by Angel Jesus Perez and Onynex Johnson
The design for “Gentrification Is a Virus” is based on some of my designs that I have used before in my work with prints and murals. Gentrification has always been one of my most politically charged themes that I’ve enjoyed illustrating in as honest a way as possible.
Gentrification not only affects people’s living situations, but also induces violence and corruption in our communities.
The design process was done in collaboration with one of YSA’s youth, Onynex Johnson. In the beginning, we brainstormed ideas of how gentrification is a virus. We added that gentrification is an agent of racism and modern colonization.
Some of the imagery used on the design comes from Rembrandt’s painting, “The Sacrifice of Isaac.”
On the top half, I depicted gentrification as a three-eyed dollar-sign demon injecting oppression into a young boy, resting on bars of money and bags of gold. Behind the demon, mother nature comes out of the sun, wielding a sword, and about to intervene to kill gentrification.
Both sides of the upper half have buildings on fire, representing the use of arson during the process of displacement. This process has been widely used in the Bay Area for some years now.
Onynex Johnson described his work on this design in these words: “My contribution to the gentrification design? Well, it comes from two things. My beliefs and my experience as a black man, where most of everything I am surrounded by in my life is trying to kill me. Most of my works have symbols in them and this design is no different.
“This design has three key symbols: dollar signs, KKK, and the spider. The KKK has dollar signs as their eyes. This is to symbolize the fact that the white supremacists are those with excessive money, and it is this very currency that is killing/burning the people of color. The KKK also has the Nazi symbol, as well as a pitchfork to portray them as demons.
“There is also a spider that to me symbolizes the virus because it has a radioactive symbol, but this spider droops and is a product of money. This spider’s sole purpose is to destroy the culture of the people of color. The people of color are extremely important in this design because color is a sign of life.”
“It is important that all these symbols lead back to one root, and that is the people that believe that money, the fake value of money, is their god. They, to me, are white people that have no culture and spend their whole life trying to either take culture or adopt the colored peoples’ due to their absence of color — or in other words, their whiteness. So I ask one question: is gentrification not a virus?”
Youth Spirit leaders are actively participating in Friends of Adeline’s community organizing to stop gentrification and displacement in South Berkeley and to stop the raids on the homeless encampments.