Interviews

Brazil’s Mundano: “Operários de Brumadinho’’, Workers, and Loose Regulatory Environments / Dispatch From Isolation #13

Brazil’s Mundano: “Operários de Brumadinho’’, Workers, and Loose Regulatory Environments / Dispatch From Isolation #13

As reported this week “The Environmental Protection Agency announced a sweeping relaxation of environmental rules in response to the coronavirus pandemic, allowing power plants, factories and other facilities to determine for themselves if they are able to meet legal requirements on reporting air and water pollution.

This is called disaster capitalism. It’s an actual thing – first gaining notoriety perhaps in Naomi Klein’s book “The Shock Doctrine”.

It involves taking advantage of a monstrous shock to our social and economic system while we are too preoccupied to stop them. People behind corporations actually “game” the future like this – methodically planning to force through changes to society that they always wanted but couldn’t find an acceptable justification for while you were looking. A crime committed right under your nose – while you are worrying about losing your job or paying your rent or your grandma getting sick from Covid-19.

Mundano. Brumadinho. Vale do Rio Doce/Paraopeba River, Brazil (photo © André D’elia)

In the case of today’s story of a Brazillian Street Artist named Mundano, the earth, and soil that he used to paint his new mural comes from the region destroyed by a dam break of toxic sludge last January. With hundreds of townspeople and workers swept away by tens of millions of tons of toxic sludge and earth, the people of the area held searches for weeks after and had public meetings full of accusations and fury.  They also had funerals.

A similar dam owned by the same company had failed only three years earlier, and many more dams like this are holding immense reservoirs, or poison underground lakes, across Brazil – each potentially breaking apart and poisoning land, water, wildlife, and communities for decades after.  

Mundano. Brumadinho. Vale do Rio Doce/Paraopeba River, Brazil (photo © André D’elia)

Mundano’s mural honors the workers killed in this man-made environmental disaster and he tells us that the 800 square meter piece references another painting Brazillian modernist called Tarsila do Amaral. Painted in 1933, her work titled “The Factory Workers,” depicts a sea of stern faces with gray clouds rising from factory smokestacks in the background. Mundano says he’s proud of his mural, of the mini-documentary here, and of his neighbors and country people who have raised attention to a situation that appears corrupt, and well, toxic to life.

Mundano. Brumadinho. Vale do Rio Doce/Paraopeba River, Brazil (photo © André D’elia)

“In January 2019, Brazil has suffered one of the worse environmental crimes of its history,” says Mundano, “when Vale do Rio Doce’s mining dam broke, contaminating the Paraopeba River with a sea of toxic mud, and killing everything that was in the way, including almost 300 people who lost their lives that day,” he tells us. We talk to him about artists using their work to educate and raise awareness to advocate for political or social change, a term often today called ‘artivism’.

Brooklyn Street Art: With reason, there’s a lot of anger against the government and the owners of the mine about this fatal catastrophe. How did you get involved?
Mundano: The environmental and social causes are a big part of my activism or artivism, and I’ve always been a critic of the exploitation of lands for mining purposes. We have over 200 mining dams operating today in Brazil under the risk of breaking. In the last four years we had two of the biggest catastrophes of our country, both in the state of Minas Gerais; Mariana in 2017 and most recently in  2019 in the city of Brumadinho, where a “tsunami” of toxic mud contaminated the Paraopeba river with 12.7 million cubic meters of sludge, dragging everything that was on the way, including almost 300 people who lost their lives.

Mundano. Brumadinho. Vale do Rio Doce/Paraopeba River, Brazil (photo © André D’elia)

As an artivist it is really important for me to be present and see what happened with my own eyes, feel the pain of the victim’s families, follow closely to the inquiry and use the platform and reach that I have as an artist to help these people find justice, and most importantly to put pressure on governments and big companies so that they’re held accountable, preventing this from happening again. 

Brooklyn Street Art: What is the role of an artist should be in his/her community? Should art respond to social needs? 
Mundano: For over 13 years now, I’ve been practicing artivism in several cities across the globe. My actions and the art I create need to have a bigger purpose. For me, art has the power of bringing reflection into society and impact people’s lives, make them think and reflect on their part in society. That’s how I see my art and how I believe I can contribute to bigger causes. I wouldn’t say it’s every artist obligation, but with these huge global challenges naturally we’re gonna need to become more artivists. 

Mundano. Brumadinho. Vale do Rio Doce/Paraopeba River, Brazil (photo © André D’elia)

Brooklyn Street Art: The community felt betrayed and abandoned by those who were supposed to protect them. How did they get the strength to rise up and fight in the middle of their pain?
Mundano: I can’t speak for them but I feel that they don’t have other options than to fight for their rights. Brazilians are quite resistant to adversities by nature. One of the main subjects of my work is the cactus, a plant that, like a big portion of our population, survives with little and still manages to share beauty with flowers to the world. It is hard to see a whole city and it’s people destroyed by such a horrible crime, yet, it was such a strong image to watch mothers, wives, sons, daughters, and friends united, marching a year later, screaming for justice, not giving up on the memories of their loved ones. That gave me strength and inspired me to create my biggest and most important work up until today to honor them. 

Mundano. Brumadinho. Vale do Rio Doce/Paraopeba River, Brazil (photo © André D’elia)

Brooklyn Street Art: Your mural honors and remember those whose lives were lost. Yet there’s some poetic beauty in it with the pigments you used to paint it. You made the paint from the sediment in the river and the earth around it. What were your feelings as you were painting these people faces these materials?
Mundano: The whole process of collecting the mud from the lakebed of Paraopeba River was delicate. I felt the need to talk to residents, local activists, and the families. It was important that I had their consent and that they understood my intentions. The mural was a way of keeping the subject alive, and to honor them in one of the biggest cities in the world, Sao Paulo. I believe that the respect I’ve shown was recognized as I started to receive messages from Brumadinho’s residents about the video, thanking me for the painting, and for me, that’s the biggest recognition of all, it made it all worth it.

Mundano. Brumadinho. Vale do Rio Doce/Paraopeba River, Brazil (photo © @offlimitsbrasil)
Mundano. Brumadinho. Vale do Rio Doce/Paraopeba River, Brazil (photo © André D’elia)

Film by André D’elia

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ROA and Martha Cooper in Puerto Rico: Dispatches from the Island

ROA and Martha Cooper in Puerto Rico: Dispatches from the Island

Puerto Rico, “La Perla del Mar” (The Pearl of the Sea) Or “La Isla Bonita” (The Beautiful Island”) had a huge earthquake on January 7 and many vital services and systems have not been restored, causing 8,000 people to be homeless and 40,000 to camp outside of their homes, according to rescue agencies. The power plant that supplies a quarter of their needs is still shut down.

ROA. Hawksbill Sea Turtle. Puerto Rico. 2020 (photo © Martha Cooper)

Given those challenges to humans, you don’t usually think about the animals who live on the island.

But ROA does.

The urban naturalist has long championed the marginalized animals of any culture, and since the Belgian Street Artist has basically made Puerto Rico his second home, it is no surprise that he has painted a number of the island’s animals on run-down, neglected structures to remind neighbors who their neighbors really are.

ROA. Octopus. Puerto Rico. 2020 (photo © Martha Cooper)

Globe exploring photographer Martha Cooper was in Puerto Rico for other pursuits this January and managed to meet up with a number of ROA’s more recent friends on her journey.

We were lucky to speak to ROA to ask him about his new pieces and his affinity for the people and climate of Puerto Rico and here we share his responses along with Ms. Coopers’ photos with BSA readers.

ROA. Flying fish. Puerto Rico. 2020 (photo © Martha Cooper)

BSA: There have been a few major natural disasters in Puerto Rico recently. First the hurricane and most recently the earthquake. What sort of negative impact do these natural disasters have on the fauna in Puerto Rico? Are the resources in Puerto Rico available to help the animal species that are in danger?
ROA: Undeniably, the island was hit by the disaster, but to tell exactly how great the impact is on the fauna is difficult to estimate.  For example; the local green Puerto Rican parrot that was listed as critically endangered for many years and whereof were only 200 left, most of these were reintroduced in El Yunque Rain Forest as result of a recovery plan, but the hurricane completely blew out the population and we are back to point zero, and almost no PR parrot has been seen in El Yunque since then.  Recently I’ve read they released 30 parrots out of captive conservation programs into the El Yunque rainforest.

ROA. Red-Tailed Hawk. Puerto Rico. 2020 (photo © Martha Cooper)

BSA: Speaking of the impact that natural disasters have on animals, would you say that the largest disaster that animals face is the humans and their disdain for the preservation and the protection of our natural resources?

ROA: Of course, the greatest threat on earth for nature and all animal species, is humanity. Though we are also animals. For example, Puerto Rico: from the moment people arrived on the island the number of animal species declined dramatically and when the Europeans arrived; the original ecosystem became completely destroyed: lost natural habitat and the introduction of cattle, etc.

ROA. Lion Fish. Puerto Rico. 2020 (photo © Martha Cooper)

BSA: Are these new paintings on walls part of a personal project and if so could you talk a bit about it?
ROA: My love for Puerto Rico started when I was invited by Alexis Dias en Celso for Los Muros Hablan in 2012. I returned in 2015 for an art residency organized by JUST KIDS in San Juan and this resulted in a very long residency and during that period I painted my first walls on the island and that’s how I got stuck in Puerto Rico, and that’s super great! So, since the beginning, I started to paint around in different places on the island and in San Juan, and this project is naturally grown out of road tripping, painting and meeting Stefan from Elegel in 2018 by painting the Red-Tailed Hawk in Humacao (Grita Walls).

ROA. Puerto Rican Boa in collaboration with JustKids. Puerto Rico. 2020 (photo © Martha Cooper)

Stefan started helping me with getting around the island and to gather material in order to do this, somewhat a very natural project arose, that now just gets more site-specific over the island in a way that actually ties together all the different places in Puerto Rico where introduced, non-introduced and endangered animals are living, so that’s how we came across the people from “Recursos Naturales y Ambientales’, an organization that saves manatees and sea turtles… so it’s a naturally grown project started out loving being in Puerto Rico, and about being much into road trips!

ROA. Sea Horse. Puerto Rico. 2020 (photo © Martha Cooper)

BSA: For an artist and specifically for you and your work what are the advantages of living in a country with year-round sunshine and nice weather?
ROA: I consider Puerto Rico one of the places I call home. I spend time during the year there to relax between certain intense projects and meanwhile, I can go snorkeling, go scuba diving, and paint around any moment of the year. So that’s the advantage of good weather, so it allows you to be and paint outside, so you don’t have to deal with a “winter”, not in a European way where you get obliged to spend much of your time inside, and I am just happier outside.

ROA. Tiger Shark. Puerto Rico. 2020 (photo © Martha Cooper)

BSA: Have you found the people in Puerto Rico to be helpful with your work?
ROA: Los Muros Hablan, Alexis Dias and Celso, Charlotte from JustKids who brought me here, and now with the help of Stefan Lang (Elegel) and the new art residency, I definitely have felt support in Puerto Rico. Puerto Ricans are very warm and jovial people and it has a unique ambiance.

ROA. Rhesus Monkey. Puerto Rico. 2020 (photo © Martha Cooper)
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Dont Fret BK Studio Visit/BedStuy Art Residency: Sausages, Lotto Cards, and “Springfield, Springfield!”

Dont Fret BK Studio Visit/BedStuy Art Residency: Sausages, Lotto Cards, and “Springfield, Springfield!”

“Sociologist, psychiatrist, and anthropologist – probably in that order – DONT FRET is more invested than you may appreciate at first, and the underside of American division and inequality bubbles quickly to the surface when he is asked if the country is beyond class.

“Whoever is saying that clearly has the luxury to do so. Look at our cities,” he says.


~ Steven P. Harrington in the introduction to DONT FRET’s monograph, “Life Thus Far”


Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

His Brooklyn residency has been a blur full of old buds from college, new bars in Bedstuy, and of course, sausage makers. He stands in the middle of an artist’s hazard zone of crumpled paper, opened pots of paint, and discarded laundry with brush poised in hand describing his recent quandary about finding a meat mecca in Bushwick and realizing that he couldn’t buy everything he saw once he spoke to the owner.

“She just started her own sausage company and we definitely want to do collaborations,” he says. “There were so many sausages at her place that I wanted to buy.” So you know he’s feeling comfortable here, surrounded by fine meats.

Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

His characters are all here, wondering aloud about physical insecurities and decoding social navigation; cryptically critiquing the absurdities of our class system and the underlying savagery of corporate capital and the perverting power of cloying advertising across the culture. In so many words.

Some hand-painted posters are still wet, some boards for future magazine covers (Thrasher, Sportsball Weekly, The New Yorker) have backgrounds prepared for him to paint featured personalities, a scattered pile of painted lottery players are grinning gamely from shiny Lotto cards, and larger new canvasses are built up with dense color and swarming symbols that dance around the heads of his imagined sitters.

Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“In this kind of stuff I wouldn’t say it’s autobiographical but they are definitely my generation of people navigating the city, looking at life and nightlife,” he says as you look into the rolling eyes of figures that have transformed into slot machines, perhaps hoping to win the jackpot. He points to his enthrallment with “The Simpsons” as he grew up and sees the bewildered savviness of the players in himself and in most of his peers as they navigate “adulting”. It’s chaos, but an entertaining one.

“There are clips of the Simpsons that go around in my head again and again,” he says. “There is one with Bart and Millhouse find twenty dollars and they get a Super Squishy, which is basically a crack squishy, and they go on this bender,” which makes him laugh. He turns to the blottoed bloke on his new canvas and describes the scene.

Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“It’s like a song and dance. They’re singing (and he breaks into singing) Springfield! Springfield! It’s a helluva town! – and there is this scene of them wandering Springfield,” he says.

You can see this is a stand-in for this month in the BK in this case and DONT FRET’s active imagination about the lore of this dirty metropolis. “You see this neon popping up, and the animation just swirls. And then it just wakes up to Bart, hungover in bed.”

“I don’t know, I always just like those images. For me, these are like Brooklyn and Manhattan,” he says with glassy star-struck dizziness in his eyes.

Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Catch DONT FRET tonight at his opening at the Bedstuy Artists Residency, and you can swirl around colorfully with other symbols of this time, and this electrified city full of promise.  BSA co-founder will be there to sign his introduction essay inside fresh copies of “Life Thus Far”, DONT FRET’s giant new monograph.

A hummus plate is promised.

Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Dont Fret. Studio Visit. BedStuy Art Residency. January 2020. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Thank you to Kathy, Erwin, and Marshall at the BedStuy Art Residency for your love and support to the arts. Always.

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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)
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“JR: Chronicles” Revels in His Explorations at Brooklyn Museum

“JR: Chronicles” Revels in His Explorations at Brooklyn Museum

A retrospective at Brooklyn Museum currently showcases the photographic works and public projects envisioned and created by French Street Artist JR. Covering roughly two decades of work, JR: Chronicles dedicates an in-depth examination into his practices and personal philosophies when creating – as evidenced by this collection of his murals, photographs, videos, films, dioramas, and archival materials.

JR. 28 Millimètres, Portrait d’une génération, Braquage (Holdup), Ladj Ly, 2004
JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
(For more information please see image description A below)

His most recent and one of his most original ideas has been to use the techniques of professional film compositing to impart a permanent, living aura for what may otherwise be static collaged works. With high res digital works working in concert, the life of the subject takes on an additional dimension, juxtaposed as it is with other figures they may or may not have ever interacted with.

JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Often in these recent projects you have the opportunity to see and/or hear personal recordings of the person through interviews for the piece. The centerpiece and partial namesake of this show is the new large-scale mural of more than one thousand New Yorkers whom he chose to feature, accompanied by audio recordings of each person’s story as told to him and his team.

JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR found this camera in the Paris Métro and began taking pictures of graffiti artists in the tunnels and on the roofs of Paris.

Many of these concepts and philosophical observations, including sociopolitical commentary on a number of hot-button issues of the day, may feel familiar to fans and Street Artists around the world – particularly over the last decade and a half. Here you can see that with the number of resources and teams that he can amass, JR is able to create the ideas with a sense of largesse and garner greater audiences, putting many of his works before many more.

Epic is a word often used to describe the projects, and when you see the JR: Chronicles exhibition you can understand why.

JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)

We spoke with the curators of the exhibition Sharon Matt Atkins and Drew Sawyer about their experience with this exhibition and how JR is defining new areas of photography with his use of it in public space.

Brooklyn Street Art: JR created a new digital collage for this exhibition featuring a thousand or so people individually interviewed and photographed. Can you tell us about what criterion he used for selecting his subjects?
Sharon Matt Atkins: JR’s main focus was on capturing the rich diversity of New York City. As such, he photographed people in all five boroughs of the city, including many neighborhoods that were new to him. While he did invite some guests to participate, most of the people were passersby, or business owners and workers of local stores.

JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: It may be that there has been a return to black and white photography in the last decade – so much so that one may not register the significance that JR employs it for expression almost exclusively. How do you think the limited palette aids his work in telling his narratives?
Drew Sawyer: In many ways, JR’s use of black and white photographs is in direct opposition to contemporary photojournalism and the digital circulation is images. His close-up portraits may recall the work of earlier documentarians, such as Gordon Parks and Dorothea Lange in the United States, but JR’s decision to print them on inexpensive paper and paste them nearby counters they ways in which images often circulate in the global media far away from the places where his collaborators live. Also, the monochromatic images certainly stand out against the colorful built environments in which JR typically installs them.

JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
(For more information please see image description B below)

Brooklyn Street Art: As you deeply analyzed his career and its various phases, what would you say is one of the through-lines that you see in his practice as it evolved?
Sharon Matt Atkins: Our show is centered on his projects that have been created in collaboration with communities. From his earliest photographs documenting his graffiti writer friends to Inside Out with more than 400,000 participants in 141 countries to his most recent mural The Chronicles of New York City, JR has sought to give visibility to those often underrepresented or misrepresented.

JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: How has JR used his work in a new way that may prove to be inspiring to photographers and fans of photography?
Drew Sawyer: For JR, photography is just one part of his collaborative process. His work is really about bringing people together, lifting the voices of others who rarely have control over their own representation, countering narratives in the global media, and shifting the discourse around specific issues and events. He started his practice before there were social media apps like Instagram, which now provide platforms for many people to do the same in a digital form. Since then, JR has explored how new technologies can help him tell and share more stories. I hope his process inspires other artists to use photography in similar and new ways.



JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
(For more information please see image description below)

“Since 2017 JR has been creating participatory murals inspired by the work of the Mexican painter Diego Rivera in the first half of the twentieth century. In the summer of 2018, JR and his team spent a month roaming all five boroughs of New York City, parking their 53- foot-long trailer truck in numerous locations and taking photographs of passersby who wished to participate. Each was photographed in front of a green screen, and then the images were collaged into a New York City setting featuring architectural landmarks. More than a thousand people were photographed for the resulting mural, The Chronicles of New York City. The participants chose how they personally wanted to be represented and were asked to share their stories, which are now available on a free mobile app.”

– text courtesy Brooklyn Museum

JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
(See image description below)

“In January 2009 JR carried out another iteration of Women Are Heroes in Kibera, Kenya, one of the largest slums in Africa. Following close dialogue with the community, JR covered rooftops with water-resistant vinyl printed with photographs of the eyes and faces of local women. The images both transformed the landscape and provided protection from the rain.

The train that ran along the Kibera line was also covered with photographs of the eyes of women who lived directly below, and images of the lower halves of their faces were pasted on the slope beneath the tracks so that as the train passed, their faces were completed for a few seconds. The idea was to celebrate, or at the very least to acknowledge their presence.
Of his projects, JR has said, ‘I search with my art to install the work in improbable places, to create with the communities projects that promote questioning. . . and to offer alternative images to those of the global media.’ ”

– text courtesy Brooklyn Museum

JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)

(See image description below)

“On October 8, 2017, for the last day of the Kikito installation at the U.S.-Mexico border, JR organized a gigantic picnic on both sides of the wall. Kikito, his family, and dozens of guests came from the United States and Mexico to share a meal. People at both sides of the border gathered around the eyes of Mayra, a ‘Dreamer,’ eating the same food, sharing the same water, and enjoying the same live music (with half the band’s musicians playing on either side). “

– text courtesy Brooklyn Museum

JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. JR: Chronicles. Brooklyn Museum. Brooklyn, NY (photo © Jaime Rojo)
JR. Inside Out Project. A woman takes a selfie after she completed the process of having her portrait taken at the mobile Inside Out Photo Truck stationed just outside the Museum during the opening night. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

JR: Chronicles is curated by Sharon Matt Atkins, Director of Exhibitions and Strategic Initiatives, and Drew Sawyer, Phillip Leonian and Edith Rosenbaum Leonian Curator, Photography, Brooklyn Museum. This exhibition is now open to the public. Click HERE for dates, times and directions.



Image Description A (see earlier in article)
“As the first photograph in what would become JR’s Portrait of a Generation, this image launched his career. The series was initiated when Ladj Ly, a filmmaker, and resident of Cité des Bosquets (called “Les Bosquets”), a public housing complex in the Parisian suburb of Montfermeil, invited JR to collaborate on a project in the neighborhood.

JR said of the image: ‘I took this picture when I was eighteen. It was the first time I went to Les Bosquets. If you look carefully in the back, you can see small posters from Expo 2 Rue—and I wrote ‘Expo D Boske.’ The kids asked me if I could take a picture of them. This photo of Ladj Ly filming me was the first one on the roll of film, and I felt something special had happened. This image is very emblematic of my work and of the message of this project with Ladj.’

This photograph was also the first large-scale image that JR and his friends wheat-pasted in the neighborhood prior to the riots there in 2005. It appeared as the backdrop in photographs accompanying newspaper articles and television footage about the uprising, thereby becoming JR’s first published work. “

– text courtesy Brooklyn Museum


Image Description B (see earlier in article)
“In 2013 JR learned that the housing towers in Les Bosquets were going to be demolished, so he revisited the Portrait of a Generation project. Using images from the original series, he and a team pasted portraits in the building before it was destroyed. He recalled, ‘We couldn’t get authorization to paste inside. So we got plans from the former inhabitants, and we entered at night, twenty-five of us, and spread out over all the different floors. We pasted eyes in someone’s kitchen, a nose in someone else’s bathroom, and a mouth in a living room. . . . When we came down, the police arrested us, but they couldn’t understand why we had just spent hours in this building that was about to be destroyed. The pastings were so big that they couldn’t see what they were. The next day, when workers started the demolition, the portraits were revealed, little by little, while the cranes were ‘eating’ the building. Only the people who were in the neighborhood that day witnessed the gigantic spectacle unfold.’ “

– text courtesy Brooklyn Museum

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Little Ricky Takes Ewe to the Streets of NYC with Anna, Keith and SHEEP

Little Ricky Takes Ewe to the Streets of NYC with Anna, Keith and SHEEP

Little Ricky thinks Anna Wintour is someone important whom people consider significant or iconic in popular culture, which is already a humorous supposition. In his multiple street iterations of the fashion editor, he has dressed her as a sheep in Chanel, as a sheep in boxing gloves with Andy Warhol (replacing Basquiat), as an American Express fashion gladiator in stickers and wheat pastes on the Streets of New York.

Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Each tiny episode of his ongoing SHEEP series may bring a perplexed smile to the average person who is looking at them while waiting for the traffic lights to change. In the case of the Wintour character preaching and prognosticating and posing, an insider joke that appeals to the fashion gatekeepers in this city, of which many have self-appointed. The question you may ask is, who’s the sheep, who’s the shepard.

A Street Art icon/brand in the making, Little Ricky’s talisman-woman of a candy pink sheep character inhabits the new strata of 20-teens Street Art that reflects the ease of social media commentary here grafted onto actual walls, the fascination we have with visually sampling pop cultural references, and the time-honored practice of lampooning with absurdity. A California-based Gen X Street Artist with uncommon discipline and work ethos in his practice, Little Ricky has been studying, developing, archiving, formulating his campaigns in the Street and gallery for the better part of a decade now.

Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Recently in New York to sample the late-summer fragrance potpurri of pot, urine, and Italian sausages on the streets of Lower Manhattan, BSA had an opportunity to chat with Little Ricky one night when we were gallery hopping with a buddy.  He talked about new art on lightposts and guard-rails, the nature of his one-off comical creations, and his deep desire to launch a Keith Haring show here next year using his ewe-inspired interpretations of Harings work and life.

Brooklyn Street Art: We’ve seen many Anna Wintour pieces recently by you on the street. How does the muse find you?
Little Ricky: I never imagined that I’d be spending a year working with Anna as my muse. It’ll be weird once the year comes to an end. But I know that SHEEP will continue to surprise me and Anna will most likely keep popping up in my work. The connection will always be there.

Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)

She can find me on IG. But, since she doesn’t have a personal IG account, I hashtag her name #ANNAWINTOUR and I tag @voguemagazine. Maybe one of her PA’s will get the word out to her. A few months ago, I even sent her a large pink manilla envelope with a SHEEP zine/bio and stickers too. Whether she ever received it is another story.  I don’t expect to hear from her, but I have a feeling that our paths may cross at some point. Either way, our stars are crossed, at least in my head.

Brooklyn Street Art: People are sheep, aren’t they? 
Little Ricky: I’d like to think that we’re all sheep but without the negative connotations. Sure we can all follow along with the masses, or maybe not fit in, but at some point we all crave to be ourselves as we are. At the heart and soul of SHEEP is that we’re ALL different. When Alexander McQueen referred to himself as a ‘pink sheep’ I understood that he was making a comment not only on his sexuality, but more importantly on the idea that he was different from even the black sheep. Reading that sentence in his biography altered the course of my life and is what inspired SHEEP.

Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)

After 51 years of life and almost 7 years of working on the series, I’ve learned this. (See if you can follow along or if it makes some sense) Being born is what we ALL have in common. Yet at that moment no one ever has or ever will be identical. In one moment we’re connected and different at the same time. We then spend a lifetime searching for meaning/purpose. The secret- to learn, embrace, and honor all those many little things about ourselves that make us…ME! When we do so, we go back to that moment of connection. So yea we’re all sheep finding our way back to an essence of being. 

Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Can you talk about your feelings toward Keith Haring and the impression he and his work made on you? 
Little Ricky: I feel a deep connection to Keith. It goes beyond being inspired by him. I feel him alongside me like he’s guiding me along. I first came across his work in the late ’80s. The simplicity of his images struck some magic in my soul. They still do. They felt familiar. Until now, I didn’t realize that Keith’s passing in February of 1990 coincided with my coming out the month before. Weird! Maybe he passed the torch along. My first boyfriend who I met in January of 1990 even drove Keith around SF the year before. I wasn’t into the art scene in any way, but I started taking art classes while at UC Berkeley. I imitated his lines and figures, but there was no ‘me’ in what I was creating.

Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)

With SHEEP, almost 30 years later, I can see his influence in my work, always will. But now I know, that I’m creating a world of my own with a little touch of his magic. It’s been an effortless process. For that, I give some credit to Keith. When the idea for SHEEP came to mind in 2013, I didn’t know what I’d be creating. I purchased a toy sheep and started doodling. After a while, a shape took form and it looked familiar like I had seen it before.

Thinking about this now, I realize that it was like finding my own Haring ‘baby.’ I wasn’t looking for it, but when I saw it, I knew it was the beginning of everything. P.S. Last year in May, I did a 31-day study I called SHEEPDOG. Each day, I painted an image combining Keith’s dog and my SHEEP. I was surprised that I hadn’t thought of it earlier. It was magical seeing it evolve. 

Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Recently Dusty Rebel has been traveling around the world speaking with and filming Street Artists from the GLBTQ community. Why is it important to know if a graffiti writer or Street Artist is GLBTQ?
Little Ricky: As I get older, labels have become less important. I jokingly tell my sister that I’m the ‘+’ in the GLBTQ+ If I’m to label myself, it’s definitely queer over gay. I like qweirdo even better! When I started the series, I assumed the street art community was a bunch of heterosexual males. Other than the names Bansky and Shepard Fairey, I knew nothing about it. Knowing that the SHEEP were queer, I felt some hesitation about how the community would embrace them.

Unknowingly, I’d even censor myself so that they weren’t too ‘gay.’ That all changed after the Orlando shootings when I was reminded of the importance of living out loud and proud. But once I started meeting the artists, I came to find out that no one cared about how I identified or if the sheep were gay or not. All that mattered was that I was getting up and they loved what I was doing. Meeting all these artists, queer or not, has been one of the greatest parts of working on SHEEP. So, it’s not so much about knowing who’s queer or not, because in the end, we’re all doing the same thing. But thanks to Dusty, there’s a new found community.

Once I started, other than HomoRiot, I wasn’t aware of anyone else. It took me a few years before we eventually met up. Now, I have a new community of peeps that I get to call friends. I’m excited to meet many more along the way. I feel grateful to Dusty and all his work. He’s shedding light on an untold story and the many artists who often go unrecognized. It’s like the M&M commercial- we do exist!  

Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: Which city is more fun for Street Art right now? 
Little Ricky: As much as I love my beloved city of LA, I feel like I’m living ‘in’ art when I’m in NYC. Art’s everywhere! Aside from SHEEP, walking is a great passion and there’s no better city than NY to combine my two loves. When I was there recently, I put in 20 miles in one day. The opportunity to paste-up SHEEP is everywhere and anywhere. LA’s different that way. Even though I do walk a lot and I paste-up wherever I go, it’s not the same. It’s very random. Plus you’re not going to see my work whiledriving aroundd. SHEEP is definitely for the pedestrian and NY is the perfect place. Initially, I thought my little SHEEP would get lost in it all, but came to find out that New Yorkers do pay attention while walking.

When it comes to the queer art community, street or not, I often wondered if my work didn’t fit in because it wasn’t erotic or specifically depicting a ‘queer’ image/message. But I now know, that regardless, they’re queer and they’re pink! It’s in the heart and soul of the each SHEEP. Whether this is conveyed when coming across my work is not as important as the feeling you have when seeing them. Feel the JOY! 

Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: In what way is your work political? Is it commentary? Critique?
Little Ricky: This was a tough question. I don’t see it as being overtly political or even commentary. There are some pieces that may be so, but overall they’re expressions of joy. I keep it simple. If you smile or laugh out loud when finding my pieces on the street, I know I’ve done my job. I often laugh out loud when creating them. There’s such silliness. For example, the idea of Anna Wintour as a pink sheep in roller skates makes me laugh. When I began the series, they started off as ‘gay’ sheep and now they’re more a symbol about a feeling. 

I’ve always felt different, it goes beyond my sexuality. As I age, I feel more and more different. And the more different I feel, the more connected I am. So the SHEEP being out and about, regardless of the character or message, are a symbol of that feeling that we all feel. Being different, feeling different is a beautiful thing! 

Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Little Ricky (photo © Jaime Rojo)
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Paul Harfleet: “The Pansy Project” is Evergreen in New York

Paul Harfleet: “The Pansy Project” is Evergreen in New York

This week the US Supreme Court is hearing arguments about the legality of job discrimination against LGBT people and Paul Harfleet is on the ground planting pansies to draw attention to a different kind of discrimination that some LGBT people meet on the street nearly every day.


Banner Image. Detail. “Nice-Shoes-Faggot!” For Alain Brosseau. Alexandra Bridge. Ottawa, Canada. (photo © Paul Harfleet)


A unique private/public protest/memorial to raise awareness since 2005, the founder of The Pansy Project has planted the namesake flower, in some circles a pejorative term against gay boys and men, in thousands of locations around the world to commemorate a place where violence or intimidation toward LGBT people took place.  Where it is difficult to find a good place to plant or to buy live pansies the gifted illustrationist simply paints one.

Paul Harfleet. “Marsha P. Johnson”. The Pansy Project. Greenwich Village, NYC. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

Understated and symbolic, the political and personal Street Art act bears witness to the brothers and sisters and others who society fucks with because they don’t fit traditional expectations of gender conformity. After nearly a decade and half, Paul says he will keep doing this work until it’s not necessary. You’ll probably need to help.

Recently we spent time with him on his visit to New York, watching him plant pansies and asking him questions about his practice.

Paul Harfleet. The Pansy Project. Central Park, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: When we think of monuments to historical events we often place them in locations that correlate with things that happened there. Can you talk about the similarities that this act of planting an ephemeral flower has to huge hulking brass statues in recalling our feeling and our memories?

Paul Harfleet: When I began to think about how to respond to my experiences of homophobia on the streets, I became interested in the particular nature of my memories of these attacks, they were rapid and fleeting and therefore I felt my response should be temporary and non-permanent. It felt archaic and overly municipal to begin making ‘permanent’ memorials to my own relatively minor attacks. A small unmarked living plant would add to the conversation, the flower could live and grow as I do through my experience. A tiny pop of color, unsanctioned by the city would reflect my own apparently illicit position in the urban environment.

Paul Harfleet. “We Kill a Faggot!”. The Pansy Project. Central Park, NYC. 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

I’m interested in how ‘permanent’ memorials became invisible over time*, their meanings sink into the fabric of the city, they become street furniture, their significance evaporates over time, unless they’re re-activated by an occasion or anniversary. Particularly when flowers are placed at war memorials, this and floral road-side memorials are echoed in The Pansy Project.

The exact location was loaded for me, so it was essential that each place should be altered by my intervention, it’s this that transformed how I remembered the streets. The ritual of planting a pansy has become a performative reparation on the street.

Brooklyn Street Art: Do you know of someone else who was inspired by your project and began a new one of their own?

Paul Harfleet. The Pansy Project. Alphabet City, NYC. 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Paul Harfleet: It’s difficult to know if and how my work has inspired others. I know that people have planted pansies to mark their own experiences of homophobia and I’m aware of some students that have made very different work that has been informed by The Pansy Project which is humbling. 

I am aware of other actions that explore homophobia, I was touched by the work of Nando Messias, “Sissy’s Progress” is a performance where the artist revisited the location they were attacked with a marching band, though I don’t think they were informed by the project, I enjoy the absurdity of the response to homophobia, which in itself is an absurd reaction to difference. 

Brooklyn Street Art: In the US we have had a serious and fiery debate about historical memorials that glorify a period of racism, a sort of glorification of figures who championed racism. How does our perception change when we learn about the significance of location and events that took place there?

Paul Harfleet: This has been an fascinating debate, it challenges the idea of a memorial becoming invisible*, this is an example of the memorial being re-activated by context. I think it’s invaluable to have these discussions. It’s a shame that the debate seems to be so binary; keep or destroy. As an artist I would be interested in reinvigorating these memorials rather than removing them.

Paul Harfleet. “Pride Flag Spat On”. The Pansy Project.
The Albatross, NYC. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

The fact they celebrate the achievements of a racist society should not be forgotten, it should in my opinion be remembered and challenged through art and education, small additions or amendments to these memorials could re-contextualise their meaning, there is an opportunity here to allow these memorials to a racist culture to become something that acknowledges the behavior of previous generations and act as a warning to future ones. We only have to look at the fragility of human rights at the moment to know how important it is to retain knowledge of previous injustices. 

Brooklyn Street Art: When one considers the long period that this campaign has persisted, you may wonder how Paul Harfleet continues to have enthusiasm for it. Do you ever lose interest? What inspires you to get back to planting pansies after you discontinue for a while?

Paul Harfleet: I’ve been working with The Pansy Project for almost fifteen years, for me the repetition is vitally important for how the work is read. Everyday someone is experiencing homophobia or transphobia, whether it’s micro-agression, government sanctioned or the most violent of murders, it’s always happening, so I feel I have a responsibility to continue using my art to highlight this injustice.

Paul Harfleet. “Kevin”. The Pansy Project. Alphabet City, NYC. 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

I’m not completely altruistic, I do have to maintain my own interest, through the project I’ve explored various ways of working from garden, jewellery and merchandise design to the writing and illustrating of a book; Pansy Boy that reveals The Pansy Project in a completely different way, most recently I’ve been exploring painting the pansies on walls where homophobia has happened.

All of these actions keep me interested. I am always trying to take the ‘perfect’ picture and document my work in new ways. I’m inspired by artists that work in very similar ways their whole careers, Sean Scully speaks about repetition; ‘I want to express that we live in a world with repetitive rhythms and that things are existing side by side that seem incongruous or difficult.’

Paul Harfleet. “Misbegotten Pansies”. The Pansy Project. Brooklyn Bridge, NYC. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

Brooklyn Street Art: New York has an incredible story in the modern LGBTQ rights movement. Can you tell us about one of the places in New York where you planted a pansy that was particularly meaningful to you?

Paul Harfleet: My visit to New York was incredibly important for me, unusually I funded this visit myself. I usually wait until I’m invited by a festival or for an exhibition, though I wanted to be in New York during the fiftieth anniversary of Stonewall. I first came to New York in 2006 to plant pansies for the Conflux Festival.

These were the very early days of the project, some of the photos I took then were bad, since then I’ve gotten better at taking the pictures so I wanted to re-plant and document the pansy I planted at the Stonewall Inn to properly mark this historically significant location. Though I also planted new pansies, it was moving for me to plant one at Christopher Street Pier for Marsha P. Johnson, their life and death was complex and seeped in the injustices of time. This seems even more significant in America today when black trans women are so under threat.

Paul Harfleet. “Faggots. For Mark Carson”. The Pansy Project. Barrow St. NYC. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

As I write, we await the decision by the US Supreme Court on working rights for trans people, the fact that there’s even a discussion about this is an anathema to me. To quote the hashtags; Trans rights are human rights, we’re not equal until we’re all equal. In the US alone there has been 19 reported trans women murdered in 2019 alone – It’s staggering and heartbreaking.

I was also fascinated by the queer history of Brooklyn as described by Hugh Ryan in ‘When Brooklyn Was Queer’. I love the picture I took of the pansy I planted under the Brooklyn Bridge to mark the multiple stories of homophobia I heard about in his book, the quote comes from the complaints of local residents of how the Brooklyn Promenade was being used by men for cruising; “Misbegotten Pansies” was just such a perfect quote for this planting. 

Paul Harfleet. “Fucking Faggot!”. The Pansy Project. Queen Street. Blackpool, England. (photo © Paul Harfleet)

What I do more now is make a film about the places I visit, this has the ability to explore more of the story of each planting and helps share the project to new audiences, I’m working on a New York film now. Ultimatelty I adore each planting, they all mean so much to me as they all contribute to the entire body of my work. 

Paul Harfleet’s short film ‘The Pansy Project Canada’ will be shown at the Inside Out Film festival in Ottowa, Canada in October and his work will feature as part of the Homotopia Festival in Liverpool in November. For more information visit www.thepansyproject.com

*In a 1927 essay, acclaimed Austrian philosopher Robert Musil famously declared, “The remarkable thing about monuments is that one does not notice them. There is nothing in this world as invisible as a monument.”

Paul Harfleet. “Narrowed eyes. Focusing in and down. Bristling. Bigger. Dominant. Circling. Feeling. Their Fear”. The Pansy Project. Saint Brigids. Saint Patrick Street. Ottawa, Canada. (photo © Paul Harfleet)
Paul Harfleet. “Beaten!”. The Pansy Project. Domkirkeplassen. Stavanger, Norway. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)
Paul Harfleet. “Don’t ask that guy he wants to hang them all!” President Trump comments on Vice President’s views on gay rights. The White House. Washington-DC
Paul Harfleet. Jaevla Homo!”. The Pansy Project. Vitsøygata. Stavanger, Norway. 2019. (photo © Paul Harfleet)
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Shai Dahan & His Big Red Dala Horse Run Into Manhattan

Shai Dahan & His Big Red Dala Horse Run Into Manhattan

Artist, Street Art festival curator, now muralist. Shai Dahan has hel a number of roles related to the graffiti and Street Art scene since his teens. Born in Haifa, raised in LA, Dahan lived shortly on the East Coast before he pulled up stakes and moved to Sweden a decade ago to raise a family with his wife.

There he did something you don’t see a lot of artists do – he provided a huge platform for others to succeed by starting the “No Limit” Festival in his new hometown of Borås. We had the opportunity to be there a couple of times and witness the camaraderie and quality of a well-curated festival in a part of the world unaccustomed to large-scale public art, each time executed with finesse and near-zero drama.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Now he’s visiting New York for the first time in years and bringing his favorite muse, the Swedish Dala horse – a symbol that helped him meet HerRoyal Highness Queen Silvia of Sweden a few years ago, by the way. We spoke with Shai while riding the lift with him last week just before he headed back to Borås.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: This is the first time you painted a large mural outdoors in NYC since you participated with a group of other artists painting at the racetrack in Queens. How did it feel to be back?
Shai Dahan: It is incredible.  Since I have lived here I always wanted to do something large.  Even after moving to Sweden, I would see some great murals go up by Shepard Fairy, Kobra, Connor Harrington and I always thought “Wow. That has to be such a great personal accomplishment”. 

To me, it’s very personal. I left for Sweden in 2010.  NYC has been the biggest influence on my art. A lot of people would ask me who is my biggest inspiration, like Picasso? or Rembrandt? or someone more modern? but the reality is, it’s this city. The graffiti on the roller gates. The stickers on the doors. The Krink on the post office mailbox. This is the largest outdoor Street Art gallery in the world.  Turn any corner in the LES or Soho or Tribeca or Nolita and you can find an Invader piece or a Buff Monster Ice Cream or even a wheat-paste from someone random. 

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

This entire city is a giant gallery. So to come back to add to it is such an honor.  Especially since I left for Sweden, and spend the next 10 years building a professional art career painting the Swedish Dala Horses and becoming known in Scandinavia for that, to return on the 10-year anniversary to bring my horse to the city that inspired me, its nothing short of poetic.

BSA: The Dala horse is a beloved icon in Sweden. Yours, big and red, looms large in the Lower East Side. Is this a gift to the Swedish expats living in New York?
Shai Dahan: Its a gift for NYC.  From me.  This city gave me inspiration, friendships with amazingly talented artists and curators and writers (BSA shout out!), that I still maintain to this day.  This city got me my first art show at the Grey Dog Cafe where I hung a bunch of skateboards in 2007.  It’s the city where I took part in amazing projects like Mom&Popism, The Underbelly Project, the NY Ad Takeover and it’s the city that let me find my true talent and skills.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

So, in a way, I wanted to give the city a gift back. Give her something for everything she’s given me. Swedes, of course, appreciate it (it’s been in every single major newspaper back in Sweden since Saturday Morning and even the Swedish Mission to the UN posted it to social media) so clearly, it hit a soft spot for Swedes around the world. But for me, its something more romantic than that. It’s gifting a horse to New York City. 

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

Brooklyn Street Art: You have been painting for a bit while among your subjects is these horses. Have you noticed an improvement with your technique and style since the first horse you painted back in Sweden?
Shai Dahan: God yes. But that is good. I almost feel like I am not technically a “professional” artist because that would mean I mastered my talent. I don’t believe I have. Clearly, my horses have improved in the last 10 years but I would be ignorant to assume my horses won’t continue to improve.  You can always improve.  But on that subject, it is fun to see my horse collection around the world. From the city of Gothenburg to the islands of Stockholm to a big city like NYC and even in the middle of the forest in Southern Sweden; My horses have a way to find a home anywhere they go. 

A lot of people ask me “Why horses?” my usual response is that I am terrible at painting cats, but the truth is that horses have been used in art for centuries. The famous Napoleon Crossing, the Whistlejacket which hangs in the London Museum, you had paintings of horses in battle and war, with kings and generals. We have sculptures in Europe and here in the US with these giant masculine horses.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The horses, throughout history, have always been used as a heavy masculine symbol. But my Dala Horses, they are shades of Red, sometimes Blue or Purple. They have soft “Kurbits” patterns (Scandinavian Floral Symbols) on their bodies. They take something big and strong and give it a soft and almost feminine display. It is something that takes the original Dala Horse and moves it forward; Reinvents it or reinterprets what it means to paint horses.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)


Brooklyn Street Art:
You organized a very well-curated urban art festival in Boras, Sweden and your participation has come to an end. Can you tell us what big lessons you learned from this experience that could be useful for other people who embark on organizing street art festivals?
Shai Dahan: It’s important to approach curating festivals in the same way I approached my art career. It should never be about money. Never about fame. The sole driver for doing a great festival is to do it for your city. The people.

There is this old Greek proverb I love and used for many years as inspiration that says “Our Society grows great when we plant trees whos shade we know we will never sit under”.  Basically saying, if we create and make and do things that is good for our society, even if we won’t personally be around to see its long-term effect, it is still worth doing. That is how I approached this festival. I put the city residents as a priority. I wanted to be sure that the murals we do will have years if not decades of inspiration, and joy for them. 

Perhaps 20 years from now, a six-year old girl who sees these murals will be inspired to be the next Faith 47, the next Maya Hayuk, then I’ll feel like I did a good job. At the end of the day, life is what you paint it.

Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Shai Dahan. Lower East Side. Manhattan, NYC. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
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Vox Graffiti Roars in Berlin with New Fanakapan x 1UP Collabo

Vox Graffiti Roars in Berlin with New Fanakapan x 1UP Collabo

Berlin streets are regularly teeming with the Vox Graffiti in shouting chaotic profusion – and have been for decades. The bubbling laughing raging hordes proffer a visual conversation that often roars, and you’ll have to yell to get your voice above the rest.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

1UP and Berlin Kidz are two of the graffiti crews who reliably blast out their viewpoint, each with a uniquely unmistakable cadence and flair. This week one gilded the urban stage while the other was transformed upon it by British guest star Fanakapan with a ringing whoop, and with the angelic welcome of Alanis at the entrance, the Frühling party of Berlin is in full bloom.

Set upon a newly opened urban arena in Kreuzberg (thanks to the demolishing of a building adjacent to it) the actual bubble letters that distinguish the guileful Londoners’ letter style now rise above the rubble with multi-colored glee. Spelling out the 1UP letters in a way they never could, his interpretative take is framed by two runners of Berlin Kidz translation of Pichaçao-style colored cryptic tagging.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“As one can imagine this was just to good to be true,” says Sam Walter of YAP Productions, the organizers and facilitators of the lift and permissions. “Yes we did have problems with a security and also police since we had no official paper which gave us permission for the wall – but we got a couple of confirmations via phone calls,” he says with all the reassuring confidence of a Cheshire cat .

Together with the rest of the steel-spined-velvet-clad YAP posse, the 1UP crew and Fanakapan were celebrating on this vast muddy lot ringed in concertina wire as the sun set one night this week. Word spread quickly and the reunion at the wall felt like 50% Graffiti God magic mixed with 110% adrenaline helping everyone ignore the psychotic spring weather that warms you one minute and converts you into a popsicle the next.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

The original motivation for the collaboration is based on an one-year-old idea between 1UP and Fanakapan, says Sam, “bringing those beautiful, shiny, giant 7-meter “1UP’ letters. These are young artists who take on a lot of risk to push the graffiti culture beyond its boundaries.”

“No animals, plants or 1UPs were harmed during this production,” quips the charismatic cultural curator and YAP team member Denis Leo Hegic as he texts process shots of the wall to the squad as the secret/public wall goes up.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

“1UP carries the zeitgeist of Berlin out into the world like no other contemporary collective. The DNA of the crew is rooted in the streets of Kreuzberg, but the group also developed into a global family,” he says. The statement is only partial bravado, as a serious graffiti head in many cities will be able to tell you a rooftop, elevator, or train line that they’ve seen hit by the amorphous and amazingly anonymous crew that seems to shape shift and reconstitute itself – evidenced here where their enormous tag is painted by another artist entirely.

BSA: Is this a tribute piece to 1UP or is it a collaboration?
Denis Leo Hegic: It’s gravity graffiti. Collaborative and collective work is already included in their spirit “one united power”. Fanakapan managed to portray it in such a powerful and gravity defying way and gave us the largest 1UP letters hovering weightlessly over Berlin. 1UP is a ubiquitous tag in Berlin. You can’t help but be aware of it.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo

BSA: Did the authorities take any interest in visiting the site when Fanakapan was painting the tag, perhaps thinking that it was actually 1UP painting?
Denis Leo Hegic: We had quite an interaction with the local law enforcement. However, all the officers that appeared on site were being alarmed by other people and did not come on their own initiative.

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)

BSA: How did you get permission to paint on this wall?
Denis Leo Hegic: Through the intelligence of many. We managed to thrill lots of good, curious and courageous people who made everything possible: from a large wall in the center of Kreuzberg to the entire production. Fanakapan was extremely motivated and he literally blew those balloons up the wall.

BSA: Previously there was a building in front of the current wall. Now the whole wall is fully exposed, showing fully the long-running Alanis angel piece. Was any consideration given to the Alanis piece while planning the 1UP piece?

Denis Leo Hegic: Absolutely. I hate when some people say “curating a wall” or “curating a mural” – that’s such utter nonsense! How can one person possibly “curate” one single painting on one single wall? However, this wall succeeded to curate itself naturally. It’s a great composition with the two vertical stripes by Berlin Kidz on each side of the piece and being held by the Alanis angel from the ground. With Fanakapan’s addition of the 1UP bubble tag it became a marvelous “Kreuzberger Mischung” (Kreuzberg Mixture).

Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
Fanakapan x 1UP Crew adding to the wonderful and long running Alanis’ angel and the classic Berlin Kidz columns. Berlin. March, 2019. (photo © Jaime Rojo)
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“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

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