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.
Somewhat reminiscent of RAE’s remarkable recreation of an East Village bodega, Exit Room NY’s current exhibit, ÑEWMERICA: Birth of a Nation, focuses on the endangered bodega. In addition to a impressive installation recreating a bodega that is about to give way to a Bank of America, the exhibit features dozens of artworks by the members of the newly launched collective, ÑEWMERICA. Here’s a sampling:
Over three dozen artists were busy last week transforming an abandoned East Village building into an explosively expressive canvas. Conceived and coordinated by Hansky, the venture culminated in a one-night showing, “Surplus Candy,” that rivaled the best gallery exhibits in town. Here are a few more images:
Photos by Dani Reyes Mozeson, City-as-School intern Eduardo Dibono and Lois Stavsky
Earlier this year, a group of artists (led by Nether) working under the Wall Hunters banner teamed up Carol Ott of Baltimore Slumlord Watch for the Slumlord Project, an effort to draw attention to “dilapidated vacant houses” in Baltimore that the project organizers determined were owned by peopled they considered “negligent property owners.” One of those property owners, Stanley Rochkind, is now suing Ott through two of the shell companies through which Rochkind owns property. The lawsuits demand that Ott remove two murals from buildings that were painted by the Wall Hunters artists. The lawsuits are particularly ironic because Rochkind initially claimed not to own these buildings and the Wall Hunters artists painted these buildings specifically because Rochkind has not bothered to maintain them.
So… Rochkind is suing for “repairs,” on dilapidated buildings that he has not bothered to actually repair in any way and which, in an effort to discredit the Wall Hunters, he initially claimed not to own. Sounds like a stand-up guy.
Editor’s note: I tried to write about this fascinating project that just finished up in Baltimore, but for some reason I was unable. So, instead, I asked Nether to write about the project for Vandalog. Nether was one of the co-organizers, so instead of my guesswork and thoughts based on a few articles I had read, now we have a first-hand account of one of the more daring street art projects in recent memory: Wall Hunters’ “Slumlord Project”. – RJ Rushmore
Wall Hunters‘ “Slumlord Project” was a project that installed 17 pieces on dilapidated vacant houses that are owned by people we consider to be negligent property owners. The project was a collaborative venture between the newly-minted street artists’ nonprofit, Wall Hunters, and Slumlord Watch, a local blog that documents the city’s shameful and shockingly large stock of uninhabitable vacant homes. QR codes and text descriptions were pasted alongside the art. A cell phone app scan of these instantly unveiled ownership information on the guilty landowner by linking to the Baltimore Slumlord Watch website. The artists’ ephemeral work and the community reaction to it was recorded for a documentary being produced by the project’s third partners, filmmakers Tarek Turkey and Julia Pitch. The project’s goal was to catalyze a larger conversation on Baltimore’s vacancy issue–a conversation that includes the normally muted voices of those who live in the targeted neighborhoods, as well as politicians and the developers whose phone calls get answered by city hall.
The idea for the project was born about a year ago. At that time I was putting up wheatpastes on dilapidated, vacant houses. As I was researching specific properties I was hitting, I regularly came across the Baltimore Slumlord Watch blog run by the housing activist Carol Ott. Slumlord Watch is basically Wiki-leaks for Baltimore’s underfunded housing authority. As blog posts make clear, many of the blighted houses are owned by entities with the means to fix their crumbling properties–slumlords who blithely ignore the cost of their neglect on city communities. Since much of my work uses images to deal with the vacancy problem and Carol was battling the same issue, we decided to meet and try to do something that joined street art with housing activism. I began driving her around while she catalogued vacants and researched ownership, and I wheatpasted.
With just a few days in town left, I decided to make my Thursday a whirlwind tour through Rochester, and now that I am sitting here thinking about it, I have a feeling that Friday will be much of the same.
I started off my day almost exactly like I did on Wednesday, by checking out the progress on the Daleast mural. I was impressed by the progress that I saw but Dal still had a big section of the wall that he needed to bang out. I was told Thursday evening that the wall is complete and that I had to go see the mural in the morning.
My travels then brought me all around town, specifically the South Wedge section of Rochester. The South Wedge is where cashril plus, Gaia, Conor Harrington, Freddy Sam, Thievin’ Stephen, Cern, Mike Ming, and Adam Francy all have murals. It was really cool to see cashril plus’ mural being that the dude is still in his mid teens! Look out for this guy as he progresses though life. He has the right genes being that he is Faith47’s son.
After a quick lunch it was back into the abandoned subway tunnel to try to catch Roa finishing his North American Skunk. While I was unsuccessful in this venture, I was able to catch some graffiti legends rocking a sick piece. Daze, Binho, and Pose2 rocked a sick wall towards of the end of the natural light in the tunnel; the burner, if you will, is a sick blend of old school letters and characters, my favorite!
Wise2 from Kenya then came down and rocked a throwie as I called it. His combination of stencils and freehand spray painting brought his African mask to life in under an hour!
Another highlight was getting to see local FUA Krew member Cruk rock a sick burner. I am much better versed in the “Street Art” game so whenever I can get a writer to teach me more about graffiti and train painting culture I am always excited. Cruk spent about a day on his burner, which includes found object that are sprayed and then used as part of the installation. While he may not be an official part of the Wall\Therapy team it is easy to see that the locals are pretty down with the cause.
After a quick run to check out the finished Freddy Sam mural, it was off the see LNY as he continued on his wall. Lunar New Year was in the zone when I showed up and I didn’t want to distract the man.
Martha Cooper then me if I’d been to Ever’s wall, and it was at this point which I realized that I had not seen it yet! My timing could not have been better. He had about 30 minutes of work left and I was able to spend that time on the lift with him as he finished a few details on the wall.
The mural is beautiful and kind of trippy, and if you know anything about me you would know that I dig on that combination. The wall itself is very wide and for someone with only an iPhone and an almost nice camera it was fairly difficult to shoot. Hope you like my picstitch!
After visiting Ever’s wall it was off for another night of dinner, drinking, and dancing. This time it included a late night bonfire with local artists, score!
It seems like all of my friends are up in Rochester at the moment for Wall\Therapy, the mural festival organized by the fantastic Dr. Ian Wilson. I was hoping to go up myself, but instead Caroline and I will be going to Living Walls in Atlanta next month. Daniel “Halopigg” Weintraub is at Wall\Therapy, and he’s been kind enough to share some photos and thoughts with us. For more up the the minute updates, you can keep an eye on Daniel’s instagram. – RJ Rushmore
I arrived in Rochester Monday afternoon and it did not take too long for me to find murals from last year’s Wall\Therapy by renowned artists Roa, Herakut, and Faith47. I checked in as quickly as possible and decided to hit the streets. I popped in the homies LNY and Cern’s coordinates and realized that it was going to a lot easier for me to walk to Cern’s wall, and being a man of constant efficiency I decided that was to be my first stop of the week.
Cern, aka Cernesto, aka CernYMI, aka CernTWD, was just getting started on his mural and my presence did not help the early progress. With some artists I just like to sit and watch but when Cern is painting the undiagnosed ADD just comes out in both of us. We chilled for a bit but I figured I needed to let the man get to work so I hitched a ride from a nice volunteer over the LNY’s mural across town.
It was at this point when I realized I have a car, and I should be driving my own self around! It is just my instincts to put my car away and forget it when I get to an urban environment; just a heads up, there seems to be ample parking in the ROC as they like to call it here.
LNY, or Lunar New Year, was stationed in a very residential urban community, and his mural reflects that. In the early stages of his mural you can see Corinthian columns “holding up” the windows of the house, along with images of Trayvon Martin, and Frederick Douglass. LNY has a knack for connecting and communicating with his surroundings, with this mural being no exception. I am very excited to see the progress of this wall, especially since the community has shown such an embrace for the work in the short time it has been up. I can’t tell you the number of honks, thumbs up, and shouts I heard yesterday in the hour and a half that I was there. Community improvement though art is what Wall\Therapy is all about and it is really nice to see it in action.
Following LNY’s completion for the night we hitched a ride to dinner where the entire team of “Wall Therapists” convened for a night of food, drinks, and dancing. The project is off to a great start! Hats off to Ian and his team, you’ve already succeeded in my book!
Montreal really matured during the MURAL Festival. The high level of quality of all the murals gives an idea of what this city is able to offer to the artists: An incredible visibility and an enthusiastic audience. It’s a gift for all the urban artists that love to share their art in a public space. Here are the completed murals of Labrona, Gaia, Lny, Jason Botkin, FinDac & Angelina Christina, EnMasse, Chris Dyer, Paria Crew, and Wzrds gng.
One of the most pivotal aspects of street art is the democratization of public space. Whether people choose to engage or not, graffiti and street art are a way of reminding the everyday pedestrian that they have the power to manipulate their environment (sometimes at a price). Many residents of Balitmore have had to accept dilapidated neighborhoods as their everyday quality of life. The structures around them are literally falling apart due to neglect from city government property owners and has resulted in a massive property-vacancy problem. If Broken Window Theory has anything to do with it, that “If the city doesn’t care, why should I?” mentality has fostered one of the highest crime rates for any city in the country.
What does street art have to do with Baltimore’s structural issues and decline in living standards? Over a dozen street artists have taken on the task of bringing attention to these issues in a grassroots effort, through installing large pieces on some of the city’s dilapidated, vacant houses. Nether, Gaia, LNY, Noh J Coely, Mata Ruda, Nanook, Harlequinade and others have joined their forces as a non-profit organization called Wall Hunters have teamed up with Baltimore Slumlord Watch to put up large-scale murals on these eye-sore structures with QR codes alongside which informs viewers of who owns the vacant property. Simultaneously, they are creating a documentary with Nether and Carol Ott at the forefront, showing this massive issue corroding Baltimore and their relatively small effort to combat it. They’ve received a bit of funding to make their project possible but not enough, so they’ve created this Indiegogo campaign to bring it to fruition.