Last month Nanook ventured to Central America to paint for Mamutt in Mexico City. “Perdido en la Puesta del Sol,” or “Lost in the Sunset” draws upon the local history as well as the site. The former flour production factory Nanook painted this mural on is located in the very industry driven neighborhood of Camarones. Nanook speaks of the enmeshing of narratives, stating:
“About 15-20 years ago many of the factories closed and moved either outside of the city or out of the country. The neighborhood subsequently fell into decline. The parrot wing is representative of two things 1. The nickname for cocaine is parrot, while the neighborhood was losing industry many people began using and selling drugs. 2. The wing is also representative of the Quetzalcoatl, which had many meanings, but one of which was fertility and growth. It is attached to the corn and the woman squinting into the sun as a representation of growing past the loss of industry and ultimately the rebirth of the industry.”
While exploring the representation of local history, the artist continues his experimentation with portraiture and landscape. The juxtaposition is reminiscent of a mural he created last year for Living Walls Atlanta, which set two figures against a pastoral scene. As Nanook continues his nomadic lifestyle, the artist grows from the local experiences, leading viewers to imagine what the next amalgamation will be.
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.
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.
This is possibly my favorite mural by Gaia in the last year. The piece was done in Buenos Aires for Meeting of Styles Argentina on a Ghelco factory had a part in Argentina’s Fabrica Recuperada, which was a worker’s authority movement. Gaia explained how his mural pays homage to the building’s history, “The cycle of neoliberalism is broken when in 2002 Ghelco was occupied by its employees during the Argentine financial crisis. The last chain link hand floats voting on the other side of the composition. There are 41 Ice cream cones for each worker in the occupied factory. One hand voting represents the democratic decision making process of the cooperatively run ice cream plant.”
Walking around in the abandoned areas of Baltimore gave me a peace of mind that the NYPD would never allow in New York. However, engaging life-long citizens of Baltimore about the graffiti surrounding them in the streets came with its own merits. The blending of New York and Baltimore-based artists that I saw in the the city’s innards was mirrored in its streets. With the, then recent, invasion of international artists for Open Walls Baltimore, the city had become a hub for any east coast street artist to visit. As long as you had friends in the area or on the roster, chances are you ended up there. Continue reading “Illegal Baltimore part three: The city’s streets”
Due to the layout of Baltimore, the city makes the perfect playground for rollers. Built of bridges and tunnels, most of the graffiti spots contain elaborate pieces at eye level with equally as astounding rollers above them. The combination of these tunnels and the large amount of abandoned factories in the area makes for perfect spot to do elaborate, typographical rollers.
Even more astounding to me than the work itself was the number of familiar names I came across in, essentially, middle-of-nowhere Baltimore. People like Reverend, Nugz, Overunder, and Cash4, who had become my household names in New York had found themselves equally as prolific in this city. Through partnering up with local artists such as MTN NGC and Avoid, these New York artists seamlessly blended into the Baltimore scene, creating some interesting visual combinations in these spaces.
The work of Baltimore-based artist Nanook has been appearing around the world a bit lately. Here’s work of his in Italy, Germany and Canada. His mural in Foligno, Italy with Ever is part of Attack Festival, which looks like they will have more artists coming to Foligno through September including Ericailcane, Sten&Lex and Moneyless.