BSA is in Berlin this month to present a new show of 12 important Brooklyn Street Artists at the Urban Nation haus as part of Project M/7. PERSONS OF INTEREST brings to our sister city a diverse collection of artists who use many mediums and styles in the street art scene of Brooklyn. By way of tribute to the special relationship that artist communities in both cities have shared for decades, each artist has chosen to create a portrait of a Germany-based cultural influencer from the past or present, highlighting someone who has played a role in inspiring the artist in a meaningful way.Today we talk to GAIA and ask him why he chose his person of interest, Fereshta Ludin.
Street Artist Gaia typically studies the society and culture in which he paints murals and depicts figures who reflect the history and forces of change and stasis that characterize that neighborhood, town, or city. A leader in what we’ve been calling the New Muralism, Gaia has produced these amalgams of symbols, history, and persons – these glocalized paintings – around the world in cities from Seoul to Perth to Honolulu to Baltimore to Miami and Johannesburg, among others in the the last five years.
Since his earliest days as a Street Artist in Williamsburg and Bushwick, Brooklyn, Gaia has engaged the personal, social and political with his artistic ability; first as linotype prints, later as full-blown aerosol murals. So it is no surprise that he chooses as his subject for this show a figure who has held a pivotal role in the evolution of a necessary conversation in classrooms, boardrooms, courts – and the court of public opinion. It is here in the public sphere that Gaia has always drawn inspiration and energy and returned it back with an impetus to spark examination, discussion and debate.
“The proposal for ‘Persons of Interest’ features a portrait of Fereshta Ludin superimposed over a sky and images of peace,” Gaia says. “I chose to focus on Fereshta Ludin because of her advocation for multicultural understanding and cooperation in the face of intense national debate regarding the sphere of religious expression in German politics.”
Afghanistan is not the first place you think of when someone says Street Art scene and Kabul would certainly be sort of low on your list of urban art festivals to check out, but surprisingly it has both. These are a couple of the revelations we had earlier this month when BSA welcomed three 20-something artists to tour the streets of Brooklyn – and meet one of our own homegrown Street Art duos in their studio.
Abul Qasem Foushanji, Ommolbanin Samshia Hassani, and Sayed Mohebullah Ramin Naqshbandi were all good sports despite the brutishly cold February day – in fact Sayed had a fairly light jacket on because he said it gets as cold or colder back home in Mazar-i Sharif where he is a painter and student who has tried his hand at stencil work.
Qasem and Samshia both grew up in Iran, so it made sense that they were excited when we began the tour by checking out the large mural done by Iranian émigrés and brothers Icy & Sot, who now live in Brooklyn. While Arthur, our astutely amiable co-host from the State Department, helped keep the mini-van warm and free of parking tickets, their escort/interpreter Mr. Aziz walked up and over the snowbanks with us while we checked out works by a number of graffiti and Street Artists all around the North Brooklyn neighborhoods of Williamsburg and Greenpoint.
The Central Asian country of Afghanistan has historically eschewed modern art as being unacceptable and much art was destroyed by the Taliban in the last few decades for being un-Islamic.
With such a restrictive atmosphere it was good to learn that Qasem plays bass in a thrash metal band, does sound installations and has experimented with abstract expressionism – something that would have been unheard of in the 90s. “In the early 2000s when the Taliban left the country, there was nothing,” he says as he observes a gradual building of hope in the creative community.
As the sun went down we were welcomed into the vast office and studio of Patrick Miller and Patrick McNeal, who together comprise the Brooklyn based Street Art collective better known as Faile. Having just walked the same streets where the Patricks began many of their experiments at the turn of the century, it was a great opportunity for the guests to see what a world-class art making studio looks like, to ask questions, and to share some stories about how the scenes on streets of Brooklyn and Kabul differ.
Speaking about their early days of illicit art posting, McNeal explains “You’d go out and you get to the wall and it’s quick,” he says with a snap of the fingers. “You’re not taking the time, necessarily, to think. And then you finish it up and get away from it and you came back to see it the next day. There was something loose in it, where now everything gets very tight and refined,” he says as he gestures to the large artworks in progress across the tables and the floor of the studio.
“Yeah, it’s changed a lot over time,” says Miller about the street art scene, especially in the area of Williamsburg that has become a high-rent playground for professionals and well-heeled college kids. “Real estate, gentrification, a lot of those things have played into it in a lot of places like here and Barcelona where you used to see a lot more things on the street, it doesn’t really exist.”
One thing we learned is that Shamsia doesn’t even usually feel that she can go on the street in Kabul to create her work because she fears berating words, insults and possibly worse from people who don’t think a woman should be doing such a thing. And would never go out after dark. “It’s for the boys to go out at night. I wish to do so also but I am a girl. It is dangerous,” she says with regret, but is determined to use her art to advocate for the rights of girls and women in whatever way that she can.
One project she calls “Graffiti Dreams” is comprised entirely in her imagination and on her computer – where she creates virtual street art scenes on buildings she has photographed as a way to at least paint walls in her mind. “That’s nothing, but for me it is everything because I can do graffiti somehow.” She took out her iPad to show McNeal some of her renderings.
After British graffiti artist Chu held a one-week graffiti workshop for nine artists in Kabul in 2010 where the concept of graffiti and street art was introduced from a Western perspective, Shamsia and other young artists took the art form to heart.
She has traveled internationally in the last few years meeting other artists and sometimes collaborating with them like Tika from Zürich, Berlin’s Klub 7, and the well known Los Angelelino Street Artist El Mac, with whom she did two collaborations now on display in Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam and in Brisbane, Australia.
McNeal asked Samshia, “How did you get exposed to graffiti?,” and Samshia talked about the workshop with Chu and how it affected her.
“I thought if I did graffiti then I could introduce art to the people,” she says, “Because no one goes to exhibitions and galleries – only some very important people are invited to exhibits. And I thought that I could put art in the street for all people and maybe they have never seen that there is this art.”
“How do you get spray paint there?” he followed up.
“There are very bad quality spray paint there,” she replies with a smile. “These are just for color to put somewhere. It’s not really for painting. The color drops a lot, and I’m not changing the size of the caps. Sometimes I do the small details with small brushes because the spray can is not able to do very thin lines.”
“That’s cool though,” McNeal encouraged, “ because that will inform your style and the way that you work.”
As one of the first graffiti artists in Kabul, Shamsia is also unusual because most practicing artists of any discipline are men – and women face resistance to their participation in many roles, including as an artist on the street. Now an associate professor at Kabul University where she leads workshops to teach students how to use aerosol spray to create art, Ms. Hassani created a festival this December to highlight graffiti and Street Art as an art practice.
Her own work features stylized women in blue burqas, fish, and calligraphy that references poetry. As often happens, the definition of graffiti and street art are slightly different in Afghanistan than they would be in western cities like London and New York, often closer to what might be called murals or community walls.
For now she is planning a new program when she returns to Kabul University in the spring.
“Another graffiti workshop is coming too for some children who have no parents. They are often very small girls and they have no parents and I want to help them and have a workshop for them,” she explains about her desire to provide restorative healing through art in a city torn by war. “I will start to teach a new subject, making characters, because there is nothing like that right now. I would like to add characters, because everyone likes characters. I would like to teach some technical steps, some secrets of how to make them.”
The night ends with tea, cookies, and conversation in a warm living room and the artists talk about some of their projects, internet service, social media, and other ways that society is evolving and what they hope for art in Afghanistan. As he describes his work future projects Sayed says would like to create politically themed messages for the street. Qasem talks about a culture-jamming project creating a false college course advertisement that may also be humorous. Then in a flash, the visit is over, numbers and emails are exchanged and they get ready to go back out in the cold.
In 2012 Shamsia collaborated with Los Angeles based Street Artist El Mac on two murals in Sai Gon, Vietnam. The first mural was painted in September of 2012 in front of Sàn Art, an artist non-profit contemporary art organization in Sai Gon. The second mural, also painted in Sai Gon was unveiled in Brisbane, Australia at the Asia Pacific Triennial in December 2012.
The figure in the center is a portrait of Shamsia by El Mac from photographs that he took of her. The writing that surrounds the portrait is a poem by Ms. Hassani which she integrated with her own designs. The poem reads:
پرنده های بی وطن ،همه اسیرن مثل من ،صدای خواندن ندارن
Birds of no nation
Are all captive
With no voice for singing
Yesterday we showed you an anti-war Street Art piece that partially addressed the war in Afghanistan. Today we tell you about Skateistan, a non-political skateboarding and education program for the youth growing up in this country overrun by war for 9 years. Street Artist Ludo created this fresh piece to raise some cash for Skateistan and all proceeds from the sale of his print benefit their programs. His street work often is a combination of natural beauty and man-made evil – a cautionary tale meant to draw attention to us, the creators of destruction. This piece appears to again pair the beauty of life with the specter of what all war leads to.
Ludo’s piece for Skateistan
Each Ludo piece is unique and hand drawn, a mix of graphite and acrylic on 300 gram water color paper, measuring 32 x 24 cm.
From the Skateistan web site:
“Operating as an independent, neutral, Afghan NGO, the school engages growing numbers of urban and internally-displaced youth in Afghanistan through skateboarding, and provides them with new opportunities in cross-cultural interaction, education, and personal empowerment. Skateistan students come from all of Afghanistan diverse ethnic and socioeconomic backgrounds. They not only develop skills in skateboarding and skateboarding instruction, but also healthy habits, civic responsibility, information technology, the arts, and languages. “
FAUST just sent out a sad communique about the untimely passing of his good friend, partner in art and Brooklyn native graffiti artist “SURE”. Below are text and photos courtesy of FAUST:
“It is with my deepest regrets to inform you that this morning I received news of the passing of my close friend Sure. Last night he was killed in Afghanistan where he was stationed as an Intelligence Officer in the United States Marine Corps. Sure was born and bred in Brooklyn and recognized for his exceptional handstyle which brought together elements of classic New York graffiti with ornamental calligraphy. His script signatures could be found throughout the city and were a major influence on myself and countless others.”
SURE portrait courtesy of FAUST
“Sure also received great recognition as one of the most prominent sticker bombers of all time. Of the thousands of stickers he put up, nearly every one of them was individually hand done in an incredible array of styles. This was recently exemplified in Stickers: From Punk Rock to Contemporary Art (Rizzoli) by DB Burkeman and in Martha Cooper’s latest book Name Tagging (Mark Batty Publishing) which features an interview with Sure”
SURE photo courtesy of FAUST
“Sure was like a brother to me. He was my partner-in-crime and my best friend. I am grateful for the time we had and that everywhere I go in New York City I see his name and know that his presence will be felt by many long after his passing”.