June 2017

An Elegant Utility
Constructing Silence

ConstructingSilence a video installation at BOOM: Changing Seattle Exhibit. http://cfadseattle.org/general/boom-changing-seattle/

I created this video as a small wall installation in the BOOM: Changing Seattle Exhibit at the Center for Architectural Design. Although I didn’t create this piece for ‘An Elegant Utility’, it fits squarely inside the philosophical body of thought driving that work.

This is a short meditation on the personal consequences of the systematically dismantling communities to make for “economic growth”. Without an ethical or visionary core that is rooted in humanity, capitalism only values the ecosystems in accordance to their ability to create profit. Communities are human social ecosystems that have inherent value that cannot the measured within capitalism’s narrow ideological framework. This piece subtly posits that this should be a central ethical tenet of our society.

Over the years I struggled with how I could best support Vern. Based on our familial connections I knew that he had relatives that were in charge of caring for his home. I never had the closest relationship with him. Some of my older cousins had the first hand knowledge and relationships with his direct relatives. As they grew older and moved out of the Central District those connections frayed. Obviously they stopped seeing Vern and may have lost contact with his direct relatives. When Vern lost his home, nobody knew how to contact is closest family, most of whom live in another state. I think the one or two relative who lived in Seattle either grew to old to manage his affairs or possibly died. All of these things together led to the progressive deterioration of Vern’s living conditions. In my own daily efforts to manage our own extensive family affairs in a changing neighborhood, it became harder for me to keep regualar track of Vern and give my cousins accurate updates on what was going on

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. This was always a difficult thing for me.

UPDATE 1 – January, 2017: Vern (Vernon Gray) was a regular feature in the Central District and Capital Hill. As our family and members of the black community moved out of the neighborhood the new residents would come to know him as well. Though there was no familial connection that gave him the kind of emotional, mental and social support that our family offered, the new Central District residents did what they could to see that he was cared for. The following is a gallery of screen captures from a Nextdoor – Garfield North conversation thread. It illustrates my point that the social ecology that forms the basis of community is central to our collective well-being. What this also illustrates is that in where one communal network offer a kind of all encompassing support of all Vern’s needs, a fractured, virtual or newly evolving communal network can only provide periodic material support.

UPDATE 2 – April 2017:  In a recent conversation with my cousin Mary I learned that Vern is currently being cared for at Harborview’s mental health ward. They are working on finding him permanent housing. A few of my cousins visit him regularly and take him to Sunday service at Mt. Zion Baptist Church. Members of the church have also stepped up to make sure Vern has a sense of community and continuity in his life. Despite the larger changes that led to Vern being increasingly isolated and eventually losing his home, I am very happy to know that he has landed in a place where there are people who are able and willing to stay connected and care for him.


UPDATE 3 – June 2017: I had been watching the conversation thread about Vernon on the Nextdoor – Garfield North conversation thread. I recently made a post to update the neighbors who showed concern for Vernon. Here screen capture of my post:

Vern Nextdoor Garfield North-07

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An Elegant Utility
A Tale of Two Ledgers

Tale of Two Ledgers-narration from Inye Wokoma-Ijo Arts Media Group on Vimeo.

In 1947 my grandparents purchased 913 24th Ave, the first of four homes my grandparents would own in Seattle’s Central District. Over the course of 49 year they would give this home away. In 2005 I became the owner of this home. The story of ownership between two family members could not be more different

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. From restrictive housing covenants and redlining to predatory lending and sub-prime loans this story, ‘A Tale of Two Ledgers’, is a very personal story in which is reflected the larger forces that shaped black home ownership of the past 75 years.

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