Artist Ise Lyfe Turns Abandoned Housing Project into Work of Art

Produced by Tasion Kwamilele

Abandoned, boarded up, and forgotten about housing complexes sit in communities throughout Oakland. Now, one artist has returned to his hometown to transform one dilapidated East Oakland housing project, Greenside, into a work of art.

Oakland native and renowned international and interdisciplinary artist Ise Lyfe is using the property to showcase a new level of a conceptual multi-media art exhibit.

“I feel it’s really important to take the opportunity to tell the story, not only of this particular site but of folks growing up in public housing,” said Ise Lyfe. “I see housing as a human right, and all people have a right to good housing, healthy housing.”


Ise Lyfe has been featured on HBO’s Def Poetry Jam series and traveled the world telling stories of struggle, pain, sacrifice, growth, and change. Unwilling to forget his hometown, he has pushed himself to the limit to create a body of “provocative” art that tells a story of Oakland’s public housing system in the art exhibit, “Brighter than Blight”.

Greenside housing complex, located on the corner of 77th and Bancroft avenues, has been condemned for a decade. During the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, the project was a major hub for drugs, violence, and illegal activity. Ise Lyfe and his brother Michael Savannah grew up in East Oakland and now call the abandoned complex the “standing dinosaur” of the community.

“For years this site was notorious for illegal activity, but a lot of people have come from this place and survived the struggle of living in Oakland,” said Savannah, who is managing the “Brighter than Blight” project. Oakland’s Affordable Housing Initiative provided the funding for Ise Lyfe to produce the project. The Oakland Housing Authority and District 6 City Councilmember Desley Brooks have also fully supported the program.

“The story of East Oakland is typically told from a negative lens… In the Brighter Than Blight Art Exhibit Ise Lyfe has brilliantly communicated the beauty, creativity, complexity, strength, humor and depth of the lives of the residents of “Greenside”,” said Councilmember Brooks. “This project is the first of its kind in the country between a local artist, a city council office and a Public Housing Authority. I am thankful to Oakland Housing Authority Executive Director Eric Johnson and his staff and the California Affordable Housing Initiative for their vision and courage to move this project forward,” she said.

Ise Lyfe’s conceptual art exhibit will showcase’ photography, paintings, sculptures, and literary works to tell the story of public housing. A tribute to grandmother’s house, video montages featuring testimonials of former Greenside residents and life size print-outs of provoking spoken word pieces are just a few of the art projects being featured. Savannah says the project is geared to serve as “a voice for those who won’t speak for themselves, to speak for the good and bad happening in public housing so stories won’t go untold.”

More than 30 young people, many of whom are living in public housing complexes, will serve as guides, directing guest through the hour-long exhibit; some youth will share their narratives of growing up in public housing in hopes of encouraging people to become apart of the discourse.

Ise Lyfe hopes his work sparks a trend for more art projects of this sort to happen, and project manager Michael Savannah says expanding the project throughout the city is definitely something they are thinking about once this project is completed.

“When we say ghetto and hood, we think Black. With “Brighter than Blight”, I am saying we are brighter than the negative circumstances here,” Ise Lyfe said.

The exhibit will show for two weeks, June 21 – 23 and June 28 – 30. When the exhibit closes, the art will be placed in museums and public housing complexes throughout the city. Admission to the event is free and all are encouraged to attend.

For more information, visit Visit the Post News Group’s website to get a first look at a pieces he has created for the exhibit. Visit

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