Interview

Chasing a Unicorn with Modomatic in New York

Chasing a Unicorn with Modomatic in New York

Developing a library of personal alphabets, coded symbols, muscle memory and intended meanings.

New York street artist Modomatic is finding his way among a crowded field of new additions to the conversation on the streets. His stylistic leanings are being road-tested, as it were, and he is developing his vocabulary before your eyes. We are pleased to have the opportunity to ask him about his sculptural works, his illustrative/diagrammatic works, and how he finds the space in between worlds that he inhabits to be a street artist in New York today.

Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA:  The output on the streets is varied. You have what we think are 3D sculptures, wheat pastes with abstract forms, and a take on the pre-Hispanic codices, etc… Are you one artist with a busy mind or are you a collective of artists?

Modomatic: I’m one artist, with a busy mind and ways to extend working time. I constantly explore different ways of expressing myself and along the way created various forms of art, but basically, they’re all coming out of my imagination and started in my sketchbook. I produced a lot of kinds of work during the pandemic, and now using the street to distribute them, because I can’t keep them all. I used a lot of my existing art. I adjust them for the streets, enhancing them so that they can be viewed a little bit further away. Also, for example, the use of brighter and fluorescent colors. I’m still learning about street art, learning about the culture, the type of artwork, the artists, and the way people are installing their art and where they’re installing it. That actually informs, in a way, how to evolve my art to fit more into the environment and the street culture.

Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: The 3D sculptures are usually human figures interconnected in dance-like movement. The pieces have words as well and sometimes they feature a staircase. Are the figures dancing? Or preventing each other from falling off the staircase? How do you select the text? Does the text follow the image or is it the opposite?

Modomatic: There are two different series of works on this 3D sculpture. One I called “Chasing the Unicorn.” This one has the stairs with a person (mostly a single person) climbing onto the end of the stairs. Chasing a unicorn for me is almost like you are climbing all the way up to the top at full speed, without knowing really, how far the stairs will go, so reaching the top could also mean reaching the end. I styled it to looked like the person is about to jump or about to, you know, desperately stop from falling.

The second series of 3d sculptures are showing a small crowd of people supporting each other. They are holding each other in a group hug or propping up someone. The messages are positive and supportive of mental health. I am saying that we are not alone and they are aware of the problem and show that there is a willingness of others to help. The 3D people are not originally created for the piece – but they are being used to convey the message. I created the sculpture element for some other projects. As I said before, I have a body of work that I created during the last lockdown and these are the result of one of the experimentations I did with figures. So I created this series.

Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: The inclusion of the staircase, in particular, is interesting to us. Do you care to elaborate a bit on its symbolism?

Modomatic: For me, the stairs are representing the effort that we take to get somewhere, to reach our goals, whether they are being successful, healthy, wealthy, or just getting out of the holes we are in. Usually, you know exactly the height that you’re going to climb, and what is at the end of it. But sometimes, as depicted in this series, when chasing the unicorn, you just go as fast as you can to climb to the top – not knowing where it ends.

Not knowing how far do you have to go also may mean risking overshooting the stairs. This could happen to us who are trying to get as much as possible, as fast as possible, by any means necessary.

Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)

In some pieces, I placed the stairs, upside down. For that moment in time when one is at the end of the stairs, going back down takes as much effort as it was going up.

Positioning yourself in between those times is kind of being invisible. People are going about ending their day, and starting their evening and you are somewhere in between.

Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Your wheat-pasted posters have an abstract/mystic aesthetic; with figures, numbers, and words. Is there a secret code to the message?

Modomatic: When I do the sketches, the original drawings, yes. There is some form of messaging that I wanted to get across with the symbols. In the sketchbook, I pretended to create a series of personal alphabets, coded symbols, or simple marks, each with the intended meaning. Then the collection becomes a library, like an icon library. The icons either stay imprinted in my mind, in my sketchbooks or are preserved for my digital work. As I started to produce artwork like posters and other different forms, in 3D or 2D, large or small, I started to use those elements and just basically created the composition.

Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: We do see an influence from what appear to be Aztec Codex symbols in your work, sometimes mixed with modern war machines. What’s the genesis for this “fusion”?

Modomatic: I’d like to consider myself a collector. I take great pleasure in mixing things I collect to create something new. In creating some of my symbols I used scripts like Hindi, Arabic, Chinese characters, Japanese Hiragana and Katakana, and other ancient scripts. I practice my hand on them, and then at one point, they become just muscle memories. The fusion happens in the process of creation.

Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: One piece, in particular, resembles the international space station to us, or perhaps a satellite. It also brings to mind Legos. Were you obsessed with Legos? Or maybe still are?

Modomatic: I think you are referring to my series AstroSnout. My kids and I love to play with Legos and other construction toys and their modularity is perhaps carried to these artworks. And recently we’ve been paying a lot of attention to the commercial space industries, with Space X and that sparks our imaginations. I do a lot of my art with my kids, and this is one of our fascinations. You can see that this group of works are more playful.

Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Did you like getting up in the streets of NYC during the initial Covid lockdowns when the streets were empty and nobody was around? What pushes you to share your work in the streets?

Modomatic: I get up in the street either early in the evening in the dusk, or early in the morning (5 am) where people are just coming out. I like that it is quiet but it’s not dead quiet. The early evening is when there’s just the confusion of time, between the receding of busy work and the starting of the nightlife. Positioning yourself in between those times is kind of being invisible. People are going about ending their day, and starting their evening and you are somewhere in between.

I share my art on the street because I think that it’s like the best gallery in the city.

Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)

You are the artist, you are also the curator, the gallery owner – well not really – but the gallery director and art installer. There’s a lot to figure out; where to put your art, how to position it with other art. I use proximity, as a form of admiration, so sometimes I put my art close to the other artists or work that I admire. I considered light and shadow, especially for the 3D art pieces. I also have to consider the fact that it might be taken down, or covered-up.

I love to find my 3D art has been painted over, finding it become part of the fixtures is my goal. I also love to see it emerging later on when the art covering it has decayed or been removed, and my piece started to reveal itself again.

I don’t hate that sometimes my art is taken away. I’d like to think that somebody liked them, not because they hate them.

I learned that’s the street, and I love that. I appreciate it.

Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Modomatic (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Read more
The Transgendered Self as Muse: Julien de Casabianca and His New Outing

The Transgendered Self as Muse: Julien de Casabianca and His New Outing

“Grand Mozeur Feukeur.”


French Street Artist Julien de Casabianca is debuting a new series of photographs that may appear as a surprising departure from his previous multi-year multi-city OUTINGS project, but a closer examination contains many similarities between that one and “Grand Mozeur Feukeur”.

The street artist’s pastings for his OUTINGS Project featured scenes from figurative artworks, classical and modern, from museum collections. Julien de Casabianca wanted the images displayed on facades of buildings in public view rather than hidden away for a limited audience. By bringing outside these selected artworks from cultural institutions worldwide, the artist created a genuinely new category of street art, which doesn’t occur with the frequency you might expect.

From Poland to Mexico to Palestine and Vietnam, OUTINGS expanded to be many things at once, including a form of public service that exposed passersby to cloistered artists whose works were prized but generally unseen by the everyday citizen, therefore unconsidered. Everyone was required to re-think the artworks as well as their pre-conceptions of propriety.

Two acts of sexual congress pasted by the OUTINGS project (©Julien de Casabianca)

Sometimes partnering directly with local art institutions, Casabianca traveled the world, bringing images into the light of day. Considered anew in this city street context, these excised images took on newly discovered relevance, weights, and character. While some appeared as ghosts of the past, others were remarkably contemporary in these modern surroundings. With the implied or explicit imprimatur of academics and art institutions, his novel approach to art on the streets was timely and of our time, short-circuiting convention and garnering countless press articles in cities and cultures widespread.

Shocking to audiences a hundred years ago, a self-portrait by the Austrian artist Egon Schiele pasted on this Parisian street certainly alerted passersby in a way that few street art wheat-pastes do (© Julian de Casabianca for the OUTINGS project)

For one campaign, he selected only “sex scenes,” as he calls them. Motivated by his disappointment at the lack of sexual themes in the street art scene, Julien de Casabianca isolated duos and polyamorous parties engaged in the erotic arts. “It was my first step of questioning sex, gender, and body in street art,” he tells us in an exclusive interview. A redefining of the street art scene, which can be ironically conventional considering its unconventional origins, was necessary.

“My pasting work used characters taken directly from classical paintings – and I put them in the streets,” he says. “There were dozen of sex scenes – heterosexuals and homosexuals – extracted from classical paintings.”

The impulse to expose audiences to these images was liberating, leading him to publish a manifesto on the streets of his home city, Paris. The long screed excoriated his fellow street artists worldwide for what he perceived as their lack of bravery and possibly hypocrisy by avoiding explicitly sexual scenes.

One excerpt says, “What’s wrong with you guys? Street artists are the purest of them all, then? The least ballsy, apparently. The least boobsy too.”

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

Today, following his own counsel, Casabianca presents a personal campaign in photographs that again introduces themes infrequently seen on the street, this time using himself as muse and canvas. As LGBTQ issues have mingled with a volley of newly coined terms and freshly minted (often self-appointed) experts in the academy, the media, and the street, many everyday persons have continued to navigate through life with seemingly new definitions of gender identity. This new campaign may clarify, or not.

As an artist familiar with both public display and figurative artwork, Casabianca models here his unique flair for fashion. He also displays a previously little-known relationship with gender, sexuality, and our coding guidelines for classification of each. In this new project, he models dresses that he has collected, each endowed with several associations and assumptions.

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

As in the OUTINGS project, these photographs are excised from their original intended context, if you will, and given a new venue for consideration. Along with the quality of materials and construction, the viewer will evaluate categories such as “day” or “evening,” occasion, income level, social status, age, gender, sexuality, sexual availability, and degrees of masculinity or femininity.

“This new series of pictures presents my body as a form of street art. I do not see the body used in street art either, but I believe it can be a kind of contemporary art performance,” he says in his description of the new project he’s calling “Grand Mozeur Feukeur.”

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

Paired with footwear that is not typical for the styles of dress, he poses with some deadpan expressions, occasionally appearing as solicitous, coy, non-plussed, or decisive. You may even say they are a parody of the poses in classical antiquity or fashion magazines. This is a very personal act of self-exposure, and the project reveals his questioning of identity and the paradox of self-expression – and society’s propensity for categorizing.

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

In total, “Grand Mozeur Feukeur” is a very intimate, provocative presentation that may surprise and draw closer examination by viewers. Grand, severe, and even humorous, the performer/muse/artist places himself against a “typical” scene of urban aerosol graffiti tags on walls. – It’s not exactly street art, yet you can imagine some of these images may end up on the street in a city near you.

“This work questions gender,” he says. “There is a malaise in the masculine aspect in our society at this moment, and I’m uncomfortable with manhood. I’m not gay; I’m a boy-girl, maybe. I’m attracted to women but not attracted to the heterosexual way of being. I identify as queer, and I’m sexually attracted to people who identify as this as well. Heterosexuality is a lifestyle. I may be something like a cross-dyke, because “dyke” at one time was a slang term for a well-dressed man. A well-dressed man for me is a man in a dress. A man cross-dressed.”

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

BSA interviewed Julien de Casabianca about his new project:


Brooklyn Street Art (BSA): Can you talk about what led you from your previous street art project to this new one? A number of those pasted works focused on sexual and erotic themes. Is the new project related to each other in any way?

Julien de Casabianca (JC): My OUTINGS work uses characters removed from classical paintings to paste them in the streets. I pasted a dozen sex scenes extracted from classical paintings in Paris streets, and I published the series in Nuart Journal. Some were heterosexuals in nature, and some were homosexual. So this was my first step in questioning sex and gender in street art. And I discovered how sex and gender are rare in street art.

Sexuality is seldom discussed, except in a way meant to be comical. Homosexuality is rarely addressed, except in a political way, in defense of visibility, for example. Rarely are these themes presented for just what they are: sex and love. So once I realized this, it opened my eyes, and I decided to continue to work on these queer questions.

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

BSA: The dresses present a traditional look at female gender roles. Here they are contrasted with perhaps more modern classic male presentation. How is a costume/dress selected?

JC: These are only “old lady” dresses, grand-mother style. I’m fascinated by kitsch and how there can be a beautiful state in the sublimation of ugly. I think these dresses fit me really well. Since I was 15 years old, I always wore these dresses when I went to a queer party. I did not intend it as a travesty or an absurdity, not just to “dress up.” It is just because I’m beautiful in it! I don’t act like a girl. I’m a man, with my virility intact, and I’m absolutely not androgynous. And some are funny, yes. I have a huge collection, around 150.

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

BSA: The footwear and socks are frequently well-matched to the color scheme of the dress, yet they are not directly related to the style. Is this intentional?

JC: Yes, I’m a sneaker addict, and I always wear sneakers, even in a dress. And I’m in urban style all the time, and it’s my job, so I wanted absolutely to create this mix between old-school and contemporary.

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

BSA: Does posing before heavily graffitied walls make these modeling sessions more “street” or “urban”?

JC: Yes, I’m a street artist, and this wall is in my home. There are two ways to connect this series of photography in the continuity of my street art work: the urban style association of the sneakers and the walls covered in graff.

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

BSA: Are you challenging gender roles and definitions, or are you expressing identity and sexuality?

JC: This work questions gender. There is a malaise in the masculine in our society. I’m uncomfortable with manhood. I’m not gay; I’m a boy-girl, maybe. I’m attracted to women but not attracted to the typical heterosexual way of being. I identify as queer, and I’m sexual attracted to people who identify as this. Heterosexuality is a lifestyle. Maybe I am something like a cross-dyke, because people used to use “dyke” as slang for a well-dressed man. And a well-dressed man for me is a man in a dress. A man cross-dressed.

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

BSA: Is there comedy here?

JC: There is comedy too, sometimes, because I’m funny in my life and the photographs are my work. But these styles are from my nightlife. At my house, my decor is full of old-lady stuff. I’m in love with those things. They are deeply moving.

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

BSA: In terms of society and your personal evolution, could this project have occurred in 1991? 2001? Or is there something about 2021 that makes it feel “right”?

JC: It has been an incredible evolution in the last few years in the overall recognition by people of the variety of genders that exist. Ten years ago, people would have regarded my looks as travesty or comedy, period. I’m not either one, not traditionally hetero. I’m queer. During the day, I wear what could be considered a “heterosexual urban” style – maybe androgynous. At night I’m wearing old lady dresses while keeping my virility and masculine behavior.

Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
Julien de Casabianca. (photo © Julien de Casabianca)
In a piece de resistance, Julien de Casabianca models a wedding dress in front of one his installations from the OUTINGS project in Paris, 19th Arrondissement (photo © Julien de Casabianca)

Learn more at
https://www.instagram.com/grand_mozeur_feukeur/

https://www.instagram.com/julien_de_casabianca/

Read more
Raul Ayala: Houston Bowery Wall as a Portal

Raul Ayala: Houston Bowery Wall as a Portal

Steering away from potentially inflammatory political content or street beef of the past on this high-profile wall with a New York street art/graffiti history, the current occupants of the Houston Bowery Wall are more focused on allegory, and community. Featuring a fleet of volunteers and a mural full of history and aspiration, Raul Ayala thinks of this wall as a teachable moment. The artist employed many of the 21 days that this mural took to complete to do just that: teach.

With ten talented young artists/activists from the locally-based Groundswell NYC community organization, Ayala planned and painted various phases of the mural together while under the gaze of curious New Yorkers who paraded by hour after hour while the artists painted. Included in that team were Gabriela Balderas, Charlize Beltre, Brandon Bendter, Junior Steven Clavijo, Jennifer Contreras, Maria Belen Flores, Hafsa Habib, Cipta Hussain, Karina Linares and Gabriel Pala.

Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Ayala describes the piece as “opening a portal,” and you quickly realize that it is a portal of the mind to imagination and inspiration. “For me, building imagination and sharing knowledge alongside a younger generation of artists is a great manifestation of the fruits of this shift,” he says. “With this mural, we are also bringing inter-generational participation into a future that honors our past while actively creating a different path of existence.”

Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA talked to Raul about the mural and his experience painting it. Below is the interview:

BSA: At both ends of the mural you have depicted two masked characters. One on the left is wearing what seems to be an Aztec mask with the skyline of Manhattan in the background as he pulls down a monument. The one on the right is a black man at the moment when he is either about to put an African mask on or at the moment when he’s taking it off. Could you please describe the significance of both characters and how they relate to each other in the mural?

RA: Masks have always been a part of culture and are the recipients of many powerful archetypes; they are a space of connection to different realms of existence. In recent times, due to the pandemic, the mask has become necessary protective gear and is part of the current cultural landscape. With the masks depicted in the mural, I wanted to drive the conversation towards a more ample understanding of the mask as it relates to specific cultural heritages. Black, brown and indigenous solidarity is a constant effort in my practice. I strive to practice solidarity in the themes I paint and also in the way a lot of my murals are made. I think of mural-making as a learning space, where I get to have conversations with my peers and my students. African and Indigenous (Wirarika/Huichol) inspired masks have a lot in common, as one of the proposals for the idea of “opening portals” that is the overarching theme of the mural.

Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

There is also a symbolic connection. In the Andes, where I come from, the Jaguar is a very powerful spirit animal related to water. The Black Panther as a representation of Black Power has a lot of cultural relevance as well and I wanted to hint to those connections. Many passersby have referenced one of the masked people as Chadwick Boseman. Even though it was not necessarily my intention, I love that people -especially younger generations- read that on the mural.

Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: There’s a skeleton with his arm around a skull character in a suit holding what seems to be a scepter. What are these two doing in the mural and who are they?

RA: The whole mural is an allegory of our current times. For me, part of the work that needs to happen is to address systemic oppression and white supremacy as prevalent forces that are endangering our relationships to each other, to our ancestry, and to the natural world. The two characters represent these forces. There are also a lot of symbols relating to these structural powers: There is a big fish eating small fish and an Icarus falling, both as cautionary tales of a late capitalist society and its extractive, individualistic strategies.

Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Can you talk about the women that are making a quilt? Who are they? What do they represent? Why are they making a quilt?

RA: Textile arts at large, including practices like Quilting Bees have been spaces not only of resistance and resilience but also spaces to pass on knowledge between generations. I wanted to depict a pluricultural, multigenerational circle of women. I believe these are great examples of the kind of relationships that will sustain and create health in these times. Additionally, the designs are another type of “portal.” They are traditional symbols in different cultures; the women in the back are creating a “tree of life,” a traditional African American quilting design. The women at the fore are holding a Chakana, which is a very important symbol of the Andean cosmogony. 

Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The central character is dressed in a Whipala, an emblem that represents indigenous peoples from the Andes. The animals that are coming out of the designs (with the exception of the hummingbird, which is a migratory bird) were part of the ecosystem of that very location before colonization. I took the information from the Welikia Project, a map that overlays the city with the ecosystem of Mahannata before 1609. I would also like to acknowledge that my partner Fernanda Espinosa, an oral historian and cultural organizer has been a great help in imagining this side of the piece, and with who I often collaborate.

BSA: The flowers on the mural are very similar to the Moon flowers one sees in NYC in full bloom at night during the summer. Are these Moon Flowers?

RA: It is great to hear all the different readings the public has. In the end, it is about what people take and interpret themselves, I love that the flowers can also be Moon Flowers. I wanted to bring the idea of passing on traditional knowledge through generations. The plant depicted is Guanto, a plant that has been used as medicine in the Americas for millennia.

Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: The female character holding a seed or a seedling. Can you talk about her and the seed she is holding?

RA: This is another allegorical character that is both using plants as medicine and holding the seed as a symbol. For me, it talks about the idea of the future. The title of the piece is “To Open A Portal,” this seed may be seen as a sort of key to that portal; a key that requires sustained care so the fruits of the labor can be enjoyed in a possible future.

In Kichwa, one of the indigenous languages of the Andes, we can say that we are living through a Warmi (female) Pacha (time/space) Kuti (shift). These seeds also represent that Warmi Pachakuti. In a way, this speculative approach to the future that has a strong female character at the center is an homage to Octavia Butler’s oeuvre. The figure above is also a historical character, Harriet Tubman. These are proposals to enter a new monumental landscape, not necessarily to depict one main person, but the sets of relationships and changes they have created through their actions.

Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: How was your experience painting in such a prominent spot with so much noise and traffic?

RA: I really enjoy working in public space! The conversations that I witnessed and that the mural and activity sparked were very interesting. A lot of people told me that they see themselves in the characters and that was one of the biggest compliments I have received. There were also some people triggered by what was perceived as an attack on “white culture.” For me to question white supremacy and celebrate protests in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic, allow us to place this shift in the context of History. When monuments are brought down, a sort of portal to a different reality is being created. I see this seemingly aggressive act also as an opportunity to manifest different futures: when a symbol that stands for the values of civilization is put into question, domination and power imbalances are being contested too. This portal allows us to walk through the pain and find futures where we consider the way in which we are not only connected but also dependent on each other.

Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Your assistants were also your students. Where do you teach?

RA: While I am a visual artist, teaching has always been an important part of my practice and one that I center often. I started first teaching art in a project I started in detention centers in Quito many years ago. Since then, I have taught with multiple projects and organizations. With Groundswell, I have had the pleasure to teach for about 7 years. This project was in collaboration with them and it really was the only way it made sense for me to do this wall. I have been witnessing the growth of these young artists for some time now and I feel very proud of them and what we have done together. My responsibility as an artist is also to educate the younger generations of artists of color.

Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. His students and assistants. From left to right: Marila Belen Flores, Karina Linares, Gabby Balderas, Cipta Hussain, Raul Ayala, Amelia Calsi, Jennifer Contreras, and Charlize Belttre. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Raul Ayala. “To Open a Portal” in collaboration with Groundswell and Goldman Global Arts. Houston/Bowery Wall. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Read more
Because Everything: New Narratives from Sticker Maul

Because Everything: New Narratives from Sticker Maul

Every season brings new artists to the street art scene, while others leave town, or simply fade away. The summer, born in the age of Covid-19 and #BLM when the federal government tries its latest attempt to kill off postal services so it can privatize one more thing the taxpayers used to own, we now see work in New York re-engineering that time-honored graffiti-tag vehicle, the USPS address sticker.

Sticker Maul (photo Jaime Rojo)

Sticker Maul is a mixed-media collagist with a loose style of irony and a textual wit paired with photos, as well as straight-up wordplay. Topics are vaguely social, mainly clever, the demeanor sincere without pomposity. These are good qualities for an artist working within a smaller canvas on the street who wants to “cut through the clutter” – and its working!

Sticker Maul (photo Jaime Rojo)
Sticker Maul (photo Jaime Rojo)
Sticker Maul (photo Jaime Rojo)
Sticker Maul (photo Jaime Rojo)
Sticker Maul (photo Jaime Rojo)
Sticker Maul (photo Jaime Rojo)
Sticker Maul (photo Jaime Rojo)
Read more
“Avant Garde Tudela 2020” Celebrates Decade in June / Dispatch From Isolation # 69

“Avant Garde Tudela 2020” Celebrates Decade in June / Dispatch From Isolation # 69

In what is possibly the first mural festival to take place in the world after, or during, Covid-19, BSA once again is proud to support Avant Garde Tudela International Contemporary Muralism Festival next month in Spain.

Miss Van (photo courtesy of the artist)

Commemorating a decade of existence as a quality cultural force with and exceptional lineup, it’s featured the works of artists some may consider part of a gold standard in public/street art interventionists and thinkers: Sixe, Mark Jenkins, Evan Roth, BLU, Ron English, Spy, El Mac, Escif, C215, Faith XVII, Vhils, Franco Fasoli (Jaz).

Mina Hamada (photo courtesy of the artist)

This years’ Avant Garde Tudela event is curated by Jorge Rodríguez-Gerada and BSA will be pleased to bring you exclusive behind the scenes reportage as well as shots of the artists at work courtesy a BSA frequent collaborator and photographer Fer Alcala.

Jeff McCreight AKA Ru8icon (photo courtesy of the artist)

Taking place from the 8th to 14th of June, this year features a line up including Miss Van, Mina Hamada, and Jeff McCreight (Ru8icon).

Read more
Stencils of Protest: Street Artist Sajjad Abbas and Youthful Voices of Baghdad

Stencils of Protest: Street Artist Sajjad Abbas and Youthful Voices of Baghdad

Amidst the fusillade of news from the Middle East these days, you may have missed that the young people of Baghdad in Iraq have been demonstrating in the streets against the government. They are fighting for pretty much the same thing that all people in every society eventually fight for – autonomy, fairness, freedom, liberty. Not surprisingly, Street Artists are helping give voice to the aspirations of the people, and possibly inspiration to them as well, with walls to the underpass into Tahrir Square serving as an open-air gallery of murals and slogans

Sajjad Abbas. Baghdad, Iraq. January 2020. (photo courtesy of the artist)

Artist and animator Sajjad Abbas says his artworks on the streets are addressing the desires voiced by the protestors, and giving voice to the fallen. “The main goal of the protest is the motto ‘نريد وطن ‘, which means ‘We want a homeland’,” he says. “It’s a motto that has a deep and clear meaning and indicates how open-minded the protests are. The protesters are also asking to isolate all the parties and to never elect them again.”

Sajjad Abbas. Baghdad, Iraq. January 2020. (photo courtesy of the artist)

Today we have images from recent protests as well as a few stencils by Abbas. You may recognize a style common in Street Art with political or social critique in cities elsewhere during the last decade and a half. The energy that is evident in these scenes is full of anticipation and emotion, the desire to express serious dissatisfaction that is evident in many sectors. In the disordered street and cafe scenes, you can also see a singularity of determination by some, a collectivity among others.

Sajjad Abbas. Baghdad, Iraq. January 2020. (photo courtesy of the artist)

By creating a stencil portrait of one of the leaders who has been killed, a hero is being elevated – along with the values they are thought to have signified. Here you see an image of Safaa al-Sarai, one of the higher-profile activists/protesters whom news reports say was killed in October after getting hit in the head by a smoke grenade. In just a few short months his image on the street is transforming him to that of a martyr in popular culture and in memes – merging with imagery from sports culture as a protective goalie.

In fact, Safaa al-Sarai was a “goalie”, according to an account in the Times of London; “a human buffer armed with a wet sheet to intercept tear gas canisters aimed at protesters. ‘One hit the ground then bounced up into his head. He had a brain injury and was bleeding. They couldn’t save him,’ said his friend Hayder Alaa, a 21-year-old student.”

Sajjad Abbas. Baghdad, Iraq. January 2020. (photo courtesy of the artist)

We asked Sajjad Abbas about his experience as a Street Artist in Baghdad during these tumultuous demonstrations and about his opinion of the role of art and artist in the street.

Brooklyn Street Art: Can you describe the protests in Tahrir Square and what issues people are focusing on?

Sajjad Abbas: The protests in Tahrir Square are hard to describe. The young guys went out on the 1st of October in 2019. In the beginning, they were mostly from Sadr City. The government faced the protests during the most intense action and they killed lots of the protesters. They used live ammunition and there were snipers and they took the young guys’ lives.

Through this time, after that, all people were called for protests, a million people marched on October 25, 2019. Together they were protesting about religious and secular topics of many kinds.

Sajjad Abbas. Tahrir Sq. Baghdad, Iraq. January 2020. (photo courtesy of the artist)

BSA: Are the protesters mainly young people?
SA: They are young guys who are tired of every chain that the politics and the religion men put on the people. They asked for a good life and freedom and presented their opinions to all the religious men and government people. This protest is against dirty government forces and the parties of the murders. Many of the protesters were killed and the government used smoke bombs and flash grenades as a way to kill. They threw these things directly at the protester’s heads, and some were injured pretty seriously, probably causing them a lifetime disability…

So far the government hasn’t answered protesters’ demands, but there has been murder and kidnapping.

Sajjad Abbas. Baghdad, Iraq. January 2020. (photo courtesy of the artist)

Most of the protesters are the new generation who were born in the early 2000s, but there are also different people from other age groups. What is good about the new protests is that there are also a big number of young females who were also in the protests – and they were in the front lines of the protest.

BSA: What is the name of the person in the stencil art with the beard?
SA: The guy in this picture is Safaa Alsarai. He got killed in the protest after he got shot in the head by a smoking bomb.

Sajjad Abbas. Tahrir Sq. Baghdad, Iraq. January 2020. (photo courtesy of the artist)

BSA: Why is he important and what does he symbolize for Baghdadi people?
SA: Safaa was a poet who also participated in many of the older protests. He was hoping that Iraq could become unified and be one and he was dreaming about making for Iraq an Iraqi country. Safaa became an icon for the revolution in all the cities in Iraq.

Sajjad Abbas. Tahrir Sq. Baghdad, Iraq. January 2020. (photo courtesy of the artist)

BSA: The figure with the mask looks like he is playing soccer. Is he catching a tear gas canister?
SA: The guy is a goalkeeper (“goalie”) who is trying to catch the smoking bomb. In this tunnel, a team was created to shut down the smoking bombs that came at the protesters – after getting it away from the protests in the area above the tunnel.

BSA: Why is it important to use art in the streets for you?
SA: It’s like drinking water… it’s an expression of existence. Using the art in the street is to clarify and express my ideas about the policies and social aspects of those policies. Street Art is a revolution – It’s an imperative way to share your ideas, and you should have a statement about the “system”.

Sajjad Abbas. Tahrir Sq. Baghdad, Iraq. January 2020. (photo courtesy of the artist)
Read more
Niels Shoe Meulman: Thank You For Shopping Here

Niels Shoe Meulman: Thank You For Shopping Here

Graffitti. Calligraphy.

Both celebrate the power and expressive ability of the letterform and yet each appear as entirely separate pursuits. Uniting them requires understanding both very well, contemplating their friction, their possibilities, and a lot of negotiation.

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Since 2007 Niels “Shoe” Meulman has been investigating, experimenting with, enraptured by this pursuit. From thousands of hand sketches in his black book to the full-body immersion techniques of creating across large walls and floors, using paint and brush by the gallon in premeditated/subconscious all-inclusive gestural choreographies. Shoe knows how to stay in the moment.

It’s this elevating together of disciplines that reveals their contrasts; awakening the inner conflicts and core strengths, parading them on view.

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

He discovered the perfect transmutation here in Brooklyn. It was that night of art-making with Haze that was a turning point..

“We both decided to go to the art store and get a whole lot of tools and stuff and just started working to see what would come out,” he says as he glances out the 1st floor brownstone window at the pile of recycled cardboard in the tiny courtyard. 26 years as a writer from Amsterdam who had met his New York graffiti heroes like Dondi, Rammellzee, and Haring, Shoe had pursued a career in advertising, and was still in love with fonts and their power to communicate.

“Without a commission, without a brief,” he remembers. “And like that – my old passion, calligraphy, mixing with graffiti, just came out!”

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Shoe says he created “calligraffiti” and he ran with it: developing a body of work around it, writing a book about it (Calligraffiti), collaborating with a growing number of artists who also had an affinity for the penmanship of an artful communication modality that spans centuries.

He has developed brushes, tools, techniques, opened a gallery in a garage (Unruly), covered surfaces from cars to museum walls, finished three more books (Painter, Abstract Vandalism and Shoe is my Middle name). It was as if he had finally decided at 40 that it was okay to be an artist, and he left advertising to dedicate himself fully to his craft.

“Because my dad is also an artist- maybe I was finding the right moment to be an artist,” he says as he shows you a stack of many papers from the art supply store, and he contemplates why he had hesitated for years. It’s not that he was concerned about competing with his father, but the stakes were high. Speaking of his father, he says, “I think he was thinking ‘if you’re going to be an artist you better be a successful one’ – because being a struggling artist – that’s the worst!”

Additionally, he thought that before he could call himself an artist, he should have something substantial to show. “It also felt like there was something more profound to it,” he says. “I always thought that to be an artist you have to have life experience and have some knowledge and purpose to bring to the table, you know?”

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Whether wide tip, wide brush, or wide cap, the bending letters are cryptic and stern in their old-worldliness. Fluid and stilted, wild and ornate, gilded, in black, in iridescence, in silver and gold. The additional layers of ink burst violently with destructive force in the swipe, the slash, the bash. The splatters are sometimes built up like an aura that glows around the cavorting dark letters – as if bruised and pummeled, their damaged and moistened epidermis now sweating black blood, infusing the air with a miasma of industrial soot.

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

With broad interests that delve into abstract, into wordplay, even poetry, this moment is the clarity in early morning fog on a quiet street in old BedStuy, now rumbling with the sweet sickness of gentrification. The residency that brings him here is so named to recall history and to look forward, offering a respite for many a visiting Street Artist.

“I didn’t really have a plan when I came here but, like many times, I come up with something on the plane like the day before – and of course it’s brewing in my head.”

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

He points to a couple of handled black plastic shopping bags that he has tacked to the wall. With a capacity to recognize and understand his own emotions and the emotions of an era, he has connected to the pleasantry printed on them “Thank You for Shopping With Us!”. It’s not just the sentiment that captures the late 1970s design hand, for him, it’s the upbeat openness and lyrical bending of the letters and lines that attract him.

The letters are sweet like cherry lip-gloss on a rollerskater in hot pants in Central Park. Suddenly you are flipping through the pages of Eros, Fact, or Avant Garde, a relief of melodic line and sexual liberty.

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“Thank you for shopping!” he exclaims like a fan. “That’s so New York for me; that’s exactly graffiti – that 70s Herb Lubalin look,” he says of a time when magazines were so head-over-heels in love with new type treatments that they might feature a 2-page spread of it entirely just for you to salivate over.

“It’s free,” he says, perhaps reflective of the liberal sway of social mores and the swinging romance that advertising had with the Baby Boomer’s ‘me’ generation of the seventies. It’s a phrase rooted in consumerism, cities were in the last throes of an ample middleclass America who had cash and credit to shop with.  That fact contrasted with the suffering of a bankrupt NYC – a spirit that inspired train writers as well, even if used as critique.

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“I think the whole graffiti scene that started here had something to do with this sort of lettering,” he says. “It came from that freedom that you could see in advertising. The type design was so good.”

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

For now, this month-long residency is a reprieve for Shoe, a time to examine and relax into the spring that gradually warms New York and brings rose blooms to the bush in the small front yard of this residential street. His new sketches from his black book contain pithy barbs, hidden meanings, pop-culture references, and life truisms drawn in what he might refer to as a monk-like manner.

“I’m not religious. I don’t follow any religion and I don’t meditate but I like this idea of knowledge and introspection,” he says. “This is where Chinese calligraphy comes in and you are reminded of the medieval monks and all kinds of calligraphers”.

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

A congenial host, Shoe shows us walls full of new pieces, individual words or phrases on a large variety of papers, textures, and stocks. He describes his inks with as much enthusiasm as his personal relationships, which are sometimes as tumultuous as the intense splashes of midnight here. You can see there is definitely work being done.

“That knowledge comes from that kind of introspection. The influence of Japanese and Chinese calligraphy comes in because at that time if you were by yourself writing…. Those monks either wanted to be enlightened or were enlightened in some way; it’s a search,” he says.

“This is where I am.”

Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Niels Show Meulman. BedStuy Art Residence. Brooklyn, NY. May 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

To learn more about the BedStuy Art Residency, please go HERE.

Read more
Meres One Says “Love Is Love”

Meres One Says “Love Is Love”

When a real graffiti head hits you in the heart, you know it’s going to burn brightly.

NYC writer Jonathan “Meres One” Cohen has been getting up on the streets for 3+ decades with his distinctive color-drenched style and “bright idea” icon and he has exhibited in venues as varied as Meeting of Styles, the Parish Art Museum, and the French Institute of Art.

This month he has contributed his talent, name and heart to protecting the rights of LGBTQ+ people to celebrate the 5oth Anniversary of the Stonewall Riots that sparked a civil rights movement that burns today.  We were lucky enough to catch it and grab a fast shot last week – and very lucky to ask him about it in an email conversation here where he shares his personal take on the topic “Love is Love”.

Meres One. WorldPride Mural Project Initiative. The L.I.S.A. Project NYC. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: Besides the straight forward message of the campaign, some people may not see the connection and will wonder what’s your relevance to the LGBT community. How would you address that?
MERES ONE: I am always puzzled by the “relevance” question.  I marched and did hundreds of signs for “Black Lives Matter” and my intent or connection was not questioned.  The mural is about love, about acceptance, about respecting boundaries and others’ choices and rights to love. As I have said before love and falling in love is a powerful uncontrollable feeling and no one should dictate the premises of such feelings. I obviously have friends living in a same-sex relationship, including Taylor and Lauren whom See TF painted next to this mural. My cousin is a lesbian rabbi – does that even matter? I think you answered that question for me perfectly at the wall when you said ‘sometimes it takes a majority to stand up for the rights of the minority.’ So maybe that is it. I am standing up and doing what I love for my friends and for strangers alike.

BSA: Why do you think some people have a hard time understanding that loving or love is one of the most personal acts and they try to dictate and control who we choose to love and partner with?
MERES ONE: Actually very often I am asked why I think graffiti is misunderstood or represented vs. street art. I always answer that people tend to fear or dislike what they cannot understand. The segregation and judgment experienced by the LGBTQ+ community is mostly based on fear and misconception. It is unfortunately carried and supported by many clergymen and women, and it is supported by our own president and many elected officials. So again if we all became a spokesperson for love, if we all stood up for that right, we could make a difference. I feel that this initiative curated by the Lisa Project is gifting our city with 50 beautiful murals, but it is also opening dialogue. Sometimes maybe it will force dialogue and that’s amazing and a step forward. 

BSA: The style of the message and the mural itself is reminiscent of a postcard. It exudes nostalgia. Do you think people are longing for simpler, kinder times?
MERES ONE: It is for sure echoing a postcard, a time when people actually wrote and committed to their words. I hope and would love to know that the audience would use the wall as a backdrop to send a message of acceptance and love to whoever they want. I for one am, and I think many are, longing for some of the old New York, for kinder and more people-focused time. We are living in a very difficult era and it seems that so many basic rights which were fought for are being reversed by our current administration. So yes I think a lot of us are left with an uneasy feeling and worries.

BSA: What was your experience with the passersby as you were painting? What were some of their reactions?
MERES ONE: So many – mostly positive I will add. I try to give my attention to everyone as long as I am not all the way up on the lift. I heard funny comments, some passersby the first day were worried this was going to be a Colossal ad. I guess the lift and organization looked very professional and they were relieved to hear about the project and the birthing of new art on the block. Once my light bulbs were visible there was a lot of honking and shout outs from people driving by. I was surprised by the amount of genuine ‘thank you’s that came from people.

I love the fact that people read out loud “love is love” and kept on walking. The local businesses – from the owner of 3 Dollar Bill cheering us on, to the Wells bringing us cold water, to Saints coffee roaster thanking us, they all seemed really happy about this installation on their block. We managed to create a story thanks to the trust of the people at Lisa Project and people get to see a true narrative by me, See TF, JPO and David Puck. I feel people are relating to the wall and owning it in their personal way, and that was the goal here, so I am super pleased and humbled to have been part of it.


With our thanks to Wayne and Rey at The LISA Project for organizing the artists for this event.


This installation is part of the World Pride Mural Project Initiative. For more information please click here.

Read more
Christian Omodeo on “The Man Who Stole Banksy” & Its Streaming Release

Christian Omodeo on “The Man Who Stole Banksy” & Its Streaming Release

In 2007 the anonymous graffiti artist Banksy painted a series of political works around Palestine.

Later there was a mad scramble by people to cut them down and to sell them to the highest bidder on a secretive and clandestine art market. One mural in particular that depicts an Israeli soldier asking a donkey for its papers created a furious response from many. It also sparked its removal – and eventual offer for sale.

The Man Who Stole Banksy. (photo © Marco Proserpio)

An unexpected and riveting tale told through the perspective of a local taxi driver named Walid, the offending wall becomes the main character; shuffled through chaotic Bethlehem streets, ferried across the sea, featured at auction, brandished for collectors. The prejudices, perspectives, and startling insights on display never stop revealing themselves. Needless to say war, pacifism, greed, celebrity, fanboy-ism and occupation all make very awkward partners – providing an endless study in contrasts.

The Man Who Stole Banksy. (still from the movie)

“One year after we saw it debut at Tribeca, The Man who Stole Banksy is enjoying a far wider distribution beginning this month through Amazon Prime in US and Canada. On the occasion of its mass release, we spoke to Christian Omodeo, a professor and curator in the field of urban art. More importantly here, Omodeo was a screenwriter on the film with Filippo Perfido and the director Marco Proserpio. We asked him to reflect on the origins of the film and how as a documentary it continued to grow and mature during its long journey to the big screen, and now the small one. “

The Man Who Stole Banksy. (still from the movie)

BSA: Can you describe your role in the film, and how you watched it grow and mature?

Christian Omodeo: I first met Marco Proserpio in 2012 and we were working on this project until 2017. Marco was just back from Palestine, where by chance he met Walid, the main character of the movie. Walid told him that he had cut a Banksy painting with the intention of selling it on Ebay. Marco decided to do a movie about this crazy story.

He also wanted to describe the political situation in Palestine without portraying this community as victims as most of the media do. At the same time he did not know how to exactly deal with street art. Since that time we have worked together on the story. I carried ideas and stories that were related to Banksy’s involvement in Palestine and to the commodification of street art, while Marco was filming and looking at this story from his own point of view.

We traveled a lot and interviewed many people over a period of 5 years. In the end, we had enough footage to release 3 movies! While working on it our point-of-view on this story has totally changed. Looking at street art from a Palestinian point of view, while the Western art market was definitely consecrating it, gives you a totally different perspective on things.

The Man Who Stole Banksy

This is something that has also been fundamental for me as a curator, pushing me to a more radical attitude towards the commodification of street art. Between 2012 and 2017, while new self-proclaimed “museums” of street art were popping out everywhere, I started to think about what a museum of street art should be and if it makes sense to put street art into a museum. I was seeing many nice collections of well-hung canvases, but this way of building up a street art narrative seemed to me to be very reductive, in parallel of what we were doing within the movie.

This is how my role on this project has changed from being only an author, I became an actor in the role of the curator of the Bologna’s exhibition which became known worldwide due to the reaction of the artist Blu – who defaced his walls in the city in response. People have mainly focused on Blu’s reaction against the foundation that financed the show, without looking at what was happening inside the museum – as well as seeing the new street art narrative we were putting together.

The movie shows this story at the end, but such a topic is so powerful than it would be for the movie or another interview!

The Man Who Stole Banksy. (still from the movie)

BSA: The movie first appeared on the art film festival circuit a year ago. Now it is going to reach a far greater audience than that narrow selection of people. It more accurately mirrors the audience that street art is made for, no?

Christian Omodeo: Of course! We are happy to see the movie reaching a larger audience. This is what this movie was supposed to do since the beginning. We did not do it simply for a bunch of lazy ‘film buffs’ and festival “arty farties” as Filippo, who wrote the film with us, calls them. Unfortunately the movie industry has its own rules and once a producer and distributors come on board, you lose control of your work. Let’s hope that other platforms like Prime will distribute it in the future.

BSA: The story appears rather simple on the surface but then opens up to layers of complexity with themes of challenging power, revolution, commercialism, colonialism…  How has your perception of the film changed since you first made it?

Christian Omodeo: It has not changed at all. It’s normal to me – it took me less time and effort to discuss a Ph.D. at the Paris-Sorbonne University than to work on this movie. This is why, at the end of the process, we felt quite sure of our conclusions.

The Man Who Stole Banksy. (photo © Marco Proserpio)

What has totally changed however, it’s my personal and professional way of dealing with street art. Before my involvement with the movie, I was mostly dealing with its theoretical aspects. Today I am more focused on bringing these ideas into the real world, in taking real actions. These are things that I believe are always important to discuss. I’ve seen this clearly during some Q&A at some festivals – but we cannot just talk if we want to develop ways to work with a narrative around street art that doesn’t whitewash it. I’m working on a few projects right now. I hope to have some news soon to share.

Read more
“MARTHA: A Picture Story” Premieres at Tribeca. A Film By Selina Miles.

“MARTHA: A Picture Story” Premieres at Tribeca. A Film By Selina Miles.


BSA Exclusive Announcement
and interview with the director and the star of


MARTHA

A Picture Story

A Documentary by Selina Miles

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

BSA is proud to announce the world premiere of Selina Miles’ new full-length documentary on the life and career of New York photographer Martha Cooper at the Tribeca Film Festival next month.  Separated by four decades and an ocean or two, the Australian film director and the American photographer – each of whom has garnered serious respect in the myriad subcultures of art-in-the-streets with phenomenal storytelling abilities and an innate sense of timing – together land a remarkable film capturing life as a street-shooter, making the multi-chaptered story sing.

It is a fascinating visual sweep that illustrates the unusually gratifying paths that this ever-curious ethnologist charts on the streets (and below them) worldwide since receiving her first camera from her father at age three. The film is a well illustrated collage of a remarkable 70 plus year span showcasing Coopers’ 6th sense for people, urban culture, and burgeoning subculture. Viewers get to see the huge variety of interests she has investigated with amiable warmth and academic rigor – from the Peace Corps in Thailand to tattoos in Japan to graffiti train writing in New York to the daily lives of people in her native Baltimore.

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

With ample interviews and vintage video footage never seen before, “MARTHA: A Picture Story” follows Ms. Cooper across continents into the streets, through tunnels and over rooftops to provide illustrative background contexts for her decisions, her driving motivations, and her pure determination to succeed as a professional photographer – despite man-made and societal adversity.

We’ve been very fortunate to see this diamond of a documentary up close, and we can say that MARTHA is legitimate crowd-pleaser.

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

BSA spoke with Ms. Cooper and Ms. Miles for this auspicious announcement day about the new movie:

BSA: Your personal and professional history has often been about overcoming challenges and pushing aside barriers. Is there one new challenge you have gone beyond to participate fully in a documentary about you?
Martha Cooper: Well like most photographers, I’m more comfortable behind the camera than in front of it especially when speaking. I can’t say I’ve gotten good about overcoming being filmed, but I tried hard to give good footage.

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

BSA: One of the challenges of being a doc filmmaker is the number of hats you have to wear – sometimes perhaps feeling like you have to do everything yourself.  What did you discover about your preferred role/s on a film?
Selina Miles: Making a documentary is certainly a dynamic job and requires a mix of technical, social and creative skills. Learning from a photojournalist with 50 years experience such as Martha has been a wonderful experience. I started my career in video making by mucking around with friends making graffiti videos and shooting street art festivals, and the DIY spirit of both of these art forms really gave me an advantage on this project.

Not all directors know how to shoot or how to edit, but thanks to these early experiences I do know a little about all of these disciplines. Being able to just grab a camera and shoot, or to edit my own little concept videos was very handy in getting the project off the ground. That being said, being able to employ an amazing editor like Simon Njoo and having the mentorship of producers like Jennifer Peedom has also been a dream come true and really helped take this film to the next level. 

BSA: With the new documentary many people will learn about a more dimensional photographer than the one they most frequently associate with the name Martha Cooper. Why is this important?
Martha Cooper: I’m often called a graffiti, street art, or hip hop photographer but I don’t put myself into those categories. I would like people to understand that the common denominator in my choice of subjects is art in everyday life. I’m always looking for examples of how people are creative in their everyday lives. Graffiti is just one of many different examples.

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

BSA: Is there a special approach or formula that one tries to follow when making a story like this for a more general audience.
Selina Miles: I think that the interesting thing about this story, in particular, is that it explores a subculture that is so misunderstood by so many people. Everybody has seen graffiti and has an idea of what it is, but I still think that few people really understand why it exists and where it came from. There’s so many tropes and ideas about graffiti and those who practice it that are just plain wrong or oversimplify a very complex idea. It’s been an enjoyable and interesting challenge for me to unpack the facts and rules of this subculture as I see them, and step them out in a way that somebody completely new to the culture can understand and appreciate Martha’s story. 

BSA: Your photos capture a time and a moment and a technique of creation, but also often the more atmospheric and cultural energy of the street. What has drawn you time and again to capture this to share? Your own curiosity?
Martha Cooper: Not exactly. As you know, I like looking for things and collecting them. Photography is a challenging quest and taking a good photo is the reward. The nature of what I’m questing for can change according to time and place but in general, the world is more interesting to me if I have a camera. The possibility of photographing something makes me look at my surroundings with a keener eye than I would without a camera.

MARTHA: A Picture Story. A film by Selina Miles. (still from the movie)

BSA: Martha stood on the shoulders of feminists before her, yet blazed some paths that were very much her own – frequently without support. What is one lesson a younger person may take from Martha Cooper when they watch this movie?
Selina Miles: Marty often says that people today don’t understand what it took to survive as a freelancer in earlier decades, especially as a woman and I completely agree. It’s a common thing that you hear but it’s very true, we are lucky these days to live in a world so connected and relatively accepting of all kinds of races, ages and sexes. That being said, there’s always going to be a frontier, and I hope that young people watching Martha’s story will be inspired to push beyond that frontier in their own way, and not be held back by anybody’s expectations of who or what they should be. And do it all the time with a smile and a sense of humor! 


MARTHA: A Picture Story.

Premiering at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival, which takes place from April 24 – May 5th. Public tickets will go on sale on Tuesday March 26 at 11am ET. Tickets are extremely limited and we recommend purchasing tickets early.

https://www.tribecafilm.com/filmguide/

https://www.tribecafilm.com/festival/tickets

Hashtags: #marthathemovie

Film Instagram: @marthathemovie

Martha Cooper Instagram: @marthacoopergram

Director’s Instagram: @selinamiles

For screening dates and locations and to purchase tickets click HERE

Read more
“Punk and Graffiti”: Unlock & TAG 2018, Amsterdam : Javier Abarca Interview

“Punk and Graffiti”: Unlock & TAG 2018, Amsterdam : Javier Abarca Interview

Just completed this weekend in Amsterdam, a gathering of authors, readers, publishers, academics, and fans of graffiti and urban art all gathered in Amsterdam for the newest edition of the Unlock International Graffiti Publishing Fair and the TAG Conference.

Here graffiti and street art intersects with the world of publishing, specifically with books and zines and related obscure and/or scholarly publications known to relatively few. The list of publishers participating in this genre has steadily grown in the last few years to about 50 here; heavily Eurocentric at this point from countries like Netherlands, Russia, Germany, France, Australia, Japan, Czech Republic, the US and others.

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Previously hosted in Barcelona and Berlin, Unlock is coalescing around a growing interest in defining these movements from historical, artistic, and anthropological vantage points; documenting and even codifying an unruly canon of expression through discovery, sharing information, and teaching one another. Toward that end it also hosts talks, panels, and screenings – this weekend included speakers like Jens Besser, Suse Hansen, Hugo Kaagman, Carlo McCormick, and Diana Ozon,

Among the self-publishing authors represented at the fair this year are Adam Void and Chelsea Ragan, who have been operating a Graff Zine distribution / publishing house called Cut In The Fence. Mr. Void share’s with us today images of his new work, straight from the D.I.Y. / punk / cargo jumping scene that is always inter-marbled with graffiti and autonomous art making in the US, where he operates. Today we’re pleased to present a great interview with Mr. Void and Javier Abarca, the founder of Unlock, and who also is an artist, researcher, and educator.

TAG. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Ka-Tjun Hau)


Interview with Javier Abarca by Adam Void:

Adam Void: Javier, in your 12+ years as a researcher and educator of graffiti and street art, what brought you to founding the Unlock Book Fair & the Tag Conference?
Javier Abarca: There is a whole scene of independent publishers working with graffiti and related fields an there was no meeting space for it. The idea immediately caught on, which showed there was a need for it. We also use the fair platform to advance the research on neglected but fascinating topics within the field. Last year we focused on hobo graffiti, this year we are delving into punk graffiti. We gather and display rare books on the subject, program talks and screenings about it and publish a companion book with obscure documentation.

TAG. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Robin Vermeulen)

Adam Void:  How do you see the Unlock Book Fair differing from other zine fairs or celebrations of graffiti & street art?
Javier Abarca: Unlock is much like other book fairs, but it is focused on a particular field. It has little to do with other events related to graffiti and street art, which tend to focus on the production of commissioned artworks. Our job is independent research and documentation of furtive public art, mostly in the form of books and zines, but also screenings, talks, performances, etc.

Adam Void: This year’s showcase is focused on “Punk & Graffiti”, what are the core connected elements between these two cultures?
Javier Abarca: The core thread connecting punk and graffiti is of course the DIY ethics. Today graffiti has turned, to a great extent, into an act of consumption, but it used to be all about do-it-yourself. DIY is the defining quality of punk, of graffiti and of many other independent cultures.

Adam Void: Can you expand on this some? How do punk and traditional graffiti cultures exhibit the Do-It-Yourself ethos? What is the change you have seen in graffiti as of recent times?
Javier Abarca: Punk’s approach to creating music and graphic communication is of course quintessential DIY. And graffiti used to be that as well, kids had to find ways to hack the elements on hand –spraycans, markers, inks, the subway system– to create a fantastically visible city-wide graphic communications game starting from zero resources.

It is the specialized media –fanzines, then the internet– and the specialized market –with custom-made tools and materials of every kind– which have largely transformed graffiti from DIY to an act of consumption. People do not need to go out and seek the graffiti throughout the city to get inspired when a whole world of graphic references is just a few clicks away. And there is no more need to hack and customize tools –after learning how to do it from a mentor– when any specialized tool you can imagine is readily available and can be bought online.

TAG. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Robin Vermeulen)

Adam Void: Most of the publications in the showcase are centered on punk & graffiti history. What do you see as the future for this element of graffiti?
Javier Abarca: Punk graffiti is mostly a thing of the past. The focus of the two “Punk Graffiti Archives” books we have published for the fair are the punk-originated tagging scenes that thrived in Amsterdam and Madrid in the late 70’s and 80’s with barely any knowledge of what was happening in NYC. These are largely ignored cultural treasures. Both cultures disappeared when the NY tradition of graffiti took over European youth through the 80’s. Punks may still write on walls, but graffiti as a culture is dominated globally by the NY tradition.

Adam Void: Unlock has exhibitors from all over Europe (19 countries), as well as Japan & the US. What are the main similarities and differences in the publications exhibited across this wide sampling?
Javier Abarca: Each publication is a unique, fascinating world. But most publishers work from a similarly independent, even DIY position, even if they are based in different continents. This means the possibilities and limitations they face tend to be similar, which can translate into their approaches and results.

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Adam Void: Are there other continents, countries, or parts of the world that you would like to get involved with the Unlock Book Fair and the TAG Conference? If so, how should they get in touch for next year?
Javier Abarca: Both the Tag Conference and the Unlock Book Fair are meetups of the international global scenes of graffiti research and graffiti publishing. They could take place anywhere. People can get in touch via email at info@unlockfair.com, or through our Facebook and Instagram accounts @unlockfair and @thetagconference. We are in conversation with people from a number of cities in Europe and America who have expressed their interest in hosting the events.

Adam Void: Will you share an anecdote from the three-year history of the Unlock Book Fair that best exemplifies the spirit of the event?
Javier Abarca: That would be the cantina. A central feature of the fair is the cantina serving complimentary, communal meals to publishers, speakers and staff. It is run by Unlock team member Akim, the Berliner legend of graffiti, street art and underground mischief, whose cooking abilities are well known in the scene. One of the main goals of the yearly Unlock Book Fair is to be a meetup of the publishing scene, and the cantina is its social heart.

Apart from this, the hilarious and fascinating readings and performances by team member Dumar NovYork –the legendary NYC bomber– are probably the moments that best portray the spirit of the Unlock Book Fair: knowledgeable, but just as fun.

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. Carlo McCormick was in da house. (photo © Rebecca Schaefer)

Adam Void: What have you seen at this year’s fair that brings you excitement about the current state of graffiti publishing?
Javier Abarca: The graffiti publishing scene is growing stronger and more interesting. It would be fair to say the Unlock Book Fair is playing a key role in this, in Europe in particular. A number of publishers have mentioned how this yearly meeting has become a motivation to put out more and better work, and how they leave the fair inspired by the contact with so many books and publishers. People are coming from as far as Moscow, Montreal, New York, Sydney, São Paulo or Tokyo to present their books, to talk, or simply to attend the fair and the Tag Conference.

Adam Void: What is next for you in your personal exploration in the dusty corners of graffiti culture?
Javier Abarca: Next year’s Tag Conference will again create space for the the study of barely known forms of name writing. There is a list of obscure topics we want to explore in coming installments of the Unlock Book Fair. And I am working on a new groundbreaking international project that will create more opportunities for shedding light on overlooked topics which deserve more exposure among specialized audiences. Stay tuned!

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Max van Boxel)

Cut In The Fence. Adam Void’s Misadventures and Musings. Train Brain. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Adam Void’s Misadventures and Musings. Train Brain. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Adam Void’s Misadventures and Musings. Raider Pack. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Adam Void’s Misadventures and Musings. Raider Pack. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Fishglue & MTN NGC. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Fishglue & MTN NGC. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

Cut In The Fence. Fishglue & MTN NGC. Unlock Book Fair. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Adam Void)

 

Read more