NEW YORK – On the same street my great-grandparents opened their first grocery store as newly minted Americans 100 years ago, a battle for the heart of the Bronx plays out with bees, Joe Nobody, and one Dr. Pain and his army of hipster insects, trying to exterminate their hives with the “financial pesticide” of gentrification.
This may come as a surprise to those who assumed the Bronx was ungentrifiable, but just this past Halloween, a developer threw a Fort Apache-themed rave in a South Bronx warehouse. There were burned out cars and bullet scars; there was outrage and recriminations. For longtime graffiti artists Tita Na Rua and the Royal King Bee, however, there was also an opportunity for collaboration, a Walton Avenue canvas on which this gentrification battle can play out in comic book form.
Tita Na Rua, aka Alberto Serrano, moved from the Bronx to Rio de Janeiro 13 years ago, but a variety of factors, including the aforementioned rave, a previous art exhibit in an abandoned courthouse, and rents rising in anticipation of the DiBlasio Administration’s city-wide rezoning plan, the Bronx heart of which is located just a block from the mural all compelled him to create a project in his hometown. He enlisted the Royal KingBee aka Alfredo Bennett, who has been creating murals near Walton Avenue for years, and they pooled their resources to create a David and Goliath story starring bees.
The bees, along with Zé Ninguém and his dog (Joe Nobody in Portuguese), a character Serrano made famous on the walls of Rio, are under attack by Dr. Dor (Dr. Pain in Portuguese), another Serrano creation, now a “crops developer” who looks like a cross between the Terminator and a mild-mannered accountant, with big glasses, but even bigger muscles. He has an army of minions to whom he declares: “Go my HIPSTER-MITES! Gentrify these honeycombs with your cultural appropriation and privilege!”
The hipster mites wear gray jet packs filled with poison, and fly across the warehouse wall colorfully terrorizing everyone else. The bees just want to build their hives and make their honey. Zé Ninguém and his dog just want to work, live and maybe chase a squirrel or two. But Dr. Dor is intent on nothing less than a Whole Foods.
In the spirit of the best comic books, this story remains to be continued, hopefully in another mural. Until then, it’s important to remember that each time you joke about being priced out of your current neighborhood and trading it for a more “distressed” one, God laughs and files permits for luxury condos there.
By ILANA NOVICK