Across the United States, neighborhoods are falling victim to gentrification and over-development, leaving residents to make sense of the shifting priorities and shapes of their physical and cultural landscapes—and Baltimore is no exception.
Such is the inspiration behind Facing Change: Portraits and Narratives of the Shifting Cultural Landscape in East Baltimore, a new exhibition from MICA student and advocate Ben Hamburger. The exhibit, which will be presented both at MICA and the Northeast Market, uses pop-up art to demonstrate the effects of pop-up buildings in Baltimore neighborhoods.
Hamburger is no stranger to shifting communities, both in the literal and figurative senses. A Maryland native, Ben grew up in Silver Spring before moving south to pursue a degree in art from Florida’s Eckerd College. After graduation, he traveled to Bangkok and India to teach and volunteer, then returned to the States to settle in New Orleans, and later, Baltimore, where he facilitated community art projects for refugees and assisted with a community mural with the resident-led community organization, C.A.R.E.
Throughout his two years in the city, Hamburger says he has watched as high-rise buildings shot up while others were demolished.
“I began to recognize this tension between the folks that have been here for a long time,” he says. “I began to think about where my place is in the mix of all this as a new resident and artist, as someone who may not be here for too long.”
He started painting abandoned houses and buildings, quickly forming relationships with those who had a personal connection with the buildings.
That exploration developed into Facing Change, which includes 19 oil painting portraits on salvaged construction debris. The portraits show residents of middle and southeast Baltimore, each accompanied by an audio narrative from its subject.
As Hamburger says, “I’m hoping seeing these together (the paintings and the audio) provides a broader and truer perspective on what’s happening in the area and the variety of ways it can impact people who are coming from different backgrounds.”
He says he hopes that placing these different, sometimes opposing, narratives side by side will allow residents to gain a more accurate perspective of the changes.
“I wanted to share a few of those unsung heroes in the community that are looking towards what they see to be equitable change,” he says. “It’s honoring them, a handful of people that I hope spark new stories.”
“Facing Change: Portraits and Narratives of the Shifting Cultural Landscape in East Baltimore” will be presented at the Northeast Market on April 1 at 10am, and at MICA’s Decker Gallery on April 21 at 5pm. Stories of the community members can be heard at soundstage.com/facingchange