When Women Disrupt

June 11th, 2017 | By | No Comments »

When Women Disrupt Tour. Photo courtesy of Tatyana Fazlalizadeh.

I just want to take a moment to applaud Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, Jessica Sabogal, and Melinda James for their When Women Disrupt tour, where Tatyana and Jessica traveled through California, Arizona, New Mexico installing a series of bold murals (with Melinda documenting the process). The tour wrapped up this week, and these three women pulled no punches in their work. Here’s some more about the tour from The Root:

It seems like everything that went up for When Women Disrupt is amazing and necessary. I could go on, but I’ll just let the work speak for itself: Read the rest of this article »


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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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America is still here.

December 3rd, 2016 | By | No Comments »

America Is

As someone with family in the very red state of Oklahoma, I was especially happy to see Tatyana Fazlalizadeh install this message of strength and defiance in Oklahoma City over the Thanksgiving holiday. Painting a mural in Wynwood is easy, but unimportant. Pasting up a message “to challenge whiteness” (as Tatyana told the Huffington Post) is probably not so easy, but infinitely more important. So while the art world spends this week on vacation in Miami, I’m thankful that Tatyana is doing real work.

You can read more about this piece on Tatyana’s Instagram.

PS, shout out to the fantastic Jess X Chen who is featured in Tatyana’s piece, and will hopefully have a guest post on Vandalog soon! Keep an eye out for that.

Photo by Tatyana Fazlalizadeh


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Beyond wallpaper: street art works

August 16th, 2016 | By | No Comments »
Photo courtesy of Hyuro

Photo courtesy of Hyuro

Note: This post is in adaptation of what I presented last month at The Art Conference in London. So if you were curious about that talk, here you go.

As Rafael Schacter has argued, street art has moved “from dissident to decorative.” We’ve gone from politically radical drawings in New York subway stations to decorating music festivals so that attendees are a bit less bored while they sip beer and wait for Kanye to take the stage.

That safe public art is what I call wallpaper. Wallpaper is what when you mix street art with plop art, those huge, random, mostly abstract or minimalist sculptures that show up in semi-public squares as a result Percent For Art programs where a developer is legally required to install some public art in front of their building, so they just go for something big, expensive, and (most importantly) benign. Wallpaper, like plop art before it, reinforces existing power structures.

We live in a world of wallpaper. Mural festivals provide plenty of examples. When I see yet another mural by a globe-trotting artist who does most of their sketching on transcontinental flights, I have to ask, “Is this wallpaper productive?” There’s only so much funding for murals each year. Artists only have so much brainspace to create. Maybe more wallpaper isn’t the best use of our resources. Wallpaper is like sugar. Good in small doses, terrible in large doses, and we tend to overdo it.

Lady Aiko at the Coney Art Walls (2015). Photo by RJ Rushmore.

Lady Aiko at the Coney Art Walls (2015). Photo by RJ Rushmore.

Take the Coney Art Walls, a project that I actually do enjoy. In many ways, the Coney Art Walls are a prime example of wallpaper: concrete slabs installed solely for the sake of murals, high-end food trucks that the murals are meant to get you to eat at, a neighborhood that functions as an amusement park, funding from a controversial property developer… But unlike most wallpaper festivals, the Coney Art Walls are well curated, there’s a wide range of artists who are well paid and allowed to take risks, and many of the murals reference the historic neighborhood. Still, if the Coney Art Walls is among the best that the street art festival model can offer, it’s safe to say that festivals and similar mural projects generally do not live up street art’s radical roots.

On a good day, what can street art do, when we think beyond wallpaper? It can transform and empower. It can bring people together. It can propose better versions of public space.

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One year inside the mural machine

July 1st, 2015 | By | No Comments »
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Murals and graffiti in Philadelphia.

One year ago today, I started a job at the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. At Mural Arts, we have a fundamentally different way of thinking about and creating public art than I’d ever experienced spending time around street art, graffiti, or even mural festivals or programs like The L.I.S.A. Project NYC or The Bushwick Collective. A year inside of “Philadelphia’s community-engagement juggernaut” has taught me a lot. It’s made me fall deeper in love with street art than ever before, and it’s also helped me to better understand the medium’s shortcomings. Here are a few observations:

  • Street art’s greatest strength is its ability to be nimble. Gaia made a similar point at an event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art in May, where he described street art in Philadelphia as something that can fill in the cracks that Mural Arts doesn’t reach. April Fools’ Day? Street art is there. Black Lives Matter? Street art is there. Potholes need fixing? Street art is there. Street art gives artists an almost unrivaled opportunity to respond quickly to the world around them, whether that means making work with timely pop culture references or commentary on world events, or being inspired to the architecture and design of the city. The nimbleness of street art is also closely related to its use as a space for experimentation and free(ish) expression. For all those reasons and more, street art is an essential element of a healthy public space.
  • Decoration is rarely enough. I love art for arts’ sake as much as the next guy, and sometimes there’s nothing better than seeing a beautiful piece on a cool building and just having your day brightened up a bit. If you really feel like your contribution to the world is to make it a more colorful and exciting place with funny wheatpastes or huge murals at street art festivals, that’s great. Do that. But do that because you believe it makes a contribution to a space, not because you want to paint a bigger mural than the last guy and get more likes on Instagram. If the right crop on a photo means that I can’t tell the difference between your studio work and your street work, you’re probably doing it wrong.
  • As we say at Mural Arts, it’s not just about the paint. The most rewarding projects I’ve had a small role in at Mural Arts do things like tell stories about Philadelphia’s history, provide jobs and training for men coming out of the criminal justice system or change the conversation around homelessness and housing insecurity.
  • All that is to say that it’s rare for social practice and socially-engaged art making to be combined with strong aesthetics, but when that does happen, there’s an amazing synergy. Swoon‘s work is a great example. For the most part though, street artists and the street art press (myself included) place far too much of a focus on the aesthetics and decor, not enough on truly transformative work. That’s a lot of wasted opportunities, because street art and public art in general can do so much more than just look cool.
  • Some projects need institutional support. Institutions can provide the resources, credibility, and access necessary to take a project from good to great, from non-existent to a reality. Open Source is going to be amazing, and most (if not all) of the projects in the exhibition would be impossible for artists to do on their own, even with substantial financial resources.
  • Some projects succeed because they don’t have institutional support. Tatyana Fazlalizadeh’s Stop Telling Women to Smile series is powerful in part because it can appear anywhere, and that anonymous bust of Edward Snowden is powerful because it appeared somewhere that the state would never allow. Institutions always come with strings attached (like, for example, not breaking the law or not bringing up certain topics).
  • Artists should be paid for their labor. If you cannot pay an artist a fair wage to participate in a project, you should ask why not and seriously consider whether or not the project is worth undertaking at all.
  • Certainly not a revelation, but an important reminder: There is an art world outside of the commercial art world, and it is beautiful. The most powerful art in the world is the art that can’t be constrained to an investment portfolio.

Photo by RJ Rushmore


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Link-o-rama

August 31st, 2014 | By | No Comments »
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Unknown artist in Philadelphia

Loving my time so far at the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, but it’s definitely more than a 9-5, so it’s time for me to play catch up yet again…

  • Speaking of the Mural Arts Program, I am really pleased to say that we now have a major Shepard Fairey mural in Philadelphia. Find me some day and ask me the whole story of this mural, but let’s just say it’s complicated and thank goodness for Roland at Domani Developers for getting us a wall at the last minute.
  • We also have a new much more politically-charged mural from Shepard Fairey through The L.I.S.A. Project NYC, and while I’m sure the process for that was also quite complicated, my friend Wayne took care of that and all I had to do was pitch Shepard on the idea of a big wall in NYC and the property owner on the idea of a Shepard Fairey mural on his building (neither of which were too difficult). I’m absolutely honored to have played even my small role in each of these murals. It was my first time working with Shepard, and it was a pleasure.
  • Two real kings of NYC graffiti, Blade and Freedom, have shows open now at the Seventh Letter flagship store in LA. Blade is an undisputed subway king who also pushed graffiti forward as an art-form, a rare combination. Freedom is a personal favorite of mine (his piece in my black book is a real prized possession) for combining pop art, an ability to paint very well, comics, and graffiti in an intelligent way without too much of an ego. I’m sad to be missing both of these shows, but I hope LA will give them the love they deserve.
  • Hi-Fructose posted some interesting GIFs by Zolloc, but the best part of the post is the first sentence: “While GIFs have yet to find an established place in the art world, they’re fascinating because they have the potential to go beyond the frozen image in two dimensions.” Of course, Hi-Fructose is part of the art world, so just having them post Zolloc’s GIFs counts for something. Hi-Fructose seems to be saying (albeit hesitantly) that GIFs being in their corner of the art world, which is great. That’s not a bad corner to be in, and it’s a hell of a lot better than nowhere. So, why be hesitant? If the work is fascinating, embrace it.
  • Oh Olek, always the best of intentions, but the results are not so great…
  • Some absolutely great ad takeovers.
  • These projections from Hygienic Dress League are a bit different. Very cool though. Anyone know of other artists who are projecting onto steam?
  • Smart Crew have teamed up with Beriah Wall on a series of cool collaborations. Does anyone else see this as further evidence of Smart Crew growing up, aka transitioning from a crew producing illegal graffiti into a brand or collective that does legal (and sometimes commercial) work referencing illegal graffiti? Nothing wrong with that. I’m just noting the transition.
  • Even when recycling old work, Tatyana Fazlalizadeh is always poignant and powerful. She’s also created a new poster of Michael Brown that you can download on her website.
  • I’ve been saying for a while that there’s great similarity between GIFs and street art, so I’m a big fan of this series of installations organized by Guus ter Beek and Tayfun Sarier.
  • Hyperallergic has been covering artist reactions to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson. Public performances in Philadelphia (by Keith Wallace) and New York City (by Whitney V. Hunter) exemplify to the unsurprising obliviousness to the situation or at least lack of caring that so many people openly display (for more, see Kara Walker at Domino). It’s amazing to see these two striking performances go widely ignored while it’s mostly pretty but empty murals that go viral. Is that the state of street art and muralism today? I hope not. And of course, maybe what makes those performances so jarring online is that they were ignored on the street.
  • I have tried to resit the allure of Pejac’s work for a while, but no more. Yes, some of the jokes are cheap and feel twice-told, exactly the sort of easy made-to-go-viral work that I am complaining about in the previous paragraph, but Pejac is painting them really well, and they consistently catch my attention. As much as I would like to write him off as a Banksy-ripoff who even came to that idea a few years too late, I can’t do so any longer. The work is actually quite good. Have a look for yourself.
  • Last week I was in Atlanta for the Living Walls Conference. A great time was had by all. I was there to speak with Living Walls co-founder Monica Campana and Juxtapoz editor Austin McManus about the evolution of street art and graffiti over the past five or so year, and Vandalog contributing writer Caroline Caldwell was there to paint a mural. Atlanta got some real gems this year, including new work by Moneyless, Troy Lovegates and Xuan Alyfe in collaboration with Trek Matthews. Juxtapoz has extensive coverage. Congratulations to Living Walls on a truly impressive 5th anniversary event.
  • This coming week I’ll be in Norway for Nuart and Nuart Plus. The artist lineup features some of my personal favorites, including John Fekner, SpY and Fra.Biancoshock. I love Nuart because it’s a festival that always strikes a balance between the best of the best artists painting epic murals on the “street art festival circuit,” and the oft-under-publicized but highly-political activist artists intervening in public space. Putting these artists in the same festival strengthens the work of everyone there, and reminds us that murals can serve many different purposes. I’ll be speaking at Nuart Plus on behalf of the Mural Arts Program in a few capacities. I’ll be moderating a panel about activism in art, presenting couple of short films during Brooklyn Street Art’s film night, sitting on a panel about contemporary muralism and giving a talk about how government-sanctioned art and muralism can be used to promote positive social change. There will be a lot of great speakers at Nuart Plus this year though. Brooklyn Street Art has the whole line up for the festival and the conference.

Photo by RJ Rushmore


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