From the eyes of artist Erina C. Alejo at Kearny Street Workshop
SAN FRANCISCO – Artist and community photographer Erina C. Alejo’s kinship with Kearny Street Workshop(KSW) has to do the art group’s “anti-displacement resilience,” and its distinction as being a community hub for generations of artists in the Bay Area.
Alejo was a featured artist at this year’s visual arts showcase APAture, KSW’s annual multidisciplinary arts festival that celebrates Asian and Pacific American (APA) artists of the region.
“My work is a blend of different pieces I’ve presented before but this is the first time that I’m able to present it in a space that I really feel close to because KSW has been supporting my work as an artist since I graduated from college in 2016,” Alejo explained.
Components of a work known as A Hxstory of Renting were exhibited — her book of photographs and writing with a backdrop of a large print photo installation. The photograph, entitled Powerful Pinays Gaze (2020) is also on the cover of her book. It was taken across the street from her home in the Excelsior District. “It’s a beautiful picture of them just hanging out in front of a doorway, and they’re looking at you. It’s a powerful gaze of understanding that, no matter if you’re a renter, you have a personal history that you own, and it’s really important to take care of.”
APAture 2021 “Embrace” held last Oct. 23 to Nov. 14 explored the questions: “During times of sickness, violence, and injustice, how do we come together in community and in radical care? What do we hold close in our lives and in our art? What do we embrace when we step into artistic power?”
This year’s festival’s featured artists were: Visual Arts, Here Erina C. Alejo; Perfroming Arts, Cherish Johnny Huy Nguyen; Literary Arts, Rise Monica Sok; Music, Heal Mild Monk; and Film, Reunite Edward Gunawan.
With pandemic restrictions and safety protocols in place, APAture 2021 showcased only 36 APA Bay Area based artists across five limited in-person and livestreamed events. A big reduction from the 60-plus artists featured every year with the six art showcases brought down to five. “We essentially had to cut the budget by a lot. We had to go with less artists than we usually do,” says KSW Artistic Director, Jason Bayani.
Alejo’s book, A Hxstory of Renting, is a culmination of five years of work from her “lens as a third generation renter in San Francisco. It is in part a photographic account of a lived experience. With A Hxstory of Renting she hopes to arrive at the tanswer to the question: “What is my future as a renter?”
Alejo was born and raised in San Francisco and first lived in the Mission District until her family was priced out as tenants during the dotcom boom of the early 2000s. Like many families displaced by gentrification of the Mission district, they then moved to the Excelsior District and she attended public schools in the South of Market and Mission Districts.
Alejo eventually led a photo mentorship program at the Bessie Carmichael/Filipino Education Center’s Galing Bata (The Well-Rounded Child) Filipino bilingual-bicultural after school and summer program (the same center she went to as a child) in what is now the SOMA Pilipinas, Filipino Cultural Heritage District.
She believes that “photography is the most direct way to engage youth and families in valuing who we are.” Those are the values that she wanted to create in the photo mentorship program by infusing ethnic/Filipino studies and urban planning and the history of SOMA Pilipinas with the art of photography.
Her mother, Cristina Alejo), is a pre-kindergarten lead teacher at Bessie Carmichael/Filipino Education Center and co-founder of the Galing Bata program. This gave Alejo the experience of “being raised out of classrooms,” making her see “what civic engagement is and the potential of education mixed with grassroots organizing.”
Alejo is “very honored’ to be a featured artist in APAture 2021 and praises KSW for its devotion to uplifting local artists and providing a space to show their work.
KSW artistic director Jason Bayani, shares and the reason that it was important to bring the festival back despite the pandemic: “Under any circumstances, if you’re able to make the space for the artists to thrive, they’ll turn it into something special.”