Thu, Jun 13, 2019 - Page 13 News List

Art of protest

With tomorrow’s eviction deadline bearing down on them, the residents of Daguan Community in New Taipei City and student activists turn to art and music to tell their stories and find solace

By Davina Tham  /  Staff reporter

Paintings of Daguan’s residents hang on a banner outside their houses.

Photo: Davina Tham, Taipei Times

Chou Hsiang-ping (周湘萍) swears that her late father would “jump out of his coffin” if he knew the government was demolishing his family’s home of six decades.

“He would never have believed, as a military veteran, that the country would tear down his house and not even resettle his wife and children,” Chou, 45, tells the Taipei Times at her house, located in a corner of New Taipei City’s Banciao District (板橋) known as the Daguan Community (大觀社區).

Tomorrow is the deadline for residents of Daguan’s 21 remaining households to vacate their homes and hand over the land to the Executive Yuan’s Veterans Affairs Council (VAC). Demolition is expected to begin on Tuesday, making way for a proposed seven-story, long-term care facility.

It’s the latest example of an informal community on state-owned land being evicted in the name of urban redevelopment. Over the past decade in Taipei alone, communities in Huaguang (華光), Shaosing (紹興) and Toad Hill (蟾蜍山) have faced a similar pattern of government lawsuits and penalties for illegal profiting from the land, compelling their low-income residents to leave.

In a twist, the Daguan Community is using art and music to reclaim its narrative and reach out to an often apathetic public. And although the writing’s on the wall, creative expression remains an important outlet for residents and activists desperate for a solution to their predicament.

PROTEST ART

On June 2, Daguan’s residents gathered with student activists for the last day of an in situ exhibition about the community’s struggle against forced eviction. Less than two weeks from their eviction date, the event provided much-needed respite from constant anxiety.

“Every time we do these evening gatherings I’m very calm,” says Chou, who moments earlier was dancing to the beat of a live punk rock performance. “People always say, your house is being torn down and you’re still so ‘high?’ If not I’d just be crying, right?”

Earlier, visitors were led through three exhibition rooms — converted from vacated houses — by Tang Tso-hsin (唐佐欣), a National Taiwan University undergraduate and leading activist in the Daguan movement.

In one room, Tang, 22, points to a wall festooned with hate comments the community has received on social media. In another, protest banners and cigarette butts are strewn on a table, blurring the line between an installation and a real-life activists’ war room that could be used that very night.

Outside, residents stand against large photographic portraits of themselves — taken by Tang — and tell stories of their lives in Daguan. As the tour segues into a party, residents share food prepared in their soon-to-be-demolished kitchens, and dance and sing to Hoklo tunes.

CONTESTED SPACE

Veterans first settled in Daguan in 1956, when it was designated as the welfare center — in practice, a market — of a nearby official military dependents’ village.

The area was quietly designated as state-owned land in 1966. But over the years, residents continued to come and go on the understanding that it was their land to buy and sell. At one point, the informal settlement numbered over 70 households.

Economic and social ties deepened. Chou’s parents, for example, bought their house in 1959 and sold red bean soup in the market. Chou and her brothers grew up in Daguan and now perform odd jobs in the area.

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