and busy with teaching"

-- Ben Lerner, as excerpted from his poem Rotation

You know that feeling where you're chugging along, doing the things that need doing, trying to discipline yourself into doing the things you really want to do?  I want to write more.  I want to be compiling a body of work, producing thoughtful cultural criticism.  How do you qualify for the title 'culture worker'?  Or even better, 'cultural producer'?  Such sexy job descriptions, but sometimes I feel like the main work regarding the culture of white people is to get white culture to stay in its lane [i.e. interrogate the myth of normativity; recognize what traditions are intermingled with history of other groups; learn to see cross-pollination as an ecological strategy for strength rather than dilution].

My friend Colby Deal is a photographer/artist whom I met through his participation in Project Row Houses' Summer Studios last summer.  I found his analog photography captivating at the time, and his work has evolved considerably over the course of the past year.

I wrote a blog post for PRH about Colby's work at the time of the Summer Studios exhibition last August.  (You can read it here!)

This photo is of Colby with Ms. Shirley, one of my neighbors and the subject of the portrait he shot.
Ms. Shirley was incredibly proud to be featured in the exhibition,
and this portrait of her was one of the most-loved pieces of Colby's show.

As season cedes to season, Hurricane Harvey was the only narrative most of Houston knew for Fall of 2017, and I lost track of Colby for a couple months.

One Thursday morning in November, I was walking to work.  When I rounded the corner of the Ennis Washateria onto Elgin, I stopped in my tracks.  A giant 4x4' poster of one of Colby's film photographs was pasted onto the side of the weathered building, and it took my breath away.

The piece was unsigned.  The only way I knew it was Colby's was because of his signature style, which is unmistakable.  His photographs are startlingly evocative.  They give an aura of magical realism, because they invite the viewer into a realm that feels imaginary, suspended, but Colby refuses to use out-of-context props or references in his work.  His imagery is fulfilled in its context.  Rather than transporting the viewer elsewhere with his work, Colby reminds them exactly where they are.

His work strips away negative narratives about the neighborhood.  He captures and distills its beauty in a way that denies nothing.

I have lived in Third Ward for nearly three years and I am deeply in love with this place.  One of the hardest things about living here is learning how to talk about my neighborhood to people who are not familiar with it.

When you talk about living in an under-served Black neighborhood, all anybody ever hears is poor, dirty, UNSAFE.  All anybody seems to hear is DANGEROUS, threatening, smelly.  All anybody ever seems to listen to are the stories that sound like dead end, burnt out, hopeless.

Jamaal May, a Detroit-based poet, has written about this tension in a poem about his hometown:

There Are Birds Here
There are birds here,
so many birds here
is what I was trying to say
when they said those birds were metaphors
for what is trapped
between buildings
and buildings.  No.
The birds are here
to root around for bread
the girls' hands tear
and toss like confetti.  No,
I don't mean the bread is torn like cotton,
I said confetti, and no
not the confetti
a tank can make of a building.
I mean the confetti
a boy can't stop smiling about
and no his smile isn't much
like a skeleton at all.  And no
his neighborhood is not like a war zone
I am trying to say
his neighborhood
is as tattered and feathered
as anything else,
as shadow pierced by sun
and light parted
by shadow-dance as anything else,
but they won't stop saying
how lovely the ruins,
how ruined the lovely
children must be in that birdless city.

Colby's work manages to bear witness to the sparkling and shattering reality of Third Ward as it is, "as tattered and feathered as anything else," and for that reason I think his artwork is absolutely groundbreaking.

It has been taking my breath away since November when I first encountered that initial wheatpasting, and I continue to be inspired by the stories the weathered panels of his artworks are telling all across my neighborhood.

There was a period of a couple weeks in early winter when my roommates and I would come home and compare notes on if we had seen new work up.  A heavy rainstorm prompted that first wheatpasting to peel prematurely and a few days later I noticed that Colby had been there, repairing it under cover of night.  That was the same night Shannon and I heard gunshots while we lay in bed.  I don't know any other place that if you go out of your house after dark and walk one way, you might encounter violence, and if you go out of your house another way, you might encounter a neighborhood artist surreptitiously pasting his photographs on the exterior washeteria walls.

Colby's work has been hugely important for me.  I've tried to write about it several times and continue to feel that my words don't do his artistic practice justice but I believe that it's so important something has to be said about it, somewhere.

It took me so long to get words on paper that no artistic magazines are going to want to publish any of these pieces now, so I'll just put them here:

Wheatpasted Photographs Bloom In Third Ward
by McKenzie Watson

In mid-November of 2017, large-scale wheatpastings started appearing on the sides of buildings in Houston’s northern Third Ward.[1]  Affixed with a technique historically associated with politicized street art and installed under cover of night, the wheatpastings have a renegade feel to them.  They seemed to suddenly bloom all over the neighborhood, as if they were birthed by the neighborhood itself, flowering out of the old brick walls.

            The anonymity of the wheatpastings makes them difficult to trace back to the source – but those familiar with Colby Deal’s work can recognize them as his. 

            During the summer of 2017, Deal participated in Project Row Houses’ Summer Studios, a residency for emerging artists.  Located in Third Ward, Project Row Houses is a community platform that that enriches lives through art with an emphasis on cultural identity and its impact on the urban landscape.[2]  Summer Studios, part of Project Row Houses’ Public Art program, provides summertime studio space to seven college students pursuing arts-related degrees.  Following their studio period, each of the artists exhibits an installation of the work they created while in residence.  Deal exhibited a photo series entitled “Beautiful, Still,” composed of black and white film photographs he shot around Houston. 

            Deal uses film to capture scenes and candid moments of beauty in neighborhoods like Houston’s Third Ward, Fifth Ward, and similar historic but under-resourced communities.  His photographs still time, crystallizing movement and emotions.

            Then, rather than extracting these images for an external audience, Deal returns these moments to the site of their provenance, reminding the neighborhood of its beauty, tenderness, and resilience.  “It’s important to show these good things happening, these happy times happening, in this place,” Deal says.

            Third Ward is one of Houston’s oldest African American neighborhoods.  Considered a microcosm of Black Houston,[3] Third Ward is rich with collective efficacy, community organizing, and cultural history.  However, these assets are often overlooked in favor of stereotypes that cast Third Ward as nothing more than a dangerous, drug-infested dead-end.  Decades of civic and economic disinvestment compound the effects of poverty and systemic racism, limiting access to services and resources like fresh fruits and vegetables, quality education for all, comprehensive healthcare, and more.  Any artistic work that seeks to engage the neighborhood must engage with the complexity of its history: the circumstances of oppression and yet also the vibrancy of Black life. 

            Following Deal’s work is like tracking a scavenger hunt through the neighborhood’s landscape.  Each piece is a marker, offered in public homage to the people Deal portrays and the places where he’s installed his work.  His work is rooted in affection, inextricable from its context.  By publicly sharing his photography, Deal makes visible his own vision of the neighborhood, offering glimpses into personal and collective history in these spaces.  As Mindy Thompson Fullilove M.D. writes in her book, Root Shock, “The cues from place dive under conscious thought and awaken our sinews and bones, where days of our lives have been recorded.”[4]

The first wheatpasting appeared on the side of the Ennis Washateria, an unassuming brick building at the intersection of Elgin and Ennis streets.  Elgin is a major thoroughfare for northern Third Ward, starting downtown where the street name changes from Westheimer.  It continues over Highway 288, then cuts laterally through Third Ward straight into the University of Houston’s main campus.  The mile-long stretch between Emancipation Avenue and Scott Street bisects a portion of the city where the land is coveted but the lives are often disregarded.

The Highway marks the transition from Midtown to Third Ward.  Using Elgin to cross into Third Ward, it’s difficult to ignore the socioeconomic and cultural shifts.  Emancipation Avenue is the first major street to intersect with Elgin after the Highway.  The intersection is home to historic Emancipation Park, which was founded in 1872 when four formerly enslaved men – Reverends Jack Yates, Elias Dibble, Richard Allen, and Richard Brock – purchased the land as a space to celebrate Juneteenth[5]. 

At the time of its founding, Emancipation Park sat at the intersection of Elgin and East Broadway.  Twenty years later in 1892, the City changed the name of East Broadway to Dowling Street.  The renaming was in honor of Dick Dowling, a Confederate soldier credited with the only Confederate victory in the state of Texas during the Civil War, at the Battle of Sabine Pass.  During its heyday, Dowling Street was a major commercial corridor, home to over 200 flourishing businesses.  It also boasted a vibrant nightlife, referenced in the Conrad Johnson blues song, “Howling on Dowling”. 

In January of 2017, after decades of community pushback against the name ‘Dowling Street,’ the City Planning Commission and then City Council approved a second name change for the street, voting to change the name to Emancipation Avenue.[6] 

            Halfway down Elgin between Emancipation Park and the University of Houston sits a historic building which once operated as Riverside General Hospital.  It opened in 1927 as the Houston Negro Hospital, the first and for many decades only hospital in the city to serve people of color.[7]  Despite its distinguished past, a fraud scandal forced the hospital into closure and bankruptcy court in 2012.  Since then, Riverside has been vacant, attracting urban explorers and neighborhood wanderers. 

            Directly across from the stately but marred façade of Riverside is the Ennis Washateria, the site of the first wheatpasting, nestled in the heart of this storied neighborhood.  Printed on two large panels, the wheatpasting features a white-clad young woman sitting on a dilapidated porch.  She graces a building that fades into the background, indistinct.  She gazes out of the portrait, directly at the viewer – or perhaps, directly at Riverside General Hospital across the street. 

            The piece is timeless.  It’s placeless, too, in the sense that she could be seated on the porch of any abandoned building in Third Ward.  The first time I saw it, it stopped me in my tracks.  I stood there thinking, I must have seen this building; I just can’t remember where it is. 

            Shortly after the emergence of the woman on the side of the washateria, additional wheatpastings appeared around the neighborhood.  A mature woman standing in a grove of foliage stares down the block of Holman Street from an electrical box.  A man with a bike pausing at a bench along the Columbia Tap Trail appeared on the side of an old housing tenement a block away from Cream Burger, community landmark hamburger stand.  Larger than life, a child pulls a funny face on the back of Doshi House, the coffee shop on the corner of Emancipation Avenue. 

            Only a couple blocks from where University of Houston borders Scott Street, Deal installed two wheatpastings on the same building, a now-closed Victory Dollar Store across from Twee’s Food Mart.  Twee’s is a personal landmark from Deal’s childhood, when he spent time at his grandmother’s house around the corner.  Plastered onto the magenta walls of the Dollar Store, passers-by see wheatpastings of a young boy riding his bike cheerfully in the street and a father teaching a son to play dominoes.  In such images, Deal says, “I wanted to show family, a portrayal of togetherness.  We need more of that in our lives – our fathers teaching our kids, being a good influence.” 

Deal’s wheatpastings present nothing foreign to the landscape: everything his photographs capture is already there, extracted and re-presented in a way that exposes their seamless belonging.  For those who have spent time in Third Ward, the icon of a dominoes game is immediately recognizable, a wink at the shared vernacular of common life.  Deal’s work substantiates an integrity that turns the viewer’s eye with greater sensitivity to everything else that is already present. 

For the unfamiliar, Deal’s work incites curiosity.  What are these places, unmistakably adorned with distinctive, immersive imagery?  Why these images, and why here? 

“It’s not just a beautiful photograph; it has an underlying purpose,” Deal states.  “It’s done in a certain area, in a strategic way, so that it actually creates a narrative.” 

The intentional placement of his work renders his pieces intimate and accessible, as familiar as the weathered walls on which they hang.  “I want it to have this effect on the community and the people who are in these photographs,” Deal says.  “It creates this instant opportunity for self-appreciation for who we are, as we are now, not as how society or the media portrays us.” 

His photography rebuts mass media’s unfavorable depictions of underserved neighborhoods and communities of color.  With the imagery he captures and produces, Deal provides a vision of beauty and resilience that often go unrecognized.  His work is re-narrating work, seizing public platforms to reclaim representation of the neighborhood. 

Deal’s images advocate for a moral beauty within Black life.  “I’m putting up a pretty picture of these people who are always overlooked and looked down upon,” Deal explains.  “Confrontation is the goal – confrontational dialogue that proves the lie in the racist, dehumanizing narratives of the media.”

Deal’s work is intentionally subversive on multiple levels.  “It’s like starting a new form of graffiti, even though people wheatpaste stuff all the time,” Deal acknowledges.  His work and methodology both challenge common assessments of value.  As speculators drive through Third Ward with an eye only for land values, they pass irrefutable evidence of the artistry of the people who live there, if they are able to see it.

 Different building owners and businesses have welcomed his creative contributions; others have turned him away.  Some say the work would tear off the next day – “not seeing the worth as contrasted with the labor or the cost,” Deal laments.

In addition to well-known businesses in the neighborhood, Deal uses abandoned buildings as his community-facing gallery walls.  “I’ve seen so many cops drive by me while I was doing this stuff, and they didn’t give a shit,” Deal recounts, “which is very telling and apparent about how they look on these places.  They really don’t care… Or, they only care about these places to come in here and buy up property and build some really expensive, tax-raising shit.

“If I was in Midtown or River Oaks doing this, I would be in jail so fast,” Deal says.  “I think about that kind of stuff while I’m out doing the work.” 

By presenting his work independent of gallery or institutional support, Deal challenges some of the strict categorizations of a highly-structured and separated society.  If fine art like Deal’s can be found outside a gallery, what other examples of creativity, beauty, and worth might be lurking in unexpected places, even in the immediate vicinity?   By naming value in an undervalued space and capturing beauty in the faces of undervalued people, Deal invites the viewer to join him in shifting their perspective, revoking their dismissal of neighborhoods like Third Ward and its inhabitants. 

Deal’s wheatpastings are his corporeal commitment to providing a proper platform for the art of the neighborhood.  His work liberates art from the possible socioeconomic inaccessibility of major institutions and galleries, as he literally brings his artwork into the community about which it speaks.  It is a public art intervention in the most direct way, artwork illuminating the landscape.

By self-installing his work on any canvas he deems relevant, Deal has christened the entire neighborhood his gallery.  “I’m no longer going to wait for the galleries or the establishment to notice me or to give me an opportunity to display my artwork,” Deal says.  “Why not just make the community my gallery?”  His works are disbursed throughout the neighborhood, displayed alongside painted advertisements for Lone Star and lottery tickets. 

Deal’s work is vitally important because it evinces the organic cultural production, creative richness, and self-determinative initiative already present in the neighborhood.  Looking at Deal’s wheatpastings, the viewer gets a sense that life in the neighborhood – resistance, survival, and flourishing therein – is the true work of art. 

His wheatpastings become part of the landscape, and they weather accordingly.  As the neighborhood itself is subjected to challenges, the wheatpastings withstand storms, humidity, and other quotidian wear, eventually beginning to peel away.  The metaphor extends as viewers wonder how long the neighborhood will be able to sustain itself without concerted care.

Though long disregarded, Third Ward has recently garnered widespread attention.  It became a focal point for urban redevelopment, starting with a $33 million renovation of Emancipation Park.  That three-year renovation prompted surrounding property values to spike from averages of $5 per square foot to $100 per square foot.  Third Ward is now touted as a neighborhood in transition, with speculators scrambling to amass land and long-term residents scrambling to cope with increased rental payments and taxes. 

One of the problems of such gentrification is the implicit erasure, the refusal to recognize what’s already present in a place.

In November 2017, Carol Zou, one of Deal’s mentors from the Summer Studio residency, performed “Exercises for the invisible enemy/太极拳反无形: a performative tai chi lecture on spatial capitalism.”  In this lecture/performance art piece, she said,

“To see cultural erasure, one must first learn to see culture—not art.  The problem with all this creative placemaking and talk of ‘art changing communities’ is that people are still seeing art, not culture… I tense every time people start talking about making a neighborhood more beautiful, or more clean.  When did the words beauty, or cleanliness, or safety become synonymous with whiteness?  Why must we be ugly, unclean, and unsafe—or not exist at all?”[8]

In the spring of 2018, Deal started a second series of installations, using his own photographs and archival imagery shot by his father.  Deal inherited his love for photography from his dad and attributes his artistic practice to paternal influence.  “If my father wouldn’t have had his skillset and showed me his talent, if he hadn’t been from Third Ward, I wouldn’t be here able to do these good things for my people and this community,” Deal says.

Deal hopes this project will contribute to furthering his own artistic career, but he’s not concerned about his name being tied to the pieces.  The anonymity was intentional on Deal’s part, as he seeks to amplify the visibility of everyday people and everyday scenes from the neighborhood.  “I want it to be about the people in the pictures,” Deal says.  “It’s about them being appreciated as beautiful people.”

More than personal recognition, Deal hopes his work will be recognized as part of a movement about Black dignity and the movement for Black lives.  Rather than tagging the wheatpastings with his own name, he intends to include in red lettering with each wheatpasting the hashtag ‘they can’t kill us all’.  “We’re never going to go away,” he says.

The woman wheatpasted onto the side of the Ennis Washateria gazes out, surveying those who pass through Third Ward.  She could be anywhere, but she is here, a valiant watchwoman, protecting her corner.  In her beauty and her timelessness, she represents Third Ward.  “I personified it,” Deal states.  “It’s ethereal.  And that’s the name of that photograph, by the way… This neighborhood is kind of like a ghost, a really historical, rich place.  It’s leaving, but it’s also still here.”  

Colby Deal's installation, "Ethereal," 2017

[1] ‘Wheatpasting’ refers to both the act and the end product of a street-art tactic for affixing posters to walls, doors, and other metal or concrete surfaces.
[2] As taken from Project Row Houses’ website,
[3] Wood, Roger. Down in Houston: Bayou City Blues (Issue 8 of Jack and Doris Smothers series in Texas history, life, and culture). 2003, University of Texas Press. 1st Edition. ISBN 0292786638, 9780292786639. 71.
[4] Fullilove, Mindy Thompson. Root Shock: How Tearing Up City Neighborhoods Hurts America, and What We Can Do About It. Random House, 2004. Page 10.
[5] Juneteenth, celebrated on the 19th of June, is a Texas state holiday.  It commemorates when Emancipation finally took effect in Texas, two and a half years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation to abolish slavery nationwide. 
[6] This name change was passed according to a city precedent that major streets alongside major parks can take the name of the park, i.e., Memorial Drive along Memorial Park, TC Jester along TC Jester, etc.
[8] A full video of Zou’s piece can be found here: