A BSA Treat – Lady Aiko writes an essay remembering her early days in New York and her recent trip to Shanghai
Street Artist Aiko is known for her powerful and sexy depictions of women – whether they are stencils, silkscreens or collage.
The Tokyo-born founding member of Faile is a world tavelling artist, with her hometown these days in Brooklyn.
Among the shows she has participated in recently were the LOVE MONSTER solo exhibition at Joshua Liner Gallery NYC, the Apocalypse Wow exhibition at MACRO Future in Rome Italy, and three shows this past week in the Art Basel Miami Beach fair; “The Wynwood Walls” with Deitch Projects, “Graffiti Gone Global” with James and Karla Murray and “Mural for Electric Pickle” at Primary Flight.
Aside from all that fabulous globe-trotting, Aiko is a also a pretty down-to-earth person who enjoys work with artists and giving to the community. She has taken part in a number of murals in New York over the last few years as part of the Younity Collective, a 40+ member group of women in NYC who love to paint large projects together.
We are very excited that Aiko has written a very nice piece for BSA detailing her recent experiences in Shanghai, China this fall. In it she recalls a small event that recalled her early memories of starting out as a New Yorker and a street artist.
My Shanghai Evening
The last time I visited Shanghai was in the spring of 2006. It’s been only 3 years but it seems like the city became much more powerful, more of a commercial center, and more developed. Instead of finding my favorite local massage place and cute junk stores that I liked to go to, I found many squares with new buildings, luxury stores, offices, restaurants, bars, and international chains like Starbucks and Burger King.
The largest city in China, Shanghai is getting ready to hold World Expo next year. Shanghai’s landmark, The Bund, is getting fully renovated for the event and tall new buildings are flashing colorful lights and neon signs in the night sky. The whole city is full of dust caused by the never-ending demolition and construction.
The neighborhood of Mo Gan Shan Lu reminds me a bit of Chelsea and Soho in NYC; old industrial warehouses turned into Chinese contemporary art galleries. I’ve heard that there is a lot of tourist traffic from different countries that comes to shop for very expensive art there. As a sharp contrast, there are long graffiti walls and abandoned houses on the other side of the same street. I am sure they will be torn down and turned into more fancy buildings soon. Knowing this, I had a sudden impulse to leave a little piece of my art on this street before heading back to Brooklyn.
At 8pm that night, I arrived in Mo Gan Shan Lu on that same street. This was when I realized that some of those “abandoned” houses are actually not abandoned. Some of these darkened houses still have families living there; they were having dinner and drinking on the street with small chairs and tables. I got a little nervous. What if these people start to scream at me and call the police? What if they want to charge me money or create another kind of issue? I’ve had some trouble like that before in different cities and I was worried that this may be the moment when my first street art experience in Shanghai could be end up as the worst one…
I thought for a moment and said to myself, “Well. Let me just hit it. It takes only a few minutes anyway.”
As soon as I started spraying on the wall, people in the neighborhood also noticed the noise and the smell of a stranger. I had to keep going – I didn’t want to leave an unfinished piece there. A few people walked toward me and as they came closer they began talking to me. I don’t understand Chinese, but their voices were very loud. Their loud voices attracted other people, who began to gather around me. I kept only looking at the wall until I finished it.
When I was finished, I looked around. I didn’t realize until then but I had a large audience standing behind me watching and talking. Men and women, even a couple of security guards from across the street.
I said “Ni hao (hello)” with big smile, then “Hao?(good work?)”. A few of the guys started yelling at the painted wall, and it sounded to me like they were very upset. I asked my friend to translate.
“You don’t need a bikini on her. Next time you should better paint her just naked,” said one drunk man as he pointed out the breast. This made all of us begin laughing.
“Oh watch, a cop is coming!,” somebody else said. They pointed to an old lady slowly walking towards us to see what was happening. We all laughed at that joke too.
Amazingly, it seems like I was some entertainment for their evening and we all had a little moment together. My mission had ended very well!
That night overlaps with memories of my early street art experiences in NYC. When I arrived in NY, I was not able to speak English at all and I felt a great disability because of it. Art was (and still is) my language to communicate with people and to get to know about a city. I am happy to create art, share with friends and random people who I meet in the public sphere and I like to see them enjoying my art. My experience on that night made me think about how I first got into street art and why I love street art again.
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