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Brooklyn Street Art

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Complete “Persons of Interest”: Brooklyn in Berlin

Posted on March 18, 2015

All the Works Completed for Project M/7 at Urban Nation with BSA

Our trip to Berlin with 12 of Brooklyn’s finest street artists was a quintessential cultural exchange; bringing together artists, curators, social activists, ministers of art, museum board CEOS, collectors, gallerists, fans, and the director of a future museum called Urban Nation. The seventh Project M, a program to draw artists and attention to the enormous UN haus while it is under construction, was called “Persons of Interest”. All week we got to meet interesting people – not a surprise in this raw cultural hot spot that bubbles with an effervescent underground and creative laboratory that is full of youthful vigor and serendipity.

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Icy & Sot. “Persons of Interest” Portrait of an unknown girl from Brooklyn to the people of Berlin. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

How fitting then that our first youthful arrivals were Icy & Sot, who set the tone with their 4 story portrait of an anonymous Brooklyn woman with “Freedom” scrawled across her face, an iconic scene of the celebrants at Berlin’s fallen wall inside her. With one of the brothers turning 24 that week, it was even more touching to see them marking an important event that predated him by one year – a new generation of artists helping us identify what events of the modern age are truly touchstones.

The 176 piece stencil had taken about 10 days for them to cut back in Brooklyn and the brothers methodically sprayed their missive to Berlin’s people over the course of 5 more days. This, their largest mural ever, was enormous and peaceful and an incredible act of discipline, determination, and dedication to teamwork.

 

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Icy & Sot. “Persons of Interest” Portrait of an unknown girl from Brooklyn to the people of Berlin. Detail. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Icy & Sot. A passer by spans a photo of the completed mural with her iPad. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“Persons of Interest” was meant to celebrate the connections between the lively artists communities in these sister cities over the last few decades, and being in Berlin felt like home to most of the artists in many ways. The curatorial vision was also meant to counter the criticism of many of the new Street Art mural festivals that have taken hold in cities around the world that they are not considering their hosts and to help focus on the neighborhoods where the new works appear.

 

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Icy & Sot. “Persons of Interest” Portrait of an unknown girl from Brooklyn to the people of Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Cake at work on her portrait of Käthe Kollwitz. “Persons of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Undeniably the Internet has supercharged this worldwide peoples’ art movement and has allowed us to learn about and connect with artists and their street work as we never would have encountered previously. It also has created a strata of international artists whose names appear again and again on these festival lists and while it is sort of exciting, it also is producing a sort of cultural imperialism that leaves a sour taste in the mouths of locals who don’t feel a connection to the artists or the art works that remain in their neighborhoods long after the festival has ended.

Our aim with “Persons of Interest” was to suggest a new model that may also be considered, one that is based on impactful work and meaningful exchange.

From this experiment that took us roughly six months to conceive, organize, and execute, we discovered two things:

1. Artists actually like to do research and create art that is meaningful and relevant to their personal stories, and
2. Many street passersby and art audiences are elated to find work that they can relate to – that reflects their lives, history, and culture.

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Cake at work on her portrait of Käthe Kollwitz. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Cake her portrait of Käthe Kollwitz. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Each of the artists had really challenged themselves to learn about the city they were making work for, and each had a story that also spoke of their own. Every day we were learning from them and they were learning from each other and without hesitation our hosts were schooling us as well.

Of course it helps when you are working with a dynamic urban contemporary art expert like Yasha Young, who has a deep well of ideas about community and more connections than the WiFi router at a One Direction concert. All week we were treated to a rotating list of visiting photographers, videographers, art directors, reporters, radio hosts, writers, culture mavens — and to many artists who were in town to put up new walls, show us their black books and iPhoto libraries, or just to meet their New York friends who were painting in the gallery.

 

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Dain on the left with Gaia on the right at work on their portraits for “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Shout out to Onur Dinc, Andreas Englund, Herakut, The Never Crew, KKade, Various & Gould, Strok, David Walker, FKDL, James Bullough, Vermibus, Roland Henry, Nika Kramer, Butterfly, Mark Rigney and other very cool well-wishers. While we’re at it, we all send a gold-plated shout out to the three women who kept us all cared for in so many ways in the gallery and on-site at the UN – Alejandra, Elisabetta, and Ana were indispensable.

 

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Dain at work on his portrait of Marlene Dietrich. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Dain. Portrait of Marlene Dietrich. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Speaking of meeting interesting people, a huge highlight of the program for us was when two of the artists got to meet their “Person of Interest” face to face. We had arranged a surprise visit of one of them; NohJColey had no idea that Katharina Oguntoye would walk on the sidewalk in front of the UN and peer in the window where he was preparing his portrait of her.

To witness the enthusiasm with which they greeted one another and to hear them excitedly asking and answering each others questions regarding his work as an artist in Brooklyn and hers as an Afro German feminist in Berlin was the epitome of art as a catalyst for cultural exchange. We didn’t know life could be so rich.

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Gaia at work on his portrait of Fereshta Ludin. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Gaia’s person of interest, Fereshta Ludin also attended the opening in person on Saturday night, the first time that the two had met in person. Only two days before a Berlin law had been overturned allowing Muslim school teachers to wear headscarves – and Ms. Ludin has been a social activist advocating for the right for the last decade and a half.

The politics around this of course are highly charged and there have been xenophobic right-wing marches against Muslims and others in their defense in the streets in Berlin in recent months. Meeting Ms. Ludin in person and seeing her reaction to Gaia’s portrait of her gave such a powerful additional dimension to the entire experience of “Persons of Interest” that we never could have predicted when we first conceived of it. Gaia said it was a “life affirming moment”.

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Gaia’s portrait of Fereshta Ludin in progress. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Probably what is most gratifying is when you see someone’s eyes light up with recognition at seeing one of their icons brought to life. One woman told us that she couldn’t believe that El Sol 25 knew Hannah Höch so well. Was it that she couldn’t imagine a former graff writer honoring the central female figure of Berlin’s Dada movement? We were shocked when a UN board director told us Marlene Dietrich had grown up in the same neighborhood where this new DAIN portrait of her was going up – we even met someone who went to her funeral here in ’92!

In the final analysis once again we witnessed the creative spirit alive and well in the street and in the gallery. Unlike early graffiti writers, these artists come from different backgrounds and disciplines – yet all intersected with art in the public sphere in New York; graffiti writers, muralists, painters, wheat-pasters, paper cutters… In Berlin you would have thought that they all had been working together for years, the collaborative spirit was so high – and luckily for us, Berlin welcomed them all.

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Gaia. Portrait of Fereshta Ludin. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Swoon. Olivia from Swoon’s Studio at work on “Cairo”. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Swoon. Olivia from Swoon’s Studio at work on “Cairo”. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Swoon and her tribute to Turkish immigrants for “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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NohjColey at work on his portrait of Katharina Oguntoye. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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NohjColey at work on his portrait of Katharina Oguntoye. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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NohjColey at work on his portrait of Katharina Oguntoye. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The photo above captures the moment when NohJColey learns that Ms. Oguntoye is outside on the sidewalk looking at him through the window working on his portrait of her.

In the photo you see Ms. Oguntoye meeting NohJColey for the first time.

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NohjColey at work on his portrait of Katharina Oguntoye. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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NohjColey. Portrait of Katharina Oguntoye. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Specter at work on his portrait of Sally Montana. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Specter at work on his portrait of Sally Montana. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Specter. Portrait of Sally Montana in progress. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Specter. Portrait of Sally Montana. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Don Rimx at work on his portrait of John A. Roebling. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Don Rimx at work on his portrait of John A. Roebling. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Don Rimx. Portrait of John A. Roebling. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Esteban Del Valle at work on his portrait of George Grosz. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Esteban Del Valle at work on his portrait of George Grosz. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Esteban Del Valle at work on his portrait of George Grosz. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Esteban Del Valle. Portrait of George Grosz. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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El Sol 25 at work on his portrait of Hannah Höch. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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El Sol 25 at work on his portrait of Hannah Höch. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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El Sol 25. Portrait of Hannah Höch. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Chris Stain at work on his portrait of Charles Bukowski. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Chris Stain at work on his portrait of Charles Bukowski. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Chris Stain portrait of Charles Bukowski in progress. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

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Chris Stain. Portrait of Charles Bukowski. “Persons Of Interest” UN PM/7 Berlin. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

 

Urban Nation Project M/7 “Persons of Interest” is currently on view on the streets of Berlin until June 22nd at Bülowstraße 97
10738 Berlin-Schöneberg, Germany.

 

For more details on each artist’s Person of Interest click on the links below:

CAKE and Käthe Kollwitz, “Persons of Interest”

Chris Stain and Charles Bukowski – “Persons of Interest”

DAIN and Marlene Dietrich – “Persons of Interest”

Don Rimx and John A. Roebling – “Persons of Interest”

Esteban Del Valle and George Grosz – “Persons of Interest”

El Sol 25 and Hannah Höch – “Persons of Interest”

GAIA and Fereshta Ludin – “Persons of Interest”

ICY & Sot and Berlin’s People – “Persons of Interest”

NohJColey and Katharina Oguntoye – “Persons of Interest”

Specter and Sally Montana – “Persons of Interest”

Swoon and Turkish Immigrants – “Persons of Interest”

____________

From Katherine Brooks at the Huffington Post, an interview with us and more images to recap.

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