Artist Interview: Martha Rodriguez


What is the single most important take-away that you want viewers to get from your altar? Either visually or conceptually.
I want viewers to understand that there are no easy answers to gentrification. We are all angry about the changes to our city. However, holding on to anger, becoming victimized by the changes does not help us as a community. The answer is to connect with other like minded people of San Francisco. Perhaps it is a call to action that gives you the power to face these changes head on. Perhaps reaffirm who you are as a San Franciscan and realize that these values still exist in your friends, family, neighbors across the city.  For those of us who have established roots here, know that we are still here. Dig in and keep those roots, those values, firmly planted in our city of diversity.

What altars were you most surprised and/or excited by this year outside of your own? What perspectives– if anywere new to you?
Love the Howie Katz installation. It was such a clear presentation of the lack of social skills among a generation who is familiar with viewing screens far more than using a voice to establish conversations.

Also, the Alex Nieto installation was so heartfelt and honest. I loved the idea of recreating his living room. It was if all you needed was for him to walk in and sit on the couch. So impressed that the family was able to artistically express this window into Alex’s life within such a short period of time after losing him. The installation was very emotionally charged.

If you had the opportunity to install your altar anywhere in San Francisco, where would you most like to put it and who would you most want to see it? 
I would put this right at the entrance to the Mayor’s office. I’d like him to have to walk by the installation every day as a reminder of how he has failed the residents of San Francisco. I’d like him to see that all of the tax breaks to corporations, resulted in the invasion of our city by the wealthy and the displacement of those without money, I’d want him to understand that these are real people he’s affected by providing unworthy opportunities for corporations and taking away affordable housing  from many people who voted him into office.


Did your concept change at all between when you submitted your application and when you completed your altar?
Initially I saw my installation more as addressing the idea that my family, progressive, supporting the diversity of our city is staying and our values will  remain. This changed to include all residents of San Francisco. I also used the idea of a snake shedding its skin, renewing itself as representing the people of San Francisco. It is time to unify as like minded people, to reaffirm our sense of community and renew our commitment to living here.

How do you think artists can continue to contribute to the fight against displacement in San Francisco? 
– Creating political statements through your artwork is one way to educate clients

– Offering donated pieces of artwork for fundraising to organizations who address the issues associated with gentrification

– Unifying arts organizations under an umbrella group to discuss concerns/issues to political representatives

How do you plan to contribute?
I’ve joined an organization called Engage San Francisco. It is made up of all San Franciscans, new to the city as well as long time members of the community. We are there to interact, learn from each other and attempt to dispel the myths, stereotypes and general ill will that tends to exist between the newbies and not newbies. In addition, there are individual from various community organization who come to the monthly meetings to provide info on what they do. These individuals are also looking for volunteers to come help out with their clients. I’ve learned a lot about newbies/techies and provide feedback to my own community. Is it contributing something? Not sure, but it is definitely providing better understanding among varied groups.

About the Interviewer:
Elena Gross is a CCA Extern for SOMArts Cultural Center and a graduate student in the Visual & Critical Studies program at California College of the Arts.

Art by Martha Rodriguez, photo by Elena Gross