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Shinpei Takeda
Shinpei Takeda

Shinpei Takeda

The Upside of Looking Down

Memoria Terra: Back Alley Poetry Project is a collaborative storytelling project that invites young adult residents of City Heights, CA (San Diego) to reckon with and respond to the social, cultural, and economic impacts of gentrification on their own lives and community histories. Through writing workshops and public art, fellows from the local “Back Alley Poetry Club” will not just tell their stories but literally inscribe them on the ground, sharing their experiences and reclaiming their neighborhood. The resulting public artwork will cover the surface of 200 yard pedestrian-only alleyway in the heart of the community. 

We spoke to internationally acclaimed artist and 18th Street Fellow Shinpei Takeda about working in City Heights and his motivations to address this community's challenges.

Our conversation begins here, edited for clarity.

City Heights is also where you have a studio, tell us more about the community.

It’s a very tight-knit community. It is one of the most culturally diverse neighborhoods in San Diego as well as the landing spot of many immigrants and refugees, but now it’s very quickly changing. Despite engaged citizen’s movements for tenant protections, many people are still being priced out and displaced eastward. Many nonprofits, including the nonprofit I founded in City Heights, lost their spaces due to new development. And I feel like San Diego in general, doesn’t know how to deal with this cultural erasure.

So we need to find a sensitive way to talk about history. I want to bring visibility to this issue in anti-monumental ways through art and dialogue by highlighting personal and human dimensions.

What do you mean when you say anti-monumental?

Putting stories on the ground is personal but not precious, like a giant monument. What’s interesting to me is that the ground or the floor is not valued—as a surface to place art, while on the other hand, the land has become one of the most expensive commodities.

On top of that, a back alley is more private than the main street of a neighborhood and is used primarily by residents for practical purposes. It can also be the site of danger and threat. It is simultaneously utilized by the community and neglected by the city. So, it’s an ideal place to inscribe and map out the stories and histories of a community in constant threat of displacement. That’s what I mean by anti-monumental—the alley becomes an art installation, and it will get stepped on, unlike a huge untouchable sculpture.

Shinpei Takeda

“…the alley becomes an art installation, and it will get stepped on, unlike a huge untouchable sculpture… That’s what I mean by anti-monumental.”

Memoria Terra is a temporary project that combines visual art, social commentary, and personal histories, but it’s not all literal. For example, the words will create patterns, and you might not see them as text from a distance but as you get closer, you will see that these are poems designed to pull you through this small part of town. These are actual lived stories of people—the stories that new development will erase in the future, and I want to slow down that process. The project is purposefully not permanent, which is also a kind of meditation on dealing with cultural change in City Heights.

What’s your history of art making? 

I’m an artist. I’ve written books, made films, installations and public projects, performed noise music, etc. I’m constantly switching mediums, crossing borders. To this day, I am often moving between Mexico, Japan, Germany, and the United States. In college, I studied geology and then got my Master’s degree in organizational theory. Then, I got into art when I moved to Tijuana, which became my art school.


When will Memoria Terra be completed?

In June of 2024, an opening celebration of the project will occur right in this back alley.
Back Alley Poetry Club fellows will perform their poems, as they move up and down the alley, bringing the texts to life and activating the memory of the alley once again.

We want to showcase the power of creative reckoning with forces often felt too insidious
to challenge. This way we can recognize and remember all those who have passed through this neighborhood and have left their mark. 

Learn more about Shinpei Takeda here.

Shinpei Takeda

18th Street Arts Center lives to amplify the impact of artists on society. Conceived as a radical think tank in the shape of an artist community, 18th Street Arts Center provides the ideal environment for artists and the public to directly engage in creating experiences and partnerships that foster positive social change.

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