The faces in the photographs are of people who know they are going to lose their homes.
They represent a neighborhood that does not exist anymore. Specifically, four blocks of east Kansas City that were cleared of houses and families to make way for a new East Patrol police station and crime lab.
The photos are part of a free installation called “Eminent Domain” that opens Saturday at the Kansas City Public Library’s downtown branch, 14th W. 10th St.
The artist, Matt Rahner, says he seeks situations that have “an inherent psychological complexity.”
He found one in the 128 parcels acquired by the city between 26th and 27th streets and Prospect and Brooklyn avenues. Every structure, including houses that dated to 1892, was razed so the city could build a much-needed police campus. The $74 million complex is scheduled to open this year.
Under the shadow of condemnation, most of the property owners agreed to sell to the city on its terms. A dozen or so held out but were forced to sell in the end. One of them, Ameena Powell, is still fighting the city.
“These houses were in people’s families for generations,” Powell said Friday as the finishing touches were being put on the installation. “It’s sad.”
In all, 43 occupied homes in the Wendell Phillips neighborhood were demolished and about 60 residents forced to relocate. Rahner documented the process from 2012 to 2014 as part of his thesis for a master’s degree in fine arts from the University of Missouri.
He got to know the residents and their stories.
The installation includes physical items he picked up, such as a pile of bricks from a demolished home, a Bible and a hobbyhorse. Rahner took a scrap of wallpaper from a bathroom and replicated it to become the backdrop for part of the installation.
An aerial view from Google Earth shows the area before demolition. On another wall is a large drawing of what the police campus will look like.
The installation documents the process of eminent domain. Rahner, whose own grandfather died shortly after losing his property to eminent domain in the 1960s in Kansas City, Kan., said people can take away their own thoughts.
“People assume that a whole area is blighted, so it must mean something about the people,” Rahner said. “Take a closer look. Be aware.”
To reach Matt Campbell call 816-234-4902 or send email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
▪ “Eminent Domain” runs through May 31 in the library’s Genevieve Guldner Gallery.
▪ Free parking for library patrons is available in the garage at 10th Street and Baltimore Avenue.