#RexisteMX, an anonymous collective of Zapatista-trained activists with a focus on using street art may at first appear to be your standard street artists with a political message, but that’s not quite right. For one thing, the internet is essential to their project, even though they’re trying to spread messages on Mexico’s streets. The group’s main artistic output consists of poster and stencil designs, which they post on the internet for free, explicitly encouraging others to cut their own #RexisteMX stencils, use #RexisteMX posters at protests, or remix and reuse the designs.
You may think you’ve heard about street artists doing this sort of thing before. Off the top of my head… Shepard Fairey has been giving away or selling his stickers for decades, and the “Urban Renewal Kit” on his website includes three classic OBEY designs that anyone can download for free; group like Artists Against Police Violence have repositories of high-resolution downloadable protest art from a wide array of artists; the Guerrilla Girls have a handful of free downloads on their website but the group definitely has strong feelings about strict copyright controls; and Just Seeds released a series of downloadable artist-designed posters advertising the People’s Climate March.
But #RexisteMX goes a step further than most similar projects from artists, even artists taking an activist stance. Fairey, Artists Against Police Violence, Guerrilla Girls, and Just Seeds all encourage people to use their work, but only within strict limits. Shepard does allow some remixing of his work, but that’s more about fair use, parody, and promoting Fairey’s own OBEY GIANT campaign than letting people take ownership of his content and encouraging new artistic creations (although that is a nice side-effect). There are plenty of artists participating in activism and lending their skills to various causes, but generally speaking the artist still more or less maintains control of their work.
However, #RexisteMX’s strategy isn’t unique among activists. There’s Occupy* Posters, for example, and CrimethInc uses a custom license similar to a Creative Commons license for their work. Which leads to the conclusion that the members of #RexisteMX are activists using street art as a method, rather than street artists participating in activism.
The collective actually does actively resist the label of art, saying “Rexiste is an idea, not an artist. We prefer personal anonymity and creative commons; our designs and ideas are open spaces to be shared, reappropriated and reinterpreted. We don’t make art, we create collectively, we feel collectively. We exist because we resist.” And they provide anyone who is interested with the opportunity to resist too.
Ironically, by avoiding the label of artist and the trappings associated with that, as well as relying on the internet to distribute their work, these activists are taking street art back to its roots as a tool for self-expression by anyone with an internet connection and the simplest tools.
Photo and designs by #RexisteMX