Tim Hans shoots… Mon Iker

Mon Iker_TimHans

I met Mon Iker at Living Walls in 2012, when she was a muralist for the conference’s all-female year. Since then Mon has relocated to New York. Last summer, Tim Hans photographed her on a Brooklyn rooftop for his continuing series of photo-portraits of artists. I took the opportunity to reconnect with Mon and ask her a few questions over email (although I should have edited them first, note the error in question 4).

RJ: What brought you to New York?

Mon Iker: Although I’ve been in NYC off and on since 2011, last spring I received a scholarship to participate in an artist residency program at the Hemispheric Institute of Performing Arts & Politics (EMERGENYC) where I was able to study and create with world-renowned artists/activists such as the YesLabERRO GRUPO, and Peggy Shaw. It was extraordinary, and I’m very thankful for that opportunity, but living expenses weren’t paid so I had to find a means to make it work.  Happenstance – in particular, a facebook post by the Yes Men – led me to apply for a paid internship at what appeared to be a cryptic sounding but politically minded arts studio called Not An Alternative. The residency only lasted three months, and I hadn’t planned my life that far in advance to know what I was going to do after it ended. Not An Alternative winded up being exactly what I was looking for, so I’ve decided to settle in the city to continue to work with them while also working on my own stuff.

RJ: Your mural from Living Walls 2012 is one of my favorite murals in Atlanta, but I don’t think of you as a prolific street artist. How did you end up painting on the rooftop where this photo was taken, painting with a bunch of street artists?

Mon Iker: Thanks; that means a lot to me. I enjoy what you do. Trek had come to the city and we were hanging out when he told me about a rooftop that a bunch of folks were going to paint later. Art in reclaimed space always gets me excited, so I hopped on board. I ran into LNY, whom I’ve known since Living Walls, and met Icy & Sot, ND’A, Kyle Hughes Rodgers, and Vexta – all incredibly friendly people.  I actually didn’t have any tools on me, so freeloaded some primer white and a leftover paintbrush to make a quick doodle. Hearing about the tragedy that occurred later on that same rooftop really devastated me. My heart goes out to Icy & Sot and all those affected.

RJ: What attracts you to muralism?

Mon Iker: The idea that advertising is the only large scale visual language sanctioned in public space is revolting to me. I feel like muralism and other forms of public art are the only media with the subversive potential to rupture a culture overstimulated by an alternate reality that consumerism creates. One of the things I like to focus on in my work (as well as at NAA) is the repurposing of authoritative language; something that is exploiting all of us is especially ripe for exploitation in itself. Also, did I mention I love to paint? And, to be honest, my piece at the conference in 2012 was the first time I’d ever used spray. I feel like there’s no going back. Absolutely addicted.

RJ: What are the essential tools in your studios?

Mon Iker: I work in a variety of media, ranging from street art, paintings, and photography to performance, animation, and film. So, if I had to narrow it down: my camera, my journal, some microns, spray, and any cheap house paints I can find. I’ll still always love my oils, though. Its funny you mention “studios”, because I’ve actually been homeless for a little more than 2 years. Deciding to stay in NYC was a huge decision; one I’m glad I made because I’m finally able to set up a studio again. I’m also currently in the process of setting up a new site, publishing new work, etc.

RJ: How does New York compare to Atlanta?

Mon Iker: Although I’m not originally from ATL, it’s easy to find the arts community there. Everyone knows each other. Even so, I still never quite felt like I fit in. The support base for artists who are interested in activist/political expression doesn’t really exist there as it does in the city, and my work leans strongly in that direction. Regardless, not having my feet planted firmly in either place yet still makes me feel like a drifter. But perhaps I’ll always feel that way.

Photo by Tim Hans

A long overdue post: Living Walls 2012

Mon Iker

Last month, I was at the Living Walls Conference in Atlanta, but it’s only now that I’ve really had a chance to sit down and write about it. I thought that I was going to write this really long post, but the environment at Living Walls is difficult to capture in words, so this post isn’t nearly as long as I would have hoped.

Miso. Click to view large.

Living Walls is, as far as I can tell, the best mural conference/festival/program going on right now in North America. Living Walls doesn’t tend to just invite all the artists who are painting at other mural events around the world. They invite good artists. Sometimes those artists are guys like Roa who are everywhere, and sometimes it’s women like Miso who have only ever painted one or two murals. As a result, Living Walls sets trends among mural festivals.

Lex and Sten

For their main conference this year, Living Walls really bucked popular trends and tried to put street art on a new track by having a festival made up almost entirely of female muralists. While guys like Gaia, LNY and I were still invited to speak at the lecture and panel portion of the conference, the murals by Lex&Sten and Indigo&Andrzej Urbanski were the only two where male artists were contributing.

Martina Merlini

While the murals weren’t as amazing on the whole as they were last year and the crowd of artists wasn’t nearly as rowdy (although that might have been a plus), this year’s Living Walls did bring some great work to Atlanta and really showed that there are some underrated female street artists and muralists out there who could be on the mural circuit as much as guys like Jaz or Roa. My hope and expecting is that the top-tier of artists from the conference will get more attention brought to their work thanks to Living Walls and some will start getting invited to a lot more mural festivals. As I’ve said in the past, I do not generally get excited to give artists preferential treatment based on them belonging to some underrepresented group, but I can see why an all-female Living Walls may have been the right move for this year even if the quality of the work did drop slightly.

Jessie and Katey

This Living Walls conference had more artists than ever before who were either more on the community mural side of the spectrum or had never painted a mural before. The results of that move were mixed, but there were some artists like Jessie&Katey and Mon Iker who took the opportunity and absolutely crushed it.

Hyuro. This wall has since been painted over.

One thing I have to add isn’t so much about the art though. Whether Living Walls were inviting only artists that none of us have ever heard of before or stealing their line-up from Nuart, it would still be at least one of the best mural conferences in the world. That’s because Living Walls’ secret is in their amazing staff. Living Walls has best team of volunteers of any mural festival I’ve ever seen or could imagine. They are unbelievably dedicated to the festival and to getting more world-class street art and murals in Atlanta. Every day, the media team led by Alex Parrish was up until something like 4am putting together a video of what had gone on that day, and then they’d be back up at 7am to start filming all over again. Just last week, I was emailing with Keif Schleifer, their Logistics Director, who was spending her free time advising me on cherry-pickers. The day of the Vandalog Movie Night, volunteers showed up out of the blue to help us set up and run the show. Laura Calle and pretty much everyone else on staff who spent their own money to pay for the gas to drive myself and the artists around Atlanta. The drag queen who was a volunteer last year and this year helped arrange a drag show for the Living Walls Block Party. The artist assistants who stand in the hot sun alongside their artists all day long, offering any help they can. And of course, Monica Campana, the Executive Director of Living Walls, who is the amazing glue holding everything together without ever sleeping or slowing down. Everyone on staff or volunteering at Living Walls works at least as hard as the artists, and they were certainly working harder than me. After visiting two years in a row for just a few days each time, it honestly feels like I have family in Atlanta.


Much more after the jump… Continue reading “A long overdue post: Living Walls 2012”