A young master painting in the Old Master vein, perhaps, this Spanish poet captures something between the past and the future. Sebas Velasco is not yet 6 years out from his Masters in painting, yet he is bringing imagination and emotion to his mural work that gives you a longing to know more.
Along with the photographer, friend, and longtime collaborator Jose Delou, Velasco has been traveling the last six weeks from the Prado in Spain through Germany, then Sweden. Bringing depth to the surface, his portraiture stands astride the beauty, and decay; a romantic alienation found only in the modern metropolis.
While you might hesitate to mention the Spanish and Old Master painter Goya for fear it might complicate the conversation, Velasco is showing us how he will continue to build the image that will captivate. In some way, his manner of capturing the character is familiar, compelling, and somehow impossible.
Europe, and Germany in particular, has a solid history of graffiti, urban culture, hip-hop, breakers, and battles dating back to at least the 1990s. As the street art scene evolved during the first two decades of the 2000s, a number of festivals have sprouted up around the globe, from Hawaii to Norway to Tunisia to Mexico City to London to Hong Kong. We’ve been to many of them. In recent years we have witnessed other German cities making entry into the scene as well, and today we bring you Hola Utopia! in Hannover.
Begun by founders Artie Ilsemann and Jascha Mueller this festival has so much enthusiasm behind it from the community and the artists, you can imagine that it will continue to make an impact in arts and culture in this capital of Lower Saxony with a half million residents. Hola Utopia! has the kind of solid organizing template, smoldering energy, and genuine local support that is not common among many newer festivals, many of which tend to originate as branding platforms constructed to sell products or local city governments with tourism to chase.
Possibly the reason why this duo, along with communications team member Mark Dix, are able to begin this year’s festival with the German premiere of Alexandra Henry’s film “Street Heroines” and a gallery exhibition at the repurposed Helmkehof warehouse complex – in addition to hosting a half dozen or so artists to paint walls – is because of the urban art community that has deep roots here like the UJZ Glocksee e.V.
Glocksee-Gasse, as it is called, is the organic sort of space that evolves its own character in the community. The organizers say it is the oldest independent youth center in Germany, with “a firm place in Hannover’s cultural landscape.” This is exactly the kind of foundational community that can give a festival room to grow and offer different populations an opportunity to participate if intentionally included.
You’ll also be encouraged to see the series of statements on the website that form the philosophical tenants that form the festival. Of course, there is the star-gazing optimism of “Hola Utopia dares to formulate and visualize utopian thoughts to take steps to make the world a better place to live in.”
More impressively perhaps is their statement on privilege that gives more hope toward an equitable festival; “Hola Utopia is aware of its own privileged position that it occupies in its work to devote itself to the design of a utopian world. Injustice in our own environment is openly discussed and with show solidarity to people who are negatively affected.”
Thanks to photographer Kevin Münkel we’re pleased to share with you images of this year’s artists, including Lily Brick, Nasca One, Bier En Brood, Galletamaria, Rookie The Weird, Feros One, and Dilk One. The Ukrainian duo of Feros One and Dilk One remind us of the occurrence of twins in the street art scene, including Brooklyn’s Skewville, São Paulo’s Os Gemeos, and the German How & Nosm. Are there more?
Today we have part two of our coverage of the MEMUR Festival in Oldenburg, Germany. More than 30 regional and international artists painted a 280-meter-long wall of the railway elevation on the Oldenburg federal railway path – street artists on one side, graffiti artists on the other. In addition to the aerosol action, there was a photo exhibition featuring our featured documentarians, Martha Cooper and Nika Kramer, film screenings, photography and art workshops, and an educational program in cooperation with the Oldenburg City Museum and the Oldenburg Prevention Council.
Organizers say they needed 500 liters of wall paint just to prime the walls, and probably 1000 spray cans were used during the 3-day event. The 3D style is ruling the moment, but you can see bubble style and semi-wildstyle, some neofuturism, – as well as introductions of characters and brief fictional scenarios. Most importantly, most of the pieces get ample space to breathe and to stand on their own.
In their ongoing quest for creating public works that meaningfully impact society and provoke examination, Various & Gould bravely trespass the silent agreements and disagree.
During their recent multi-week installation in Berlin, the street art activist duo rips at the roots of Western Colonialism by messing with the permanence of statue materials and decades of history and its retelling.
The results are colorful and sometimes bitter, usually illuminating.
By targeting the 6 meters (19.6 foot) statue of the first German Chancellor Otto von Bismarck they created a paper-cast of the man and “took it symbolically off the pedestal under the eyes of dozens of spectators,” they say.
The de-mythologizing work brings the man and his history down to the level of the everyday person, and through of series of performances and discussions over a 5 week period from August through October, the street artists and their collaborators hope to crack open some of the conspiracies that were wide open for everyone to read about when white guys split up Africa like so many spoils.
“For ‘Monumental Shadows’,” V&G tell us, “a series of seven artistic paper impressions of monuments in Europe is planned.” This particular installment is set “against the historical background of the Berlin ‘Congo Conference’ (1884-85),” which regulated the colonization of trade in Africa by fourteen countries, effectively partitioning the continent in a formalizing of theft and imposition of power. Aside from that, it was great.
Using colorful papier-mache techniques of wrapping the sculpture and bringing the pieces to the ground for performers to interact with and formal discussion panels to happen, Various and Gould intend to recall the false narratives and address the underlying debris of social and structural racism in German society specifically, western society generally.
“Our concern is to break the power of the white narrative on colonialism by proposing a change of perspective,” they say, and their accounts of responses by passersby range from supportive to corrosive; from outright verbal attacks on dark-skinned members of the crew to Boomers stopping by to say that all of this topic was essentially passe and not necessary anymore. “We fought colonialism already in 1968!” said one woman as her husband shouted profanities at the couple.
In a story similar to those of American confederate statues coming down, there also were a fair number of people who stopped by the art project to protest the disrespect to the legacy of the statue and their personal ownership of historical events.
“Two black members of our team were still finishing some last bits of work on the scaffolding while the rest of the team was preparing the lunch break down on the ground,” they say. “Suddenly a woman (white, German, in her seventies) came by and started to shout up into the scaffolding, addressing our two team members: ‘I am outraged! This is my history.’”
“One of our team in the scaffolding answered instantly: ‘This is also our history.’”
This is not the first time that Various and Gould have created large-scale installations involving public monuments and the repositioning of historical perspectives – See our 2017 article “Marx and Engels Statues Re-Skinned & Re-Located” for example.
Perhaps because of the increasing tensions today in Europe and the US and elsewhere due to voracious crony capitalism and corruption creating a fast gulf of opportunity – and increased anxieties due to the coronavirus, V&G say they were a bit more soured than usually by the vitriol directed at them and their art project – including the unusual multiple requests by police to show permits. There were other subtleties of course.
“We noticed in many conversations with outraged citizens, that they would behave far more respectfully towards a white, cis male team member, than for example towards a female and/or person of color,” says Various.
“In general many passers-by kept bothering our team members in a number of ways,” offers Gould. “Very frequently people trivialized the German colonialism and Bismarck’s role in it.”
And for the black members of the team, the experience was also intense at times.
Billy Fowo, who worked as part of the team on the scaffolding and on the paper-casting is part of Colonial Neighbours / SAVVY Contemporary, posted this on his Instagram @karl_fowo at the end of the second week:
“Though very personal, I think the presence of people like me who don’t look ”German” to their eyes, in this process, made the pill even more bitter to swallow. But what do the words ‘my history’’ constantly sang as a chorus by this second group really mean? Bismarck & Co in organizing the 1884-85 Berlin conference – didn’t they unfortunately/ unconsciously make us ALL part of ”that history!” Of course, this is not a question! If it were one then the answer is obviously YES! We are ALL part of ”that history”. We ALL build histories! We are today more than ever in dire times, and it is vital that in rewriting and writing the pages of our histories, we completely destroy the narrative of the single story and start including multiple perspectives.”
Thus the power of monuments, and art in the public sphere. Various & Gould again do the hard work of helping us examine those who we revere, and the messages we integrate into our institutions and our daily life. Equitable society needs these questioners and questions about the ‘monumental shadows” cast over others.
“We have to deal with people who feel entitled to exclude other people from participation, from conversation, from civil rights, from society, from history,” they say.
Over the last few spring-like days in Berlin, her portrait rose slowly about the streets, reminding us that her moral courage continues to have an impact today on International Women’s Day. It’s only been a recognized holiday in this German city for a year, says Urban Nation museum director Jan Sauerwald. Franco’s visage is the first to occupy what has been officially identified as the museums’ ‘Brave Wall.’
“Realizing this political mural on the theme of women’s rights together with artist Katerina Voronina is a special moment for the URBAN NATION Museum program,” he says, “To present the first ‘Brave Wall’ in Berlin and Germany on this day in cooperation with Amnesty International puts the project in a fitting context.”
The artist was chosen by a panel made of an equal number of Urban Nation and Amnesty International participants, along with journalist Miriam Davoudvandi. The joint goal on International Women’s Day is clear.
“Women’s rights are human rights and therefore an important part of our human rights work. I am very pleased that the first ‘Brave Wall’ in Germany was designed by a woman, Katerina Voronina, and honors the impressive commitment of human rights defender Marielle Franco,” says Dr. Julia Duchrow, Deputy Secretary-General of Amnesty International in Germany, in a press release.
An illustrationist and motion designer, Katerina Voronina successfully evokes the resolute spirit of fighting for human rights in the portrait of Franco, “With the realization of this ‘Brave Wall’ I had the opportunity to bring a special and courageous woman into focus.” she says.
Meanwhile, in Spain, artist and muralist Marina Capdevila identifies an obvious question about saving only one day to pay tribute to women in this new piece.
“Today, we still are fighting and working nearly every day to be listened to, to be taken seriously,” she laments, reflecting on the sly kind of dismissiveness she feels about her art practice sometimes. “I’m tired of receiving 8 million emails with proposals that offer to ‘give visibility to women,’ ” she says.
“If we continue like this, will we also eventually only work one day a year?”
Until such a day, she’s loving life as a painter and savors the sisterhood that brings her support and opportunity. “I am fortunate to have wonderful women in my life who inspire me, help me, and above all, make me laugh.”
“Literally, the art had to leave the museum and come out into the street, as art in public spaces is the only art on display during these strange times,” says photographer Nika Kramer about this new program at the Stadtmuseum Oldenburg here in northern Germany.
We concur of course because we have seen that the exhibitions mounted on the streets of cities everywhere since last March have superseded the impact of most formal openings.
Covid-19, the Coronavirus has changed everything.
And that is the main point of “Neue Konturen” (New Contours), a temporary outside installation during January and February by the artist collective “The Hidden Art Project” and the muralists “die Jungs”. As a public interaction that is meant to engage people in the public sphere, a total of twelve artists and cultural workers will present seven artworks – including installations, performances, and video installations – all of which deal with the Corona pandemic.
“Corona and its effects are perceived differently by people. Our works address and interpret the experiences,” says Sven Müller, founder of The Hidden Art Project. “In this way, we hold up a mirror to the viewers and invite them to reflect on themselves and their own actions.”
Most museums have been struggling to get their doors open after many government restrictions closed them. Oldenburg City Museum will be closed when this exhibition closes for new construction as well as the renovation of the historic villas. But this has been a welcome program to say goodbye to the old and look forward to a new, positive future.
Dr. Steffen Wiegmann, director of the Oldenburg, says: “With the ‘New Contours’ program, we are bidding a temporary farewell to our location and offering artists the opportunity to use the museum building as a place and space for their art.”
We thank the artists for their dedication during the many challenges that are brought to creative endeavors these days. We also thank Ms. Kramer for sharing her shots of their work and preparations here with BSA readers.
“I’d like to give a shout-out to the Stadtmuseum for giving those young artists a platform to play,” says Nika.
“And props go to everybody working on this great project out in the very challenging cold weather and for being so flexible and making it happen – even though you completely had to change your concepts! Congrats! You rock! And thanks for having me! I had a blast.”
This grouchy-looking elf by Lapiz in this shopping district in the Sankt Pauli district in Hamburg Germany doesn’t look like he wants to be helpful. The stenciled piece is only in a t-shirt and a grimace in this normally busy area. His T-shirt lists the cultural items that are all restricted because of Covid.
But shopping? That is allowed.
“What really matters to society, what really counts – and what defines the system – is the ever-growing economy,” Lapiz opines. “We shall reduce our social contacts so we can consume. Restaurants and Bars need to close, socialising and eating is not important anymore, neither is culture. Even worse it is punishable.”
“All hail the GDP,” says Lapiz, “Who needs to be happy anyway?”
performance art,” says film director Michael Maxxis, as he watches street
artist Okuda painting a scene from Maxxis’ new film here in Oldenburg, Germany.
It’s unusual for this city to have graffiti or street art, so this commercial painting
by a street artist is pretty close to the real thing.
to the Spanish artist, he took a screenshot of one of his favorite scenes and
the idea was to bring the main characters in the movie to his own world. With eye-popping
color and unusual combinations of geometrics with organic forms, he succeeds in
sparking your imagination into an alternative-world of play. For the director,
the image that Okuda selected to paint is a representation of the paradise of
Filmmaker and writer and director has known Okuda for a few years and loves his
work – Okuda even designed the film posters for the movie. Here in Olderburg,
it appears to be love at first sight.
Our sincere thanks to photographer Nika Kramer who shares this story and her photographic documentation of this painting under the stunning September skies of northern Germany.
“I felt uncomfortable while confronting myself with the reports about the incidents every person has experienced,” says AKUT in his blog about the research he did into the Holocaust for his new project here.
“It’s unbelievable how one can ever cope with it – and it’s completely unacceptable that there are right-wing populists still gaining more support worldwide. One would think that we have learned from history, but present events prove us wrong regularly.”
And here now we have two people whose photorealistic eyes we can look into. One is Horst Sommerfeld, a Polish national who lived in hiding in Berlin for two years before he and his whole family were caught and deported to Auschwitz-Birkenau. He was the only family member to live after being liberated by the US army in 1945.
Nonetheless, Mr. Sommerfeld reported, “I have always lived in fear,” before his death in 2019.
The other portrait is of Bella
Shirin, a Lithuanian whose parents were survivors of the concentration camps of
Dachau and Stutthof. While she is determined to live in the present, her own
past is deeply impacted by her mother’s suicide in 1977 that occurred as a result
of her experiences in the camps.
LEST WE FORGET is a
multi-media project by the German-Italian photographer and filmmaker Luigi
Toscano, who has met Holocaust survivors around the world including in the US,
Germany, the Netherlands, Belarus, Ukraine, Israel and Russia since the early
2010s. This month a new mural by street artist/fine artist AKUT (Falk Lehmann)
pays tribute to two persons directly and deeply affected by the events of the
Rising six stories in Mannheim, Germany, this is the 35th mural since 2013 as part of a program to convert underutilized walls into artworks, the first freely accessible museum for mural art in all of Baden-Württemberg.
expresses the different ways of dealing with their fates, which is certainly
also directly connected to their respective personal stories,” says AKUT. “Horst
was traumatized directly, whereas Bella has indirectly experienced trauma from
her parents’ experiences.”
That’s the message from Berlin based street artist Johannes Mundinger in his latest mural of melting slabs and abstraction and murky text. He tells us that he is thinking about the disparity of responses his government has toward immigrants when flying them in to harvest asparagus versus saving them from living in refugee camps in Lesbos.
“While borders are closed due to the lock down the German government invited around 40.000 foreign workers to fly in and harvest German asparagus,” he says. “This decision was taken within days.”
Meanwhile, he tells, “it took almost two months to discuss inviting 50 children from the refugee camp Moria on the Greek Island.”
He says his new 700 x 1200 cm acrylic mural at Urban Spree made him open up artistically, made him feel free after so long in quarantine. That city is trying to open up, as it were, to greater social and economic opportunity’s and to move beyond Covid. Only time will tell us all, and places like this are leading the way. This is good, we agree.
Mundinger just wants to make sure that we leave no one
new joint mural from LAPIZ and Elmar Karla as the newly formed “Thealang
Collective”. Both formerly living in Argentina, the two artists have
distinctly different styles to combine here in a scene from a fever dream in
what a hot steamy shape-shifting surrealist diarama this is on a backyard wall
in St. Pauli, full of fire and raging destruction and ultimately, deception,
with the main character called EL CUCO.
combination of cut stencils and fluidly brushed paint, the two say that El Cuco
is a mystical creature who steals the souls of innocent children. The Wikipedia entry says “El Cuco is a
mythical ghost–monster, equivalent to the bogeyman, found in many Hispanophone and Lusophone countries.”
“The mural portrays the impact of today’s society,” they tell us as we gaze upon these exclusive shots, “the eternally growing economy is symbolized by the donations for the partially destroyed Notre Dame, and its effect is one of constantly destroying the environment, here symbolized by the burning green lung – the Amazon Rainforest.”
It’s fearfully treacherous, this adventurous scene mixing childhood myths and fun-loving characters who appear out of context under a sky of flames, Its an amalgam of the imaginations and experiences of the two –Elmar Karla’s painted characters from the comic world and the stencil techniques of Lapiz, who often likes to take a jab at socio-political themes.
Both members of Thealang have painted extensively internationally and have participated in festivals and exhibitions such as the Ibug, Meeting of Styles, Grenoble Street Art Fest and at the Street Art Museum Amsterdam.
The intervention “Life in Time of Corona” is Lapiz’s attempt
to fight the feeling of isolation and loneliness.
“I created and glued it up a day before the first phase of
lockdown happened here in Hamburg, just in front of one of the biggest
supermarkets in town,” he tells us.
The young woman exists with a margin of danger following her
– a buffer band of gold that prevents any other person from getting to close.
Of course, the hermit-like among the human family have been practicing social distancing
for years, but for most people it’s new and unusual.
For most of us the time of self-isolation, quarantine, and
illness is ahead of us and we have no idea how long this might take. We can
stay in contact with loved-ones, family, friends, and almost forgotten
acquaintances on the other side of the planet via email, skype or video link.
This might also be a great moment of solidarity and an
opportunity for empathy, but the minimum safety distance of 6 feet also
excludes affection, warmth and closeness.