This week, we at Vandalog lost a friend and colleague, as well as one of the most promising (and already accomplished) public art advocates in the United States. Laura Patricia Calle passed away this week at the age of 26. In addition to being a Contributing Writer on Vandalog, Laura was a long-time volunteer staff member for Living Walls in Atlanta (most recently as Programming Director). For Vandalog, Laura brought a fresh voice as a champion of South American street art and muralism. In Atlanta, well, she was an integral part of the Living Walls family for as long as I’ve been visiting the conference.
Atlanta won’t be the same without her, but Laura’s legacy lives on on the walls of the city and in the hearts of the artists, arts advocates, and friends spread out from Columbia to Paris, and everywhere in between.
Helping people is difficult. Recently, I heard a completely logical and sincere argument that “empowering” people is a colonialist concept. So what’s a caring person to do? Donate to the Red Cross? If you’re a street artist looking to use your art and resources to skip over that middlemen and effect change directly, it can get even more complicated. That’s what Banksy and JR have discovered this fall.
Earlier this month, we mentioned that supplies from Dismaland were sent to Calais, where they were used to cloth and house refugees. Then, some aid workers stole Banksy’s “Dismal aid” sign. Okay, admittedly, the sign wasn’t essential to as a shelter, but it spoke to the situation and helped raise awareness for the plight of migrants in Calais. So it did serve a purpose. What’s next? Will aid workers start stealing the spare Dismaland shirts and hoodies that were distributed to the refugees? I guess those could go on eBay. Undoubtedly, Banksy and his team were doing good in Calais, and with minimal fanfare. But aid workers are claiming that Banksy was just there for the publicity, which is a pretty ridiculous claim. I mean, Dismaland had already gotten its fair share of press. If this was about attention, shouldn’t Banksy have just put up a stencil in central London or something? That seems like it would have been a lot easier than building shelters in a foreign country.
JR seems to be facing a similar problem with a project of his from back in 2009: His Women Are Heroes installation in Kibera, Kenya, shown above. For that action, JR photographed women in Kibera and printed their portraits onto vinyl sheets, which were then installed as roofing material on a few of the homes in the slum. You might think that it was a clever method of creating art for an international audience while simultaneously providing a much-needed service to the local community. Or you could see Kibera as a gold mine to be exploited.
The charity Water Is Life sent a team (accompanied by a film crew) to Kibera to “steal” (actually it was done with permission) a piece of JR’s work and put a new roof in its place. The idea was that they could take these JR pieces, bring them to the United States, and sell them for a lot of money, which would then go into funding Water Is Life’s work.
Okay, so, aside from referring to the residents of Kibera the “mark” in this “heist” and the generally murky ethics of selling work from the street, I think I can acknowledge there is the seed of a good idea here: Build better roofs for people who need them, and make money for water projects while you do it. Great.
“After his initial installation six years ago, JR formed a foundation, which continues to add new tarpaulins to uncovered houses in Kibera. These later works feature photographs shot by local kids. JR says the piece Deutsch auctioned was not by him, but is instead one of these later prints, by a young, unknown Kenyan.”
Also in the Guardian, JR points out that the ethics and practical implications of selling the work aren’t quite so rosy as Water Is Life would like to have you believe. For one thing, Water Is Life is trying to create a market for JR street pieces out of Kibera, and they are saying it’s a million dollar market. If residents suddenly believe, rightly or wrongly, that their roofs are worth a million dollars, that could create absolute chaos. And then there’s the question of whether Water Is Life is exploiting these residents by giving them pennies on the dollar for products that the charity will then go out and sell to fund Water Is Life’s own projects. Finally, the whole idea of going and taking these JR pieces seems to imply that the work JR did in Kibera was basically frivolous, but that Water Is Life’s work is valuable.
It’s all very strange. JR tries to do something good, and then a charity swoops in to disrupt his work and exploit the people he was trying to help. Now, JR says he might have to stop working in Kibera. What if this same problem spreads to other places where he has worked, as it has with the removal of Banksy’s work from the street?
So if you see Water Is Life trying to sell a tarp out of Kibera, buyer beware. It might not be what you think it is, and it’s only because art collectors create demand for street pieces that they have any possible value. Plus, the artist that you’re such a fan of? He doesn’t support your purchase. Is there a million dollars worth of art sitting in a Kenyan slum? Only if we all decide that there is.
Update – November 20th, 2015: One more story should have been included in this post. So here it is… London-based street artist Stik is facing similar troubles to JR, except this case seems even more clear-cut. No surprise: The villain is a posh art gallery. A public mural that Stik painted years ago with children in Poland has been sliced up and shipped to the UK to be sold. If the pieces do sell, it could disrupt Stik’s market for legitimate studio works, which isn’t so great when you’re trying to make a living. So now, an artist like Stik has to wonder: Should I be painting murals if they could later be resold? And what of the children who helped paint the piece, and the local town that enjoyed it? So yeah, doing good for people is complicated once shady art dealers get involved.
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.
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.
Apologies that this particular link-o-rama is full of self-promotion and conflicts of interesting, but I do think these are all interesting projects and I hope you do too:
It takes a lot to get my excited about a mural festival, but this year’s Wall\Therapy in Rochester, NY looks great. It’s difficult to put on a mural festival. One short cut is to work with obvious artists. Your festival will look like 50 other festivals, but the walls will probably seem impressive. Wall\Therapy has not gone that route. This year in particular, they put together a surprising and diverse line up to create an arguably cohesive body of new work, and the quality of the murals is still strong pretty much across the board. Check out Brooklyn Street Art’s photos and review for the full story.
From the selections I’ve read, I’m still not sure how I feel about the book What Do One Million Ja Tags Signify? by Dumar Novy, but a philosophy book centered on the work of a prolific graffiti writer seems like something that should at least catch the interest of Vandalog readers.
Shepard Fairey’s latest print about corporate greed and campaign finance reform is about to drop. It’s a nice print, and I’m always glad to see Shepard tackling this important but not particularly sexy topic. Plus, the profits from this print go to two great organizations fighting for campaign finance reform. I’ll just note that Shepard is working on a couple of projects right now for my employer, but campaign finance reform and political corruption really are topics that I care a lot about.
Speaking of my employer, I recently got to work on a really fun project with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and Ben Eine. Back in June, Eine came to Philly for a few days and painted almost 40 of his classic shutter letters. Philly now has a complete Eine alphabet, and then some. Eine’s work can be found throughout the city, but the shutters are definitely clustered in South Philly around Southeast by Southeast, a community center and art space for the neighborhood’s large Southeast Asian refugee community. Brooklyn Street Art has more on this project.
And one more Mural Arts project to mention: JR recently installed a huge mural right in the heart of Philadelphia as part of Open Source, our public art exhibition curated by Pedro Alonzo. The mural is a portrait of Ibrahim Shah, a local food truck chef who came to Philadelphia from Pakistan about a year ago. The Philadelphia Inquirer ran a great profile on Ibrahim. I love how this mural looms large on the side of one of the biggest buildings right in the center of Philly, but isn’t actually that visible from the ground except from a few choice locations. Sounds like that could be a problem, I know, but the mural actually pops out from behind buildings in the most surprising places, and catching a glimpse of it winds up being a thrill, a bit of hide and seek. Plus, that game plays into the meaning of the mural, which is about how immigrants are a big part of our cities, but aren’t always celebrated or allowed to be made visible.
Okay, actually, Mural Arts has something coming up with Steve Powers too, but hopefully it will last longer than these signs in NYC! No surprise, a great series of street signs by Powers, installed legally as part of a project with the NYC Department of Transportation, seem to be being ripped down and stolen by greedy collectors or maybe thieves hoping to make a buck. It’s no surprise, but it is still disappointing.
If you’re in New York City, do not miss Faile’s exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. It’s on now, and visiting is a really exciting experience. Vandalog contributing writer Caroline Caldwell currently works as an assistant at Faile’s studio, but even hearing bits and pieces from her as things were coming together did not prepare me for the awesomeness that is Savage/Sacred Young Minds. Without a doubt, the highlight of the exhibition is the latest and (I think) largest iteration of Faile and Bast’s Deluxx Fluxx Arcade, with custom foosball, pinball, and of course video games. It’s just an unabashedly fun experience. Arrested Motion has photos of much of the exhibition.
Coincidentally, today’s links all revolve around the law…
It looks like Starbucks ripped off Maya Hayuk‘s work, and now she’s suing. You might be thinking, “Is Starbucks really ripping her off, or are there just some similarities? A coincidence isn’t impossible. Just try Googling ‘abstract geometric bright colors’ and see what pops up.” Except that ad agency 72andSunny contacted Hayuk to license her work for a Starbucks Frappuccino campaign, and she declined their offer. Now, work remarkably similar to Hayuk’s is appearing in Frappuccino ads worldwide. Plus, Hayuk cites specific paintings of her’s that the campaign rips off. So yes, clearly Starbucks and 72andSunny are in the wrong here morally. Legally speaking though, does she have a case? Wired has a great article on the uphill battle that Hayuk faces.
There is now a second 5Pointz lawsuit. This time, specific artists are suing the 5Pointz property owner for whitewashing their work. Now, we could argue whether or not those individual murals on 5Pointz qualify for protection under the Visual Artists Rights Act (an important question that this article covers in detail), but there’s a larger issue here: With this lawsuit, the artists are shooting themselves (and muralists in general) in the foot. I’m now disinclined to work with any of the artists in this lawsuit, and I suspect others will be too. I don’t want to tell a property owner, “Here’s a great artist who will paint a stunning mural for you, but if you ever remove the mural, they might sue you.” And if I’m a property owner and I hear about this lawsuit, I’m a lot less likely to put any murals on my property. VARA is an important law. It protects artists. But these artists aren’t using it responsibly, and that means consequences for all of us.
The Bushwick Daily has a must-read piece on the billboards that have begun to infest The Bushwick Collective. The neighborhood is transitioning from a mural hub to a new Times Square. It’s extremely lucrative for property owners, but detrimental to the surrounding artwork and the neighborhood vibe. So what are property owners to do? As Jordan Seiler notes, no reasonable property owner is going to turn down $24,000 per year to have a billboard on their wall, so the answer is regulation. If we, as a society, decide not to allow billboards in public space, or at least in certain neighborhoods, then those neighborhoods can have murals instead. Because of Little Italy’s status as a historic district, property owners cannot slap up billboards on every available surface. That’s part of why The L.I.S.A. Project NYC is able to get so many great walls. Maybe all of NYC, or at least Bushwick, should get the same protection.
Speaking of The Bushwick Collective, it’s nice to see them relaxing their unofficial rules barring political murals (where they can still get permission to paint). Chip Thomas aka Jetsonorama installed a stirring mural in Bushwick just in time for the 4th of July (shown above). The Huffington Post has the story behind the piece.
Editor’s note: This is a guest post from the anonymous artist/activist collective RexisteMX. I want to thank RexisteMX for drawing attention to and providing this local perspective on a recent case of censorship in Mexico City. – RJ Rushmore
Everything started on a February evening when a bucket of black paint and a roller met a wall in Mexico City, a wall that had just been painted by a well-known artist as part of a local gallery’s street art festival. That evening, the festival succumbed to fear, a deep fear that runs through the veins of this country, permeating citizens’ hearts and souls.
#ManifiestoMX is a street art festival organized by FIFTY24MX, a gallery of “young art”. For the festival, they invited artists such as Blu, Swoon, Ericailcane, JAZ, Bastardilla and Saner to create murals around Mexico City. The goal, in their own words, was to create murals that “pointed out themes about the protest and the awareness of the contemporary situation in Mexico. Using art as a social tool to complain, debate and propose.” The artists were there “to express, through murals, their opinion.”
At first, this project awakened a great interest among local artists and fans of street art. For the first time, we would be able to see international icons of critical art and resistance creating murals in our neighborhoods.
One of the #ManifiestoMX artists best known for critical and politically charged muralism, as well as the resistance to the commercialization of art, is Ericailcane. It was his mural that sparked a controversy at #ManifiestoMX and brought the deep-seed fears of so many Mexican citizens to light.
Ericailcane’s mural was a critique of Enrique Peña Nieto, “President” of Mexico, pictured as a circus monkey who dances to the tune of applause and clanging pesos. Powerful, right? Perhaps because that’s the truth about a man who found his way into government thanks to the applause of television and the power of the money, buying the votes of the poor; maybe because it is the reality of a Mexico governed by the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI), which has worked hard to dismantle the country’s democracy and kill indigenous people to steal their natural resources, all the while feigning a war against drugs that leaves thousands of civilians dead while the drugs are still running and reaching the United States. It was an honest mural. Too honest for a Mexico where the government has made its people fear that anyone who thinks differently from the PRI might be silenced or disappeared, just like the 43 students from Ayotzinapa.
On the morning of February 22nd, we went to photograph Ericailcane’s mural, but we were surprised that instead of the tricolor band shown in FIFTY24MX’s photo, which was how the mural made clear reference to Enrique Peña Nieto, there was a thin black line around the monkey’s neck. We tweeted at the organizers and asked why there had been censorship, but the only thing we got was silence. Silence and more censorship. Later, we noticed that the comments addressing the mural’s censorship were being deleted from FIFTY24MX’s Facebook page. The pressure on the gallery intensified as the question echoed across social networks: Why was there censorship at ManifiestoMX?
Only after continued pressure on social media did the organizers of ManifiestoMX at FIFTY24MX respondbrieflyto say, “The owners of the building asked for the colors of the strip to be changed so the piece would not be taken down,” and “they are people of another generation who are accustomed to living in fear, and you have to respect that.”
Case solved, right? As long as the government didn’t paint out the mural, what does it matter? But PRI has been in power forever. This censorship only proves that the PRI are not a political party; they are now a way of life. It’s a daily terror, so why worry?
That fearful February evening, the owner of a wall, the gallery, and the artist accepted self-censorship. With a bucket of black paint and the fear to question or be critical, an artwork was painted out. Why? Because fear is natural and respectable; because urban art is cool; because it’s “in”; because being critical is good so long as it keeps selling, so long as it doesn’t cross the imaginary lines drawn by the state; because in Mexico art is only supposed to be a hollow shell without content, something pretty that doesn’t say anything.
Contradictory to his gallery’s practice of deleting comments reacting to the censorship on FIFTY24MX’s social media pages, Emilio Ocampo from FIFTY24MX told the Huffington Post, “They wanted us to change the colors to black. But you know what? We like that censorship, and the reactions it produced. That also means that the message bothered someone. We love both images: with the tricolored ribbon and now with black.”
And what about us, the spectators? Do we like censorship? Is censorship good now? Do we reproduce it? Do we accept it? In the face of censorship, do we protest, or we do remain silent? Is it that censorship is not so bad? Is it just part of our daily lives now, so we have to accept it? And what if we, like FIFTY24MX, like censorship? How do we express our “Manifesto”? Do we self-censor and paint nothing? Do we paint something controversial and then censor it? Or is that anti-censorship? We’re lost now.
“We think this incident is a reflection of the self-censorship that we decide to live in,” FIFTY24MX’s co-director Liliana Carpinteyro told the Huffington Post. But others, like us, believe that the normalization of censorship is a reflection of a country that we do not choose to live in. We cannot produce art that reveals or pushes boundaries at the same time that we follow the rules of a government that is keeping us silent, disappearing us, killing us. To start making critical art in Mexico, we must expel the tendency towards self-censorship that the PRI has instilled in all of us.
We should paint in a country where we do not accept silence about censorship, whether imposed directly by the government or self censorship out of fear. We can’t let another bucket of black paint cover another mural that we all know speaks the truth and points towards our shared dream of freedom. Ericailcane’s mural cannot stand as a monument to self-censorship. It has to be a starting point for discussion and debate. Its desecration will not silence us from further reflection or action. We must continue using critical art to transform our reality.
What do Bushwick, Chicago, and Detroit all have in common? Their mural cultures are under threat. In Bushwick, gentrification and greed some to be putting the final nails in the coffin of The Bushwick Collective. In Chicago, the city is failing to pay artists and organizers for murals that they commissioned. In Detroit, city officials are trying to tame graffiti’s Wild West with regulations that are bound to cause problems.
The Bushwick Collective’s year hasn’t started out so well. There was always suspicion among artists and art fans about the project’s motives. Behind closed doors (and sometimes publicly), you’d hear suggestions that The Bushwick Collective was an exploitative gentrification effort rather than a celebration of art, and its no secret that the project is anti-graffiti and doesn’t usually allow political messages in murals. But they have walls, so plenty of artists set aside their reservations and paint there anyway. Now, those rumbling frustrations about gentrification and whitewashing of graffiti have gone explosively public, with ZEXOR dissing over a dozen Bushwick Collective murals with his tags and throw ups.
But are ZEXOR’s accusations based in fact? The latest development at The Bushwick Collective suggests so. This month, what appear to be frames for two billboards were installed on top of Bushwick Collective murals. The (currently empty) billboard frames were installed with complete disregard for the murals they partially cover by Concrete Jungle, The Yok, and Sheryo. So much for subtly transforming the neighborhood in the name of art. Seem to me though that with these billboard installations, The Bushwick Collective is finally showing their true colors.
Sheryo said that she hasn’t asked The Bushwick Collective what happened, but her thoughts on the situation are clear: “It’s such an eyesore they shoulda at least buffed it first… I think there should be mutual respect. Do things right.”
I’ve reached out to The Bushwick Collective on Sunday for comment, as well as for more information about the billboard frames and the building owner’s relationship with the Collective. As of Tuesday night, I have not heard back.
In Chicago, there are a number of great murals by artists like Gaia, Roa and Troy Lovegates that Pawn Works organized in collaboration with the city and Alderman Danny Solis. Unfortunately, it seems that the alderman seriously messed up and the city has so far failed to pay the artists or reimburse Pawn Works for $16,000 in out-of-pocket expenses related to the murals. The city and the alderman claim to be working to fix the problem, but Pawn Works and the artists have been owed money for well over a year. For now, Pawn Works has stopped organizing murals for the city. That mural project was shut down because of Solis’ fiscal mismanagement and bureaucratic snafus, and of course, the artists and Pawn Work still haven’t been paid. At least Solis is “very sorry.”
Finally, politicians in Detroit are trying to change the city’s reputation as the Wild West of graffiti. A city council member is working on new anti-graffiti regulations that would fine property owners for not cleaning the graffiti on their buildings. It’s unclear how new regulations will be different from the tickets that the city is already issuing, but presumably they would make it even easier for a Detroit building owner to be ticketed for graffiti. As the Metro Times asks, how do you determine what’s graffiti and what’s a mural? That’s a determination that the city is already messing up, and the proposed solution of a database of all the legal murals in the city is bound to be incomplete and difficult to maintain.
Regulations like these make me nervous, not just for the graffiti and for property owners, but for all public art in Detroit. Imagine you’re a property owner in Detroit and an artist comes to you about painting a mural on your property. Even if legally that’s okay and you’d love some art on your wall, do you really want to take the risk that there will be confusion and you’ll be fined and investigated by the city? These regulations could have a serious chilling effect on the muralism Renaissance taking place in the city right now.
Detroit can’t seem to properly manage the system they’ve already got to ticket property owners for graffiti. Why give that system more power? More intense regulations like the ones being developed now will only serve to hurt Detroit’s property owners, artists, and public art.
In recent years, a lot of great art has come out of The Bushwick Collective, and Pawn Works, and the overall mural culture in Detroit. Maybe, hopefully, I’m just being a Chicken Little about all this news. After all, there are other murals in Bushwick and Chicago, and the Detroit regulations are a long way from being implemented, but let’s not pretend that everything is all okay. These amazing mural cultures, often held up as some of the best in the nation, are under threat from greed and mismanagement.
Ever wanted to place your own messages into bus shelter advertising kiosks? Well, now it’s easier than ever with PublicAccess from PublicAdCampaign, a new service that will provide you with just the proper art object for opening up ad kiosks in your city.
Since November 2013, Jordan Seiler and a handful of other artists and street art photographers have been using the somewhat curious hashtag #yeahwegotkeysforthat on Instagram. While it was never quite a secret what was going on, perhaps PublicAdCampaign’s most ambitious project to date remained in semi-stealth mode until today. The results of the project were never secret, but it was never fully explained either.
If you were paying close attention, you would discover that Seiler was manufacturing and distributing sculptures to artists around the world. These sculptures double as “keys,” to bus shelter advertising kiosks around the world. Slowly, Seiler has been buliding up an inventory of various key designs (the locks are standarized across a given public transit system, but can vary from city to city) and mapping out where each design works. New York? Yeah, he’s got keys for that. London? Yeah, he’s got keys for that. San Fransisco? Yeah, he’s got keys for that. Hence the hashtag.
Until today, Seiler was just distributing the keys to friends and word of mouth connections, but now he’s opening up the project to the general public. At PublicAccess, you’ll find a map telling you which keys work in which cities, as well as links to download each design for free as a 3D printable file or buy a premade key for $35. Now, everyone’s got keys for that.
The open source project is still in the process of expanding, with keys for more cities coming soon. In the mean time, even with just a few key designs, PublicAccess has greatly expanded the general public’s access to bus shelter advertisements.
Of course, the site carries the disclaimer, “THE TOOLS OFFERED THRU THIS SITE ARE HANDMADE ART OBJECTS AND NOT INTENDED FOR USE…” so keep that in mind while you’re using your key.
Ugh… Another day, another ridiculous article about Banksy about to go viral. On Friday evening, Whitehot Magazine sent out an email with the subject line “Banksy Unmasked: Real Photos of Banksy WORLD EXCLUSIVE.”
Basically, I suggest that you ignore Whitehot Magazine’s post and photos. They’re essentially nonsense. If you’re content to leave it at that, feel free to ignore the rest of this post. If you want to know why Whitehot Magazine’s post is verifiably hooey, read on…
Here’s the problem though: That’s not Banksy’s account, or Banksy’s illustration. Jo Brooks, Banksy’s pr person, has confirmed to Vandalog that the only official Banksy Instagram account is @banksy.co.uk, and that the illustration posted by the @banksy account is not by Banksy.
The illustration that the media is calling Banksy’s is actually by Lucille Clerc. She tweeted a (much less filtered and low-resolution) version of the illustration shortly before it was reposted by the fake @banksy account. Also, the post by @banksy now credits Clerc as the artist behind the powerful illustration, although the credit might not have been there when the post first went up.