Abeyance (Draves y Robles y Vargas) is a public art installation found on the north side of the YBCA Theater within Yerba Buena Gardens.
YBCA has commissioned Bay Area–born artist Jerome Reyes to create the site-specific billboard project Abeyance (Draves y Robles y Vargas) (2017), installed on the facade of YBCA’s Theater facing Yerba Buena Gardens. Featuring both texts and altered photographic imagery from San Francisco’s Ocean Beach, Abeyance honors three Bay Area natives by sharing their stories of migration, displacement, and resilience. The billboard is located in the SOMA neighborhood, a site that during the 1980s and 1990s underwent dramatic redevelopment, still in process today.
Reyes’s project acknowledges this contested history by mining the spoken and textual record. With his experience working alongside community organizers and his work in social practice, and as a long-term collaborator of the South of Market Community Action Network (SOMCAN), Reyes brings to bear the tools of the urban researcher to intervene into the very infrastructure that uprooted communities not so long ago. The billboard’s texts, which can be read as a single statement or in fragments, weave together the voices of three prominent Bay Area Filipino/a Americans: the Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist and filmmaker Jose Antonio Vargas (b. 1981), the celebrated poet and activist Al Robles (1930–2009), and the Olympic gold medal diver Victoria Manalo Draves (1924–2010). Simultaneously collapsing and expanding time and space, Reyes’s project places these individuals in dialogue with Yerba Buena Gardens’ daily visitors. It blends the voices of the past and the present through a tapestry that alludes equally to care, despair, endurance, fear, and hope.
One of Abeyance’s quotes is from a New York Times article written in 2011 by Jose Antonio Vargas, where he remembers the parting words of his mother, Emilie Salinas, uttered in Tagalog, as he left the Philippines at age twelve to begin a life in the United States—an undocumented immigrant in search of what his mother hoped would be a better life. Al Robles was an integral figure in the fight to save San Francisco’s International Hotel, demolished in 1981. Also known as the I Hotel, it was an epicenter of activist resistance to redevelopment and the displacement of its elderly immigrant tenants. Reyes honors Robles’s advocacy in remembrance of the fortieth anniversary of the International Hotel evictions on August 4, 1977. Lastly, a quote by Vicki Manalo Draves, who grew up in this South of Market district, recalls the famed athlete’s memories of the night before her historic double gold medal victory at the 1948 Summer Olympics, held in London. Draves was the first-ever Asian American Olympic champion, breaking both race and gender barriers for athletes to come. She is also honored with a park nearby in her name.