Displacement is not an abstract concept or a term reserved for academia or newspaper editorials, but rather a lived reality – and in St. Louis, a reality often encountered by African American homeowners, renters, and business owners. From benign neglect to eminent domain, there is no tool in the hands of public policymakers that St. Louis African American communities have not been affected and decimated by.
“Eminent Domain/Displaced,” a collaborative installation by Matt Rahner and Lois Conley, which opens October 6 at the Griot Museum, is a new exhibit that explores neighborhoods victimized by eminent domain. Visitors will view scenes from Kansas City’s Wendell Phillips neighborhood to Mill Creek Valley and St. Louis Place (home to the upcoming NGA West Campus), scenes of life before and after the headache ball.
From Mill Creek Valley to Meacham Park, residents have been bought out of or forced out of their homes in the name of “progress.” Using willing partners in the media, local city officials have manipulated public opinion, masking displacement behind a facade of offering attractive market rate homes or the potential for high-rise office space. In exchange for the disruption of black lives and the seizure of black homes and businesses, the larger community is assured of new tax revenues and jobs. In the words of the late civil rights activist Ivory Perry, "Black removal equals white approval."
The underlying implications are that black property inherently lacks value, that black residents in the path of shopping centers or military installations somehow contribute less to society than do the individuals and businesses replacing them.
Advocates argue that the needs of the whole outweigh the comfort of the few. If this is to be society’s mindset regarding redevelopment, it is mandatory that we not allow those using the process of eminent domain to bury stories of the displaced.
“Eminent Domain/Displaced” is a multimedia installation of imagery of place, portraiture, landscape and appropriated space. Salvaged objects, oral interviews, archival materials, photographs and more explore the impact of displacement.
An opening reception/curator’s talk will take place at 6:30 p.m. on Friday, October 6. A community panel discussion on Saturday, October 7 will feature former residents of Mill Creek Valley and St. Louis Place, as well as the Wendell-Phillips neighborhood. Visitors can match visuals to the spoken word – learning not just about life in these displaced communities before urban renewal, but of the lingering struggles many faced after being moved from their neighborhoods.
The day finishes with an afternoon workshop, facilitated by Yale University Professor of Art Neil Goldberg, which prompts participants to remember the past and envision the future.
“Eminent Domain/Displaced” is presented by The Griot Museum of Black History in collaboration with Washington University Center for the Humanities and the University of Missouri-St. Louis, with additional support from the Missouri Humanities Council, Regional Arts Commission and the Saint Louis Art Museum.
“Eminent Domain/Displaced,” a collaborative installation by Matt Rahner and Lois Conley, opens October 6 at the Griot Museum, 2505 St. Louis Avenue, and continues through November 20. For programming related to the installation, visit http://www.thegriotmuseum.com/currentfuture-events.html or call (314) 241-7057.