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.
Schacter has captured a feeling about street art and contemporary muralism, a nagging fear really, that seems to have been bubbling just beneath the surface for a while now. Basically, Schacter argues that street art isn’t rebellious anymore. Rather, that it’s most notable form is as a tool used by corporations to spur gentrification. Agree or disagree, the article is a must-read.
Note from the editor: I’m pleased today to have this guest post from Chip Thomas aka Jetsonorama, an artist we have covered on Vandalog many times and also the organizer of The Painted Desert Project. The most recent contributor to the project is Debra Yepa-Pappan, whose piece is shown above. Yepa-Pappan’s work is new to me, so we’re also publishing an interview that Thomas did with her. – RJ
Chip Thomas: Can you tell me a bit about yourself? Where are you from originally, how did you meet and end up in Chicago?
Debra Yepa-Pappan: I was born in Korea. My father was in the Army and was stationed in Korea where he met my mother. I was born after he had been moved back to the U.S. When I was 5 months old, my mother and I emigrated to the States to be with him. We lived in Jemez for a short time, then on the Army base with my dad in Alabama and then Mississippi, where my parents were married. By the time I was one year old, my dad was discharged from the Army and we moved to Chicago. I’ve been here ever since, although I maintain a strong connection with Jemez and my Korean side. Throughout my childhood and teen years, my parents and I would visit Jemez frequently. And I ultimately went to school at IAIA in Santa Fe to meet other Natives and to be close to “home” that being Jemez Pueblo. Chris and I met there, and I brought him back to Chicago with me when we were both done at IAIA. We’ve been together for 22 years and married for 19 years with a beautiful 12 year old daughter.
CT: What is your art training?
DYP: Growing up, I never really thought of “becoming an artist.” My interest in art started late in high school and I was focused more on design. When I attended IAIA, I began by taking jewelry and then photography. I fell in love with photography. I felt at home in the darkroom and I enjoyed the hands on process of developing my own film and prints. My instructor was Meridel Rubenstien. What I really appreciated about her was that she didn’t teach me to just be a photographer, but she taught me to be an artist. So I’ve never really thought of myself as a photographer, but an artist who uses photography as my medium. I continued on at Columbia College of Chicago where I learned to refine my darkroom skills and where I learned how to use the digital medium, but then I had to “take a break” when I became pregnant. I’m still on that break!
Ever, Alexis Diaz of La Pandilla and Brian Barneclo just wrapped up their visit to The Painted Desert Project, a mural project in the Navajo Nation organized by Jetsonorama. Most of the work for the project is painted on the small stands that pepper the roadside. I’ll be posting more from the project over the next couple of days, but to start with, here’s what Ever painted.
Pixelpancho and 2501 were recently in the Navajo Nation region of Arizona for the latest round of The Painted Desert Project, which has previously brought Gaia, Overunder, and others to the region. Here’s what Pixelpancho and 2501 managed to paint:
Here’s how Overunder describes the impetus for the project:
The Painted Desert Project began as Jetsonorama, aka Chip Thomas pasted one of his photographs on an abandoned roadside stand only to return months down the road and see the very same stand now open for business. Amazed, he pulled over and chatted with the folks only to learn that their impetus to re-open was based on seeing tourists stop to take photos of the art work. They figured it was the best captive audience they’d seen in years and the only thing to make it better was if there was another one for traffic going the opposite direction. Unabashadly Chip let them know about his altar ego Jetsonorama and the cogs started turning.
Before the paste could dry Chip and fellow street artist Yote had a plan to bring some of their favorite artist to the Painted Desert to paint run-down stands in an attempt to rejuvenate the life of those in need of business and as Chip states, “explore how this might build community.”
Overunder has more about his part in the project on his blog.
We hoped to connect artists with vendors working along the roadside in homemade structures where food and jewelery are sold. We attempted to familiarize artists with the culture before they started painting. Because of the location of this project where large walls are few, the emphasis was on establishing a connection with the community. Both Tom Greyeyes and Breeze are Native American and came to the project already sensitized. We’d hoped to get more local youth involved in working with the artists but will have to pursue this with future iterations of the project.
As much as I enjoy the mural projects going on around the world right now, things like The Painted Desert Project are fantastic low-key but potentially impactful counterpoints to the hype and huge walls that seem to accompany more urban festivals.
Jetsonorama is a talented photographer who took some spectacular photos of the artists at work and of the finished walls and signs, so it’s going to take more than one post to show everything. After the jump, we’ll start with work by Labrona, Breeze and Overunder… Continue reading “The Painted Desert Project – round 1, post 1”