Dear Kitsch Street Artists…

May 18th, 2017 | By | 1 Comment »

Editor’s note: This guest post is from Cedar Lewisohn, a writer, curator, and artist whose work and words I’ve followed for nearly a decade. His solo show Ndungu, Isca opened last week at Exeter Phoenix in Exeter, UK. – RJ

There is currently a case of a mixed-race artist in America who has appropriated an image he found online, originally by a black female artist, and turned it into a mural. I understand that this has now become a legal issue. I have been an expert witness in several graffiti and street art related court cases in the UK, so would not want to comment on this case too directly while it is on-going. What I would say is, the world is awash with kitsch murals, and this appears to be another example. Street art and kitsch for me is an on-going area of frustration. With the continued explosion of street art, there is also an explosion of kitsch. That means art that is sentimental, lacks criticality and where the materials the work is produced with have no relevance to the subject of the work. It might also mean the artist has not considered site specificity. Kitsch pushes the discourse of visual art back around seventy years, or perhaps further.

The issue of appropriation (particularly by white male culture) in relation to street art is very complex. It is a major issue within the street art scene, but also a wider problem of inexperienced artists who don’t really understand the difference between post-modern appropriation, that is copying something to give it a new context and make a political point, and simply copying something, with no other real motive other than, they “like” the work. Street art today has become the preserve of what has been called the “skater dad”. That is a man (can be a woman also), who is old enough to be a father, but dresses like he is about to go skateboarding. This is pretty much a global trend. The way this links to “white male appropriation” is that the skater dad has basically appropriated youth culture as whole. It’s not standard appropriation, where someone with no links to a culture, simply steals from a genre. Skater dads may well have been skaters back in the day. But now, they really should focus on being dads.

Aside from the predominance of kitsch, a major problem of the street art movement around the world is not only that so many of the artists are white and male, but that the institutional structures that surround the scene are white and male. This also means the people who primarily make money out of this scene are white and middle class (there are also a surprising number of aristocrats involved in street art and graffiti at various levels), and if they wanted, could get a job in a bank tomorrow. That’s the difference and that’s what separates the skater dad from the real deal. Some people have a choice. They can be skater dad on the weekend, and go to the office on Monday. But not everyone has that choice. Skin colour or gender are not so easy to leave at home when you feel like it. And that’s the problem with blindly appropriating culture.

YT, POC, “they”, latinx, race, and gender issues are coming thick and fast. While those topics are relevant and important, sometimes the bigger picture can get lost in these nuances, which in turn can lead to more populist arguments seizing the agenda. Put simply, while we argue over the ethic make up of an art exhibition or the moral implications of stealing an image from Instagram, someone else is busy running the country into the ground. Should some random American mural artist have stolen another artist’s work and painted it on a wall? No, probably not. Am I hugely offended by this on some ethno, gendered, white man bad, level? No. I think there are more important issues to worry about, and kitsch murals aren’t going to solve them. Artists now, perhaps more than ever, should fight to make work that has meaning. Not only for today, but for the people who will look back at 2017 and ask, “What was going on?”.


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Portals to a future of healing: uplifting women of color in public art

January 7th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

O Wind, Take Me To My Country by Jess X. Snow. Kingston, NY, ft. Safia Elhillo. Photo by Jess X Snow.

Jess X Snow (@jessxsnow), the author of this post, is an artist, filmmaker and Pushcart-nominated poet.

At its worst, public art can be imagery that heightens already existing social hierarchies and inequalities, and at its best–can be a portal into a future of healing and transformation.

I am a queer Asian American immigrant woman and non-citizen to this country. I grew up with a speech impediment so severe it caused me to fear my own voice. When my speaking voice failed, I fashioned myself a new one on the blank page.

I became a muralist because public art became the closest thing to a voice after a lifetime of feeling silenced. When I started painting murals, I was both exhilarated to make work on such a large level and immobilized by a fear of taking up public space. Where did this fear come from? For my childhood, every time I stuttered, my classmates finished my sentences for me. As I grew up, I experienced gender and racially-exoticizing harassment just walking down the street. As a woman of color working in film and public art, the icons I have to look up to are few and far between. As a migrant, I grew up watching my mother get denied at the U.S. border, homeland security giving her trouble every time she renewed her visa, up until we finally obtained our green cards after nine years. In all this, the ability to survive as an artist, and live here legally, comes at so high of a cost that the idea of doing illegal art, or physically taking up public space, can feel life-endangering.

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Choque Festival – street art or just marketing?

December 21st, 2016 | By | No Comments »

Pagu for Choque Festival. Photo by Jéssica Freitas.

Vanessa Rosa, the author of this post, is an artist based in São Paulo.

This is a story of an alleged attempt to create dialogues between opposite worlds: street art, and one of the world’s most oppressive police forces.

In November of 2016, the same terrifying week that Trump conquered the presidency of the USA, a project called Choque Festival brought street art to the headquarters of a São Paulo military police squad. The plan was to cover the walls of this police station with murals (some of the murals are on exterior walls, but the walls are all inside a gated space that is not open to the public). According to some media and the Festival’s official Facebook page (since deleted from Facebook and Instagram) the event was intended to open an artist-driven dialogue between police and citizens, an artist-driven initiative to make the police recognize the importance of street painting. Other times, it’s been described as part of the military police’s community outreach activities, a police initiative, a festival that would also present other police projects, like kids with disabilities participating in equine-assisted therapy with police horses. When it was first announced, the project received praise in both progressive and conservative media. And although one curator/artist/producer appears front and center in all the videos and articles, with little visibility of other participants, the project did manage to involve several people from street painting scene in Brazil. But things went sour, with artists dropping out and graffiti writers taking aim at those who did participate. What the hell happened?

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Clickbait: The cash, flaws and ethics of “revealing” Banksy

September 3rd, 2016 | By | No Comments »

Banksy unmasked

Editor’s note: This guest post is by Peter Bengtsen, one of just a handful of academics worldwide whose research focuses on street art, and I highly recommend his book The Street Art World. – RJ

Back in March 2016, Vandalog published a post that questions why anyone would want to learn the identity of Banksy. In the post, RJ Rushmore echoed the sentiments of David Choe by commenting that focusing on who the artist is “misses the point of Banksy, like watching a magic show from side stage while someone whispers in your ear how every trick is done”, and he stated that “[n]o good comes from trying to reveal Banksy’s identity, or wondering who Banksy is”. In the decade I have been studying street art academically, I have found this attitude to be very common among members of what I call the street art world, and it is one I happen to largely agree with.

The media have of course been attempting to find out who is behind the Banksy moniker for a long time. The latest attempt, published by Mail Online on 1 September 2016, suggests that the artist may be a member of a famous British music group or perhaps is a group of people working together as one persona. While media speculation about Banksy’s identity is nothing new, the avalanche in March of news stories about the ostensible uncovering of the artist’s identity – which most likely prompted David Choe to write his text – stands out because it was a result of the publication of an academic article in Journal of Spatial Science. In this article, a group of researchers presented the results of a geographic profiling study in which they had paired clusters of artworks attributed to Banksy with addresses associated with a named individual who they presented as their prime suspect for being the anonymous artist. Basically, by finding correlations between the clusters of artworks and the addresses, the researchers seemingly substantiated previous tabloid speculation about the identity of Banksy. The media, unsurprisingly, jumped on the story and repeated the name given by the researchers in the article. This was highly problematic, not only for the person being “outed” as Banksy, but also for scholars who are relying on the confidence of members of the street art world in order to do their research.

In addition to the commonsense-based critique, which has been put forward by David Choe, RJ Rushmore and many other members of the street art world, that it is simply wrong to expose an artist who has chosen to work anonymously, it is worth noting that the geographic profiling study seems to be characterised by a number of fundamental methodological flaws and ethical issues. I have described these in more detail in the freely available article Hijacking Banksy: using a contemporary art mystery to increase academic readership, but to name one example, it is a problem that the geographic profiling study focuses on just one candidate for being Banksy. With no other cases to compare their results to, the researchers openly admit in their article that it is “difficult” to make any definitive conclusions about Banksy’s identity.

Banksy revealed

Given the lack of conclusive evidence produced by the study, I find it odd (and highly ethically unsound) that the researchers are still comfortable with publishing the name of the person they have been investigating. While one of the researchers suggested on Twitter that making public the name of the suspect is not an ethical problem because the name has previously been put forward by a national English tabloid newspaper and has subsequently been repeated on thousands of websites, this line of reasoning is clearly flawed. There is, or at least there should be, a significant difference between the expectations we have for the quality of the content of tabloid press stories and academic articles.

So why would the researchers choose to include the name without solid evidence? I can only speculate, but as this segment on the news satire show Last Week Tonight with Jon Oliver points out, researchers are in sharp competition for funding, and this increasingly seems to lead to sensationalism within academia, be it in the research itself, the way it is presented to the public, or both. It is no secret that the level of international media exposure the researchers have gained by naming their suspect for being Banksy could be a factor when funding bodies are going to decide where to place their money. Playing the sensationalist card is certainly one way of getting ahead in the race for future funding (at least in the short term), even if it happens at the cost of academic integrity and at the expense of named individuals and the community of street art researchers at large.

Screenshots by Peter Bengtsen


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Memorial Day: Remembrances of things past, present, and future

June 4th, 2016 | By | 1 Comment »
Monique Spier 2016, "Doubles" gif animation

Monique Spier 2016, “Doubles” gif animation

The Memorial Day weekend heralds the start of summer. A quiet moment on a windswept beach where ‘a clear view equals a clear mind’ has changed radically in recent years.

Life begins and ends where the ocean’s tide and sands meet. A stranger on the shore arrives from distant places. Beaches that previously glistened with laughter in the sun have become solemn and tragic: a sad journey’s end for thousands of forgotten migrant families on the run.

Idyllic locations where one might momentarily breathe deep and forget the real world are now faced with a relentless bombardment of social, political and environmental issues. Explores, invaders, refugees, the innocent boys killed at Gaza Beach by war missiles, intruders, and perhaps, even time travelers and aliens from other worlds. All are strangers in search of a new land. New people, like new art, have the power to provoke, agitate, engage and question the status quo.

Digital glitch art has about as much appeal as a loud, buzzing, broken and flickering, fluorescent light. New digital art draws from an old punk aesthetic: ‘three chord art that anyone can play’. Keep it brief; a few seconds at most, simple and fast, annoy and provoke with an uncanny and unique power to engage the viewer. Within a vibration zone of motion-triggered unexpected juxtapositions, digital images are hot-wired, quivering and spatially unsettling with a nonsense/sensibility that evoke the non-commercial, experimentation of No Wave artists associated with that brief scene in downtown New York in the late 70s’/early 80s’.

In my wildest scenarios, I could never imagine the words glitch and beach in the same sentence. While on their vacation this Memorial Day weekend, artists and partners Ryan Seslow and Monique Spier, spontaneously created some new glitch gifs that resonated with me on multiple levels. Their work exists as a refreshing reflection: hinting at the cautionary freedom that permeates the world today.

Ryan Seslow 2016, "Time travelers" gif animation

Ryan Seslow 2016, “Time travelers” gif animation

New media, a combination of visual and audio tools, echo the progressive experimentation of artists like László Moholy-Nagy almost a century ago. In Seslow and Spier’s gifs, there exists a lingering sense of reminiscence that evoke Yves Tanguy’s lonely landscapes of desolate gray sky beaches that transform, transport and confuse the viewer in the same moment. An expectation that maybe something better might happen just beyond the horizon.

In the 1968 movie Planet of the Apes, the last scene and dialog is shot at Point Dume on the Californian coast. The promontory is ‘matte painted out”, replaced with a rusted Statue of Liberty, informing the viewer that this is New York City in the distant (maybe near) future.

“Oh my God. I’m back. I’m home. All the time, it was… We finally really did it. You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!”

Ryan Seslow 2016, "Ghost at the Coast" gif animation

Ryan Seslow 2016, “Ghost at the Coast” gif animation

The ebb and flow of our oceans is less about growth and more about erosion due to radioactive tides, floating trash that pollute pristine coastlines with plastic carcinogens, accidental oil spill sludge, as well as flooding, hurricanes and other natural disasters due to global warming and climate change.

And never forget… the constant reckless beachfront overdevelopment by greedy real estate moguls.

We’ve reached a critical juncture where both our beaches and our politicians are extremely toxic and polluted. Let’s work to protect our beaches so they continue to be places of peace and remain a natural habitat for all living things instead of an arid and lifeless landscape for future generations.

Ryan Seslow

Ryan Seslow 2016, “Time-Travels” iPhone digital photograph.

Photos and gifs by Ryan Seslow and Monique Spier


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John Fekner on Blu, Bologna, and the nature of street art

March 17th, 2016 | By | 1 Comment »
Once the site of a mural by Blu in Bologna, now buffed by Blu and his team. Photo from blublu.org.

Once the site of a mural by Blu in Bologna, now buffed by Blu and his team. Photo from blublu.org.

Last week, we covered Blu‘s protest in Bologna, where he and a team of helpers buffed out all of his murals in the city (and some now face legal issues as a result). They were protesting an exhibition, Street Art – Banksy & Co., which includes murals by Blu that were removed off the streets of Bologna and are being exhibited against his wishes. I called on people to boycott the exhibition. However, the response from the street art community has been more mixed, with many supporting Blu, and others suggesting that Blu has acted like a petulant child. The exhibition opens today, so we’ll soon see how the public responds, and (as the show’s lead curator Christian Omodeo insists we hold our breath for) what the controversial mural remnants look like in the museum.

In the meantime, John Fekner, whose work is included in Banksy & Co. (as is the work of his long-time collaborator Don Leicht), reached out and shared his reactions with Vandalog. Fekner is a key historical figure in street art, a pioneer as a stencil artist with an unimpeachable record as a political artist and an artist’s artist.

John Fekner

John Fekner’s Slow Down Children Growing (right) and Burning Tech, Factory & John Wayne Cowboy tagged on Barbara Kruger Billboard. Spray paint & stencil, London England 1988. Photo courtesy of John Fekner/Artangel.

From Fekner:

  • Whether you stole a pencil from your schoolmate, or a lover from your best friend, or a stapler from work, the cold-hearted facts remain: everyone steals. We exist in a confusing and twisted reality of unscrupulous financial gain and artistic theft.
  • If you create rock, punk, rap or any other type of music, there’s no way of stopping some Muzak elevator-friendly dispirited interpretation of your original rebellious music.
  • If you originally aspired to be an underground artist; then just stay underground. Similarly, if you’re a musician, don’t get pissed off if a fan asks you to sign a copy of your cutout vinyl album that they bought for a buck or less.
  • In the 80s, low brow thieves literally ripped Keith Haring’s chalk drawings from subway advertising spaces and entrepreneurial high brow scoundrels ripped off New York City urban kids’ graffiti sketches for pennies.
  • The bottom line is: what’s done in public-doesn’t remain in public. There’s no protection for artists who trespass. It’s the chance one take outdoors.
  • If you create illegal art murals, street rules are always in effect:
    1) You can’t stop a drunk in the middle of the night from pissing on your wall.
    2) You can’t stop a bulldozer from razing your work.
    3) You can’t stop a neighborhood anti-graffiti squad from painting over your work.
    4) You can’t stop a well-dressed thief in a suit, or their hired slug with a chisel, from removing your wall work and hauling it off to their lair, garage, museum or art market.
  • Under any circumstances, don’t immediately and irrationally react. If your original aspirations were to be an artist- then just do what you were meant to do: be an artist. Don’t double shift and be a night watchman patrolling the streets to try and thwart thieves of your work. Unique temporary outdoor creations engendered a public conversation that includes everyone: art lovers and art haters, lowbrow and highbrow, and everyone who interacts with your public work.
  • If you analyze and then destroy your creations; that’s an overreaction. Courageous? Yes. But it goes beyond your original spirit, freedom and joy of creating your work. It might potentially backfire and flame unquenchable desires for something else: more acceptance, more branding, more visibility, more publicity, more interviews, more legendary status, etc. It’s tricky.
  • The rip-off and resale of an artist’s artwork continues long after the artist is gone. If the artist doesn’t erase it in his/her lifetime, there’s a good chance that the corrupt art world of bankers, developers, board of directors, scholars, academicians, curators or art history itself, will erase you.

Photos courtesy of Blu and John Fekner/Artangel


Category: Art News, Guest Posts | Tags: ,

Organizing street art – what for?

August 10th, 2015 | By | 3 Comments »
Example of illegal street art in Tartu by MinaJaLydia. Photo by suur jalutuskaik.

Example of illegal street art in Tartu by MinaJaLydia. Photo by suur jalutuskaik.

Today we have Vandalog’s second guest post from Sirla, an organizer of the Stencibility festival in Tartu, Estonia. I find it inspiring to see festival organizers thinking deeply like you’ll find in this post. – RJ

Street art festivals are the most organized form of street art – coordinated, sponsored, approved under certain conditions, etc. Street art festivals also garner significantly more attention on most blogs and other media than illegal and spontaneous street art marching to the beat of its own drum. Street art festivals are hot stuff and new ones are constantly popping up. According to a recent letter I got from the Freiraumgalerie in Germany, there are close to 125 different international street art festivals in Europe alone.

In many cities with active street art and graffiti movements, the authorities ruthlessly combat spontaneous public art, a move largely supported by the people in those cities. With that in mind, it can be fairly complicated to hold annual legal street art festivals in cities such as those. As a solution, the festivals are held as one-off events or in smaller cities that don’t have years of experience with fighting the so-called “graffiti problem.” Due to the absence of a local scene, however, it’s typical in those smaller cities that nothing much happens on the streets before or after the festival, and the festival’s emphasis tends to be on murals rather than street art as a whole.

This brings us to an exception that’s by no means singular, however it’s closest to my own heart, namely the city of Tartu and our street art festival Stencibility, of which I am an organizer. With her 100,000 inhabitants, Tartu is the second largest city in Estonia. Known for its university and a generally youthful vibe, it has also been dubbed the street art capital of Estonia. Since Stencibility has evolved out of the local stencil scene, both the illegal street art and the legal festival are thriving side by side, supporting one another.

Stencibility began 6 years ago as a small get-together of local street artists, and it has expanded every year since. Three years ago, we hosted Kashink, our first foreign artist, and two years ago we garnered some major media attention when MTO painted Stencibility’s first large-scale mural.

Ms. Reet by MTO, from the 2014 Stencibility festival. Photo by Sirla.

Ms. Reet by MTO, from the 2014 Stencibility festival. Photo by Sirla.

Tallinn, the capital of Estonia, is known for its graffiti, but street art is practically non-existent and, much like the neighboring capitals Helsinki and Riga, Tallinn upholds a strict policy of zero tolerance. Just a few months ago, a highly illustrative incident took place when Edward von Lõngus, one of the most popular Estonian street artists, made a stencil piece in the city centers of both Tallinn and Tartu for the anniversary of the Estonian Republic. It depicted a naked emperor as a commentary on the way the government is functioning. The one in Tallinn was erased after a few weeks with an official statement that it was not art, while the one in Tartu still stands. The situation went viral when MinaJaLydia, another stencil artist from Tartu, placed her own stencil right on the cleaned spot in Tallinn, a still life with the line “Is it art now?” which the media reported as a clash between the spirit of Tartu and the authority of Tallinn.

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Exploring cities with street art (de)tours

August 8th, 2015 | By | 2 Comments »
Found on the deTour "CBD Street Art At Night: When Street Lights Become Spotlights"

Found on the deTour “CBD Street Art At Night: When Street Lights Become Spotlights”

Editor’s note: Recently, CDH has been teaching a fantastic class about street art at the University of Melbourne alongside Lachlan MacDowall. One of the projects to emerge from that class is a sort of alternative/subversive way of thinking about the “street art tours” that have become ubiquitous in many major cities all over the world. Today, we have guest post from, J. Isaac, the man leading that project. – RJ Rushmore

Hello everyone, I’m an independent researcher working with students at the University of Melbourne where we’ve just finished a project called Street Art deTours that RJ has been kind enough to let me share on Vandalog. It’s a crowd-sourced website that lets audiences create, or follow, their own self-guided ‘detours’ around public spaces in Melbourne. Unlike regular tours, these detours aren’t informational, and they don’t give background on any images or street artists. Instead, they’re participatory adventures that use the city to create new ways of understanding its physical spaces.

Some detours, in fact a fair number of them, do use street art and graffiti in order to guide their viewer, but they focus on the experience of moving through public spaces rather than on the artworks, which themselves are always changing. A mural could be painted one day, tagged the next, and buffed after a week, giving the viewer three different readings of the same location. Time of day can also affect your environment: taking a ‘murder mystery’ detour alone at midnight would be extremely terrifying compared to starting that same detour with a group at noon. Different people taking the detour will thus have different experiences, and as the city changes so too will the detour itself.

Found on the deTour "Melbourne Street Art Hives of Activity"

Found on the deTour “Melbourne Street Art Hives of Activity”

The detours themselves can be regarded as a new type of street art through their physical appropriation of the city. Much of early street art was focused on using public space in a new and innovative way; it directly confronted our understandings of what was allowed and what should exist. But as the movement has grown in popularity, street art has become valued more for its ability to transform its surroundings into an open-air gallery, rather than its potential to activate the city as a source of adventure. The project reincorporates this temporary suspension of the city’s rules by allowing participants the opportunity to let their imaginations take over their realities. It’s not just about visiting the stops on a detour, but how you move from one stop to the next, and how much you decide to play.

A lot of the project borrows its ideas from Situationist International, a 20th century avant-garde group that argued in favor of creating new experiences within our everyday lives. So much of how we understand our urban environment is based on rigid schedules around work, around eating, around traveling, that eventually we end up auto-piloting through most of our day, not noticing anything we don’t have to. This project is meant to create an imaginative detour into everyday life, interrupting our concentration to offer us something new about the city we think we already know. The plan is for the project to be updated regularly by students, but also by anyone in any city who wants to create their own detour as well.

So come visit the site: take a detour, make a detour, and experience Melbourne (or any city for that matter) with a fresh perspective.

Photos courtesy of Street Art deTours


Category: Guest Posts, Random

A bucket of black paint in the heart of Mexico

April 2nd, 2015 | By | 3 Comments »
Censored mural by Ericailcane. Photo by RexisteMX.

Censored mural by Ericailcane. Photo by RexisteMX.

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.”

Mural by Blu. Photo from FIFTY24MX.

Mural by Blu. Photo from FIFTY24MX.

Mural by Bastardilla. Photo from FIFTY24MX.

Mural by Bastardilla. Photo from FIFTY24MX.

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 original mural in progress, photo from FIFTY24MX, and President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto wearing the Mexican Presidential sash.

Ericailcane’s original mural in progress, photo from FIFTY24MX, and President of Mexico Enrique Peña Nieto wearing the Mexican Presidential sash.

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.

Ericailcane's mural post-censorship. Photo by RexisteMX.

Ericailcane’s mural post-censorship. Photo by RexisteMX.

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 respond briefly to 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.”

Screenshot from FIFTY24MX's Facebook page. Click to view large.

Screenshot from FIFTY24MX’s Facebook page. Click to view large.

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.

Ericailcane's mural. Click to view large. Photo by RexisteMX.

Ericailcane’s mural. Click to view large. Photo by RexisteMX.

Photos by RexisteMX and from FIFTY24MX


Category: Art News, Featured Posts, Guest Posts | Tags: , , , ,

Community amongst excess in Wynwood

December 16th, 2014 | By | 1 Comment »
Inside of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Katie Wheeler.

Inside of Wynwood Walls. Photo by Katie Wheeler.

“Dude, those drips look so sick!”

That’s what I hear on my way to 2nd Ave in Wynwood. It is Saturday December 6th around 9pm, and this is the last big night during Art Basel. A group of guys are tagging this building and praising each other’s tags based on the quality of the drips. I am hungry, tired, and annoyed because it took an hour to get to Wynwood and another hour to park. Not to worry though, soon I’ll reach my destination: 2nd Ave with 23rd St, the heart of Wynwood. Soon at least one of my big problems, my hunger, would be taken care of by one of the 30+ food trucks parked nearby. I just had to navigate through a sea of people, cars, paint cans, beer cans, art tents, music speakers, police in horseback, and of course more people.

Oh dear Wynwood, you have once again left me feeling sad, hopeless, and discouraged. What is it that you’re doing? How did you let yourself get so bad?

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Category: Art Fairs, Featured Posts, Guest Posts | Tags: , , , , ,