London Kaye, whose work I would usually ignore because it is more boring and derivative than The Cleveland Show, has become an accidental symbol for street art’s role as a gentrifying force. Oddly enough, she seems to be okay with that, even embracing it her newfound position as the symbol of white hipsterdom steam-cleaning the longstanding culture out of Bushwick.
A yarnbomb that Kaye put up on the wall of a Bushwick home has gained national attention because A. She didn’t ask the Salvadorian property owner and resident of the building for permission, B. She did ask the anti-immigrant white guy who runs a flea market in the lot next door for permission, C. Kaye’s piece depicts two little white girls and a boy from a Wes Anderson film, and D. She’s been at best naive and at worst unapologetic and taunting in her response to feedback that her work is rubbing residents and the property owner the wrong way.
The Gothamist has the full story, including an interview with Will Giron, the nephew of the property owner. Giron put the situation most succinctly: “I don’t feel like London was doing anything malicious. I truly believe that from the bottom of my heart. At the same time though, that’s a lack of awareness of your own privilege. If any black or Latino person were to do what London did, we’d have to worry about being bashed by the cops.”
What’s happened to Kaye could happen to almost any well-meaning street artist these days, but I have no sympathy for her. Of course, gentrification is a process that takes place (and in which I am a participant in my own neighborhood), and it’s not Kaye’s fault that graffiti writers are sent to prison and people of color are beaten and killed by police, she is literally dancing in the street after using a nailgun on someone’s home without permission. Kaye seems almost gleeful in the way that she has embraced her role as a symbol for white privilege and an active participant in claiming Bushwick for a gentrifying community. It’s an embarrassment to the potential of street art. Caroline Caldwell hits the nail on the head: “London Kaye is so up her own ass with the idea that she’s beautifying the world through street art that she’s missing the larger context of her work.”
Of course, you might say that Kaye was just doing some illegal street art, and should be applauded in a culture of muralism. Illegal street art is one thing, but what Kaye did here was ask permission of the white guy in the room, ignore the property owners, and then defend her actions while taunting her critics.
Kaye completely deserves her inevitable future selling a “street art inspired” clothing line on QVC alongside Paula Deen.
Photo from London Kaye’s Facebook