SF Techies take Poverty Porn to the Next Level

16 04 2014

Back when I worked in documentary film production, I worked with youth programs in the Tenderloin and East Oakland that taught young people how to tell their own stories via digital video, with an emphasis on giving students the tools to empower themselves with their own cultural agency.

With “Homeless GoPro“, SF techies appear to be doing quite the opposite:  literally strapping HD video cameras onto the chests of homeless people, instrumentalizing them as walking cameras to gather images for the techies.  Where is the authorship for the people with the cameras strapped to their bodies?

The project was founded by a “sociologist/entrepreneur” (isn’t that an oxymoron?), whose team includes a lawyer as well.  When I studied sociology in college, it was a lot of Marx and Durkheim.  How do you reconcile that with Silicon Valley techno-utopianism?  To quote sfgate:

Adler and his fellow techies aren’t sure what will come from their venture, but at the very least they want to connect more homeless people to the non-homeless world. That may mean strapping cameras onto a half-dozen more indigents. Or just arranging for those with money to spend a few bucks taking homeless people out for coffee.

Those with money taking homeless people out for coffee? The guy they strapped the camera to needs money for new teeth, much less a grande latte.  The entitlement and condescension are straight out of Mike Judge’s Silicon Valley, but this is not a satire.

“Connecting more homeless people to the ‘non-homeless world’,” as if this utopian ‘non-homeless world’ didn’t play a role in forcing people out of their homes?

To add to the absurdity, the sfgate article quotes “the mayor’s point person on homelessness,” supervisor Bevan Dufty, who has consistently sided with property owners around issues of tenants’ rights.  Who better suited to run point on homelessness than he who plays an instrumental role in the disenfranchisement of renters in a city with trebling eviction rates?

Instead of turning homeless human beings into animated ethnographic tools for techno-voyeurism, why don’t we examine the role of growing economic inequality at a time when tech-based stratification is reshaping this city—and determining who can no longer afford a roof over their heads—at an alarming rate.

Why don’t the Techies turn the cameras on themselves to interrogate their own elitism and hypocrisy, and the role they are playing in forcing people out of the homes they’ve lived in for decades to make room for upscale condos for more tech elites? Or how they’ve leveraged the mayor to give tax breaks to tech companies who set up shop here, thus denying the city’s coffers enormous tax revenue that could be used to do a lot more for homeless people than take them out for coffee?

#WhitePeopleDoingYoga @ the Asian Art Museum

4 04 2014

#WhitePeopleDoingYoga 01

Last night I went to check out #WhitePeopleDoingYoga at the First Thursday event at the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco.

#WhitePeopleDoingYoga is an installation by *Pardon My Hindi / Chiraag Bhakta.
On view from March 28th – May 25th.

#WhitePeopleDoingYoga 02

#WhitePeopleDoingYoga 03

Kudos to the museum’s education department for exhibiting Bhakta’s project, which is showing in the Education Resource Center in conjunction with the feature exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation.  While I couldn’t find much information about the project on the museum’s website, *Pardon My Hindi posted a video and artist statement here.

Chiraag Bhakta

Click for more on Chiraag Bhakta

Artist Statement

This piece is a reflection of my personal relationship, as an Indian American, with yoga and its migration to today’s Western context. I call this piece #WhitePeopleDoingYoga, the hashtag symbolizing the commercialization and commodification of a culture.

Not too long before moving to the Bay Area seven years ago, I began to collect grassroots-level meditation and yoga ephemera from the 1960s through the 1980s. During that era, particularly in the Bay Area, yoga started making a big impact on Western culture. I became interested in how yogic practice was being mined and commercialized; how the South Asian face of the discipline was being removed in the branding and portrayal of the practice and culture. Today, an online image search for “yoga” mainly returns images of white people in various poses, followed by images of dogs and cats doing the same.

This project is not about the individual pieces in my collection, but the overall voice that is put out in front of us, which is overwhelming and suffocating to me. After you go through the exhibition Yoga: The Art of Transformation, you will notice a sharp turn as yoga enters a new level of commercialization in the West. The $27 billion yoga industry in the U.S. has rebranded a complex and rich discipline to make it easier to sell “yoga” as a line of products. Brands like Lululemon and Nike have started appropriating and trademarking phrases, postures, and clothing—aligning and embedding themselves in our understanding of yoga. Simultaneously the South Asian face and voice are relegated to an exotic caricature—cartoons, adoption of South Asian names by Westerners, mystical creatures, Hindu gods. One archival study of the health and wellness magazine Yoga Journal found that over the course of two years “there was never a South Asian person on the cover, and less than one percent of content contributors were South Asian.”1

The act of selectively choosing what works in popular Western contexts, while ignoring aspects of yoga’s core philosophy and historic practice, is telling. It shows an ironic attachment of one’s ego to a desire for ownership over an ancient practice of material denouncement that emerged from an altogether different, South Asian, tradition.

In the end, I feel compelled to draw parallels between the current state of yoga and the industrial colonization by the same dominant voice that now adds another conquest to its collection. Meet the new founders of Yoga™.

—Chiraag Bhakta

1 Roopa Singh, Esq., Archival study for the South Asian American Perspectives on Yoga in America, SAAPYA

#WPDY totebags available at PardonMyHindi.com

#WPDY totebags available at PardonMyHindi.com

Meanwhile upstairs in Samsung Hall, mostly WhitePeopleDoingChanting


Halloween Tortillas for City College

2 11 2013


The Great Tortilla Conspiracy screen printed edible art onto tortillas at the Halloween Rally to Protect City College at Civic Center in San Francisco on Thursday.


Tortilla art by Brian Lei, a CCSF student. Screenprinted tortillas are heated and served as free quesadillas.


Hundreds rallied in support of City College, which is threatened with losing its accreditation, despite its exemplary record of educational quality. The city attorney has sued both ACCJC accreditation board over its well-documented conflicts of interest and political bias, and the the Board of Governors of the California Community Colleges for lack of oversight. However, Mayor Ed Lee has largely remained silent. CCSF brings the city $300 million in annual revenue while serving a student population that is 70% people of color.


One half of the Great Tortilla Conspiracy: Jos Sances (left) and Art Hazelwood. (Not pictured: Rene Yañez and Rio Yañez). Read more about the Great Tortilla Conspiracy and tortilla art history here.

Health Classes for the Masses, by Art Hazelwood


Superman inspects Art’s work.

“PRIVATIZATION = DEATH.” Scott Tsuchitani (your author) had the honor of serving as the Conspiracy’s guest artist for the second time (see first time here), and submitted three designs, shown here and below.





The Problem with Miss Saigon

15 10 2013

Via Racialicious
The Ordway Still Doesn’t Get Sexism and Racism (The Problem with Miss Saigon)

By Mai Neng Moua

Racism didn’t end with the March on Washington and Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.  The Ordway would never open a show about the “romance” between Thomas Jefferson and his slave mistress Sally Hemmings.  The Ordway would never dream of mounting a play about the “romance” between a Jewish prostitute and a Nazi camp guard during World War II.  It would never open a show with actors and actresses in blackface performing a minstrel show.  The Ordway would find such shows racist and sexist.  The backlash in all those cases would be, justly, brutal.  Miss Saigon is exactly that with an Asian visage.  It’s not beautiful, it’s not romantic, and it’s not tragic in the tradition of Shakespearean drama.  Miss Saigon is racist and sexist.  The Asian community will continue to speak out about Miss Saigon because institutions such as the Ordway still don’t get it.

Read more

Miss Saigon With the Wind

13 09 2013

Miss Saigon With the WindBy Ricardo Levins Morales, originally posted at Opine Season:

I would like to invite the leadership of the Ordway Theater to a panel discussion on why I didn’t consult them before creating this poster and why they should be grateful for the extra attention it brings them. Of course that discussion will not affect my already developed plans to circulate the image as widely as possible, but at least it shows I’m listening. I may not actually be available to attend the panel discussion itself (I have a prior commitment to distribute some artwork as widely as possible). It might be best for them to have that discussion among themselves, in any case. Readers who feel motivated to do so are welcome to circulate this image in their online communities. Doing so might encourage that discussion to take place – and art is all about encouraging discussions.

Readers who have don’t know what this image and comments are about (the Ordway Theater’s return production of the racist blockbuster musical Miss Saigon) can check out this anti-review by Sheila Regan and this overview by David Mura.

Student Art Action at UC Berkeley

10 09 2013

Monday, Sept. 9 in front of Dwinelle Hall.












281_Anti Nuke: Guerrilla Sticker Artist in Tokyo receives Death Threats

27 08 2013

Does this little sticker really warrant a death threat?

There’s a nice profile of an “average Japanese male” who was radicalized by the Fukushima disaster to wage an ongoing unsanctioned public art campaign against TEPCO and the Japanese government’s failure to respond, posted at Japan Subculture Research Center.

A documentary is soon to be released on his mini-crusade. He’s left his mark all over Tokyo: large anti-government, anti-nuclear stickers which have been stuck mostly on public property. His work is even good enough to be highlighted at a Tokyo art space called The Pink Cow. But with all this fame come danger: Japan’s online right wing community have made him their next target. Sending him constant death threats, they are determined to unmask him and have him arrested in order to silence him.

“Post Fukushima, a young father and artist assumes a mask and the name ‘281_Anti nuke’ and takes to the streets of Tokyo angering right wing users of the Internet.”


It speaks to the effectiveness of 281’s work (and his London-based management?)—and the intolerance of the Japanese right—that there’s even a right wing nationalist rant in the comments to the profile at JSRC.  The angry commenter questions just how Japanese the artist really is, xenophobically suggesting that 281’s deviant behavior must be the result of foreign influence.

Many people and businesses got angered on the net because of illegal actions by anti-nuclear graffiti mask man. He used various copyrighted pictures such as the hello kitty picture without permission from sanrio co., LTD.

[...] his colonial English language proficiency and foreign influence in his graffiti..My suggestion is that he attended Australian college and his antinuke militant behavior evolved from there

Read the full story:  “Meet 281: Japan’s Anti-Nuke Lone Ranger turning protest into art” by


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