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SF Artist Fights For the Displaced, While Fighting Eviction

When artist Fernando Marti landed in San Francisco’s Mission District in the late nineties, it was a tumultuous time with evictions soaring in an era that would come to be known as the first dot-com boom. 

In the rancorous storm of political upheaval, the native of Ecuador joined-up with the Mission Anti-Displacement Coalition and hit the streets speaking out on behalf of his adopted embattled community. Then Marti discovered he had another valuable voice to lend to the fight — his art. 

“I learned to be able to take those skills and create posters,” Marti said, “about the politics we were all were experiencing in the community.” 

Through his new passion for printmaking, Marti started making political posters addressing evictions, disparities in transit and the waves of displacement. At the same time he also trained his art to channel his Ecuadorian culture, with nods to heritage and tradition. Somehow it all seemed to coalesce with his community activism. 

“The theme that I keep coming back to over and again,” Marti said, “is this question around reclaiming tradition and reclaiming space, reclaiming what the city is.” 

Marti’s journey began in Boliche, Ecuador growing up on his parents’ small farm. He was five-years-old when his parents sent him to the United States to live with his aunt and grandfather. For much of his young life he traversed between nations, soaking up U.S. culture nine months of the year — exploring his Ecuadorian roots the other three. He was in elementary school when art began to show itself. 

“I was one of those kids that was always in the back of the classroom drawing or copying comic books,” Marti remembered. 

Marti went on to study architecture at U.C. Berkeley, but more and more it was art that spoke louder to him. When he made the jump across the bay to San Francisco’s Mission District, he soaked up its culture, filled with an empathy for the struggles bubbling around him, and increasingly using his art to tell those stories.  

“Part of what I want to impart with my artwork,” he said, “is the agency that people have to fight to remain in the places that they’ve created, or shaped, or built.” 

Perhaps as a homage to his family roots, Marti recently began volunteering at Hummingbird Farm, a former abandoned lot in the Crocker Amazon neighborhood which the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission turned over to the immigrant rights group PODER to farm. The group created community gardens that yield traditional corn, tomatoes and indigenous flowers which are harvested and used in projects like making foods and medicines. 

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Artist Fernando Marti visits Hummingbird Farm in San Francisco’s Crocker Amazon neighborhood where he get some of the inspiration for his work. (Photo by Joe Rosato Jr.)

Once again, Marti found space for his art, creating a series of images based on interviews with the farm’s founders, now on display in San Francisco’s Main Public Library. 

“I think Fernando’s art really reflects kind of like that introspection,” said Tere Almaguer, an environmental justice organizer who coordinates the farm’s programs, “of looking at the different ways in which our community can gain so much healing from eating ancestral foods, from growing ancestral flowers.” 

Marti is currently designing art works for the farm, which will impart information to visitors. The reclaiming of the farmland is similar to themes Marti has explored in his posters and images — the importance of keeping space for the low-income and working class in San Francisco. It goes to the heart of his work in the streets advocating with his voice, and with his pens. 

“I think our ability to keep a city that is still an immigrant city, a city that welcomes workers, a city that welcomes artists and poets and musicians,” Marti said, “is really dependent on that fight around the rights of tenants to stay here.” 

But just because Marti’s art gives voice to the voiceless doesn’t mean he’s immune to those struggles; he was recently forced to relocate from his Mission District apartment after a three-year eviction battle. And yet he remains optimistic through the challenging times. 

“For all the changes,” he said, “there are still a lot of people hanging on and coming and contributing to the city.” 

After his eviction, Marti and his wife took up temporary residence in a Bernal Heights apartment while they plan their next move. Stacks of boxes remained unpacked — while book shelves were already stocked with Marti’s large collection of books. As an artist and sometimes poet, the books are filled with knowledge and inspiration he turns to for his future projects. 

“The art and the poetry I do is a way to reflect on what I’ve learned,” he said, “and put it back out in to the world in a different way.” 

Source: NBC Bay Area

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