All posts tagged: Interviews

Walk With Amal: A Profound Puppet Public Performance in All 5 Boroughs

Walk With Amal: A Profound Puppet Public Performance in All 5 Boroughs

‘Interactive’: an overused buzzword today, much like ‘engagement’ and its derived forms. Regardless, nothing replaces true community engagement like well-planned and executed public performance. This fall, one of the most interactive puppet performances worldwide has been traveling through New York, and thousands of people have participated.

Heather Woodfield. Walk With Amal. (photo © Chris Jordan)

Meeting thousands of people in the streets as a way to educate us about the plight of people around the world who have become refugees, the 12-foot-tall puppet of a young Syrian girl named Little Amal is fulfilling a mission begun many months ago on the border of Syria. According to the website of Handspring Puppet Company, the South African team which made her, Little Amal has already traveled 5,000 miles in the two years preceding her New York visit.

Little Amal has traveled “from the Syrian border through Turkey, Greece, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium and France” through more than 70 towns, villages, and cities in search of her mother. She even met the Pope.

Heather Woodfield. Walk With Amal. (photo © Chris Jordan)

Now in New York, organizers say she is in search of her Uncle Samir. Planned events in all 5 of the boroughs mean that she is being welcomed by hundreds of artists, cultural organizations, community groups, schools, and colleges during a 55-event, 17-day traveling festival.

We share with you today images from photographer Chris Jordan, who attended one of the recent interactive performances in the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn. We also spoke with transdisciplinary artist Heather Alexa Woodfield, who has created, produced, and performed pieces for various festivals and events, including at Chashama, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, FIGMENT NYC, the High Line, and The New Museum’s Ideas City. Woodfield tells us that The Little Amal project deeply touched her as an artist and performer, and she attended many of the performances.

Heather Woodfield. Walk With Amal. (photo © Chris Jordan)

Brooklyn Street Art: How did you hear about this project and what attracted you to it?

Heather Alexa Woodfield: I saw an article in the Guardian about The Walk with Amal in the fall of 2020. When I read that it was created by Good Chance Theatre, I knew I had to see it as their play The Jungle is one of the all-time great theatrical experiences. Since I went to Bread and Puppet every year as a child, I naturally have a deep love of radical puppetry and participatory public art.

Heather Woodfield. Walk With Amal. (photo © Chris Jordan)

Brooklyn Street Art: How many times have you walked with Amal? Were there many others interacting with her?

Heather Alexa Woodfield: I’ve walked with Amal 10 times so far. While I’ve mostly been too busy following the puppet to estimate the size of the crowd, it always seems to fill the space she occupies whether that is a vast space like Brooklyn Bridge Park or something more contained like galleries at the Natural History Museum.

Heather Woodfield. Walk With Amal. (photo © Chris Jordan)

Brooklyn Street Art: What do you feel that she symbolizes to you? Do you think people who first meet her on the street grasp the intention?

Heather Alexa Woodfield: Amal is a refugee who is being honored and celebrated all across the city. She helps us imagine a world where immigrants and refugees are welcomed and respected. I don’t think people who see her randomly immediately understand that she is a refugee. However, the experience seems to make people more willing to talk to strangers. Then conversations start, and the message gets passed. I’ve heard and participated in this exchange multiple times.

Heather Woodfield. Walk With Amal. (photo © Chris Jordan)

Brooklyn Street Art: How does art like this engage people in the public square?

Heather Alexa Woodfield: The public has a vital role to play in this artwork that is beyond spectator. Whether carrying a puppet bird or holding a flashlight to illuminate her face or simply walking with her, audience members become co-creators. This experience elicits a profound sense of collective joy that is reciprocal between the people who have gathered and the Amal team. I love seeing the puppeteers smiling just as much as the children around them.

Heather Woodfield. Walk With Amal. (photo © Chris Jordan)
Heather Woodfield. Walk With Amal. (photo © Chris Jordan)
Heather Woodfield. Walk With Amal. (photo © Chris Jordan)
Heather Woodfield. Walk With Amal. (photo © Chris Jordan)
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Medianeras Part II: Painting Around the World, Social Media & Responsibility

Medianeras Part II: Painting Around the World, Social Media & Responsibility

We continue today with our interview with Analí Chanquia and Vanesa Galdeano, who together are known professionally as MEDIANERAS. Today we talk about what it is like to travel the world painting, how they address concepts of gender in their work, street artists’ responsibilities to society, and how Social Media has affected their practice

Medianeras. The Crystal Ship Festival. Ostende, Belgium. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: Your work together has given you the opportunity to travel around the world participating in international street art festivals in numerous cities. What is the benefit of the existence of street art festivals to the artists and to the public? Is there a benefit?

Medianeras: International street art festivals have contributed to making street art mainstream. We do not criticize this fact, but we conceive it as a natural evolution of the activity. In our case, urban art festivals have allowed us to carry out our work in different cities and travel the world. Above all, they benefited us by providing us with the necessary infrastructure to carry out murals of murals in large dimensions in places that we would not have reached otherwise.

Medianeras. The Crystal Ship Festival. Ostende, Belgium. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: Can you recall a specific experience when painting in a foreign city/country that made a deep impression on you, big enough that influenced your work and made you transform or change or modify your art in any way?

Medianeras: Each experience, each trip, and each new project is always a new challenge and therefore implies growth both in our work and in us as people. We have been growing with the activity, and we believe that it has changed us.

BSA: Since you began painting together have you seen any movement from institutions and organizations that favor including more female artists in their lineup? Was it difficult for you at the beginning of Medianeras to get work outside Argentina? Did moving to Barcelona make things easier for you in terms of getting commissions in Europe?

Medianeras. The Crystal Ship Festival. Ostende, Belgium. (photo courtesy of the artists)

Medianeras: Yes, we have witnessed how the number of female artists in street art festivals has increased over the years. We believe that there have always been many women who paint in the streets, but it has been in recent years that recognition and visibility of some more have been given. We are now somewhat appreciated for our work, but it’s been a difficult road for us. So many talented women have been painting on the street forever, but many of them did not have the visibility they deserved until a few years ago. Larger walls have gone primarily to men. We believe that this has to do with the prejudice toward women in stubbornly patriarchal societies. This situation has been changing in recent years, and now we are meeting more and more women who have been given an opportunity to grow with their works of art and the space to communicate their own vision.

Before moving to the city of Barcelona, we traveled every year to Europe and other countries to carry out our work. Although the geographical location was a bit far from some destinations and this meant longer and more expensive trips, we have always been able to do it despite the difficulties.

Moving to Barcelona facilitated access to commissioned works simply because it was closer.

BSA: In some of your paintings we experience a visual illusion of your characters coming from inside the building’s walls. You create an environment where the forms are in movement but also the characters strike a defiant pose. Is this a way in which you are challenging the public to interact with your work?

Medianeras: Yes, these characters are empowered and are in a challenging pose for a matter of scale since they are always bigger than the viewer and look at them from above. Conceptually, the representation of these characters is due to an intention to express an intention.

Medianeras. The Crystal Ship Festival. Ostende, Belgium. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: You create portraits, sometimes with an abstract quality to them. Who are your subjects? Do you know the men and women depicted in your work? How do you choose them?

Medianeras: We don’t know the characters that we represent because they are created digitally. Basically what we do is distort or change the faces so that they look strange. Many times we mix faces from different photographs and in turn, divide them into color planes of different darkness.

We want our works to convey the message of a broad concept of gender. We believe that once the rigorous distinction between men and women comes to an end, we will see the development of freer social relations and generations of people who are less concerned with what they should be and more attentive to what they could be.

Medianeras. Villa Constitucion, Argentina. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: Do you think artists have a social responsibility to address the problems affecting our society today with their art?

Medianeras: Not necessarily. Each artist decides whether or not they want to work to address these social problems. All individuals whether they are artists or not have certain social responsibilities when living in societies. Urban art is important as a tool for the appropriation of public space. It is also political action. It is very important for the communities to express themselves in their streets since these are the places that we inhabit as societies.

The objective that we have always shared was the need to make public art, whether it’s a mural, urban intervention, or mosaic because we believe that there is where it lies the right place for our work.

We consider that public art is the most honest way to create our artworks and that anyone has access to them. We are not interested in making art for an elite that understands or appreciates it or that handles certain codes. It is art for everyone. Medianeras was born with a shared desire to move and create our work in different places and for different communities.

The important thing about urban art is that it expands this offer, making it accessible to everyone and democratizing access to culture. The main goal is to live the experience of creating public work, of engaging a community. That’s what we’re looking for and what fully gratifies us.

Medianeras. Villa Constitucion, Argentina. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: Do you think that Social Media has influenced the artistic output of street artists? Do you think that street artists have slightly changed their work in favor of a more welcoming and larger Social Media presence?

Medianeras: Yes, definitely. We believe that artists think about social media when making artworks since many times social media are a medium to show the work. Perhaps the media and the way you show your work is as important as the work itself. Many of these are created for these networks,

In general, we believe that the digital world has permeated the world of art and has changed the way artists work. We also believe that these modifications are not limited to the world of art but to the societies of the world in general.

Medianeras. Mostar, Bosnia. (photo courtesy of the artists)
Medianeras. Vancouver Mural Festival. Canada. (photo courtesy of the artists)
Medianeras. Vancouver Mural Festival. Canada. (photo © Gabriel Martins)
Medianeras. Vancouver Mural Festival. Canada. (photo courtesy of the artists)
Medianeras. Natinta Festival. La Paz, Bolivia. (photo courtesy of the artists)
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Medianeras Part I: “Gender in its Vast Diversity”

Medianeras Part I: “Gender in its Vast Diversity”

Today we speak with Analí Chanquia and Vanesa Galdeano, who are known professionally together as MEDIANERAS. They are originally from Argentina but presently they live in Barcelona; together they have been traveling around the world together for 10 years creating murals. They work as a couple developing a vocabulary of kinetic graphics and androgynous, anamorphosed portraits that are jarring, slickly virtual, and somehow transcendent. Each is of this moment in the environment it is painted, yet reminds us that we are entering a different age of interaction that is not necessarily physical. It is electric, accessible, and oddly, spiritual.

Medianeras. Cascais, Portugal. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: How many years have you been painting together and where and how did you begin?

Medianeras: We have been painting together for about 10 years. Both Vane and I (Anali) were already dedicated to making works of urban art before founding MEDIANERAS. Vanesa is an architect and has directed a mosaic workshop in the city of Rosario since 2009, a workshop with which they carried out collective mosaic interventions around the city. More than 15 interventions can be found; some are murals others are urban furniture cladding, such as stairs or public benches. In my case, I painted my first mural at the age of 18, but I began to dedicate myself more specifically to urban painting around the year 2011 when I did my Fine Arts thesis. This was a theoretical-practical project called “artist looks for a wall “, which consisted of making murals on walls that the neighbors offered me when they found this stencil that I left as a signature on each work.

We met in 2012 at a mosaic street workshop in the city of Rosario. Vanesa, who at that time was directing the workshop, contacted several graffiti artists to make a collective artwork of mixed techniques. That’s how we met; we began a life of love, travel, and art together. Until today we continue to grow together and enjoy together what we like the most.

Medianeras. Cascais, Portugal. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: Medianeras is your artistic name. Could you please tell us about it? How did you arrive at naming yourselves “Medianeras

Medianeras: We are a couple in both life and art, and thus our day-to-day existence and our projects capture our mutual growth. We called our duo Medianeras because we cherish the concept and idea of sharing. In Spanish, this means ‘lateral walls,’ which are those shared by neighbors. There’s a difference between walls whose function is to separate spaces, and lateral ones, which, conversely, join them. We maintain that public art, aside from making cities more attractive, proclaims the idea of a place shared by all the individuals who pass through it. We teamed up with the idea of conceiving and creating public art together. At present we are dedicating ourselves to mural painting, but we have also worked on collective mosaic interventions in public spaces.

Medianeras. Morlaix, France. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: Please tell us about your process for creating a mural from the idea to the sketch to the art on the wall.

Medianeras: The creative process is quite long. The idea that we are going to paint takes us more time than the days of painting the mural. We study the place a lot, the points of view, the architecture, and the surroundings; we take into account the culture of the place and the history. We draw the designs digitally, based on the photographs of the wall and its proportions and features.

The ideas to create the projects come mainly from certain characteristics of the town or city, the context, the proportions of the wall – width – height – unevenness – and the possible points of view. We mainly represent portraits, and we try not to necessarily define the gender of who we represent, giving rise to the viewer’s perspectives. The murals that we create considerably modify the urban space. In the case of the paintings that we make, they open a kind of window to artistic representation. However, it is important to remember that despite the fact that these murals are visually imposed, they are still ephemeral interventions in painting, linked to possible changes in the weather or any other.

Medianeras. Morlaix, France. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: Please tell us about your background in art and what you were doing independently before you formed Medianeras.

Medianeras: As a child, I (Anali) loved creating things, drawing, and inventing new objects. I attended different art workshops and studied at the University of Arts in the city of Rosario. While I was studying, I made several murals, and in the last years of my career, I was already doing all the artwork on the street. I also studied digital design, a fact that allowed me to handle 3d tools and have a solid idea about space representation.

Vanesa studied architecture and also fine arts. She always had a predilection for urbanism in general but began to carry out collective urban interventions through a mosaic workshop that she directed after finishing architecture

We are both from Argentina. We grew up in a city named Rosario which is located near the Paraná river. Our country, located in South America, is incredible and beautiful as well as uncertain, unstable, and unpredictable. This makes its inhabitants constantly adapt to different types of changes, whether these changes are economic, political, social, or otherwise. In my opinion, in general, it makes Argentine citizens quite creative in the face of different types of difficulties. We are a society that is accustomed to improvising and adapting quickly.

In relation to our activity, Street art is characterized by appearing in all its forms in various parts of the city in a somewhat uncontrolled and deregulated way. The techniques that are used are those that are at hand depending on the stage that the country goes through. For example, the colors and spray brands that can be found in Rosario are very limited, and that makes the artists or graffiti artists use only the colors that they can find or even mix between the same cans of spray they have. In turn, the high costs of spray paint often lead to the choice of cheaper paints, often acrylic paints or even a mixture of several.

In Argentina, there are fewer formalities to intervene in the public space, and this has resulted in a somewhat more spontaneous, less regulated, more experimental urban art, perhaps even more sloppy. However many times we lack the necessary materials or budgets to make murals of large formats.

Although it is an activity that is penalized, we could venture that as there are problems of another kind, more urgent and important, urban art remains somewhat more out of the main focus. In this sense, we appreciate that freedom of expression is not expressly controlled, often allowing experimentation and growth of various artists on the street. We grew up in this context, where through dialogue with neighbors in our beginnings we were able to carry out our works. It can be said that we learned to paint on the street itself.

There was always something that called both of us to create public art. We even met each other working on the Street. The objective that we always shared was to make street art for everyone, whether in mural format, urban intervention, or mosaic because we believe that it is the right place for MEDIANERAS. We consider that public art is the most honest way to create our artworks and that anyone has access to them. It is art for everyone. Medianeras was born with a shared desire to move and create our artworks in different places and for everybody.

Medianeras. Morlaix, France. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: The moment you paint on a wall on a building you’re immediately transforming the building and how the building is perceived by the people on the ground. How do the possibility of doing an intervention on any given building inform the theme and the execution of your work?

Medianeras: Our murals center on the representation of gender in its vast diversity. Although the works vary according to where they are located and how they are viewed, one of their standard features is faces whose gender is not necessarily distinct. Our theme corresponds closely to our way of thinking about gender. Throughout our education, we are taught what a man does and what a woman ought to do. However, in both our case as well as that of a broad range of human beings, gender is something that can change and be unable to adapt to this binary imposition. We want our works to convey the message of a broad concept of gender. We believe that once the rigorous distinction between men and women comes to an end, we will see the development of freer social relations and generations of people who are less concerned with what they should be and more attentive to what they could be.

In other words, we believe that by breaking these rigid and constrictive molds, we can overcome certain forms of discrimination, as well as roles imposed on us from the outside. Our works reflect individuals, poetically and visually transformed, who often struggle to break out of the molds in which they find themselves.

These molds are the architectures where they are found. That is why we like to make holes in the spaces, like breaking down the walls.

Medianeras. La Bañeza, Spain. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: How do you view context when doing a mural? The context here includes not only the architectural structure that you are using as canvas but also the neighborhood where the said structure is located, as well as the city and indeed the country.

Medianeras: Before starting a design we try to inform ourselves as much as we can about society and the place such as the wall where we are going to paint the mural. In this research, we investigate the customs and characteristics of the culture and its history. We also make a virtual tour of the areas where the wall is located through google maps. This tool allows us to obtain some possible perspectives of the place. With a set of data that includes colors of the environment, the architecture of the place, or even stories, among many others, we create a sketch that is adjusted specifically for that particular surface (wall). That sketch can only be represented on that site since we think about it in relation to the architecture and the points of view from which it will be observed. Through our representations of diverse individuals, we convey an idea of inclusion and conviction about the ideals we stand for.

Medianeras. La Bañeza, Spain. (photo courtesy of the artists)

BSA: You are not afraid of color and geometry in your work. Your murals have almost a tri-dimensional depth, is this technique informed by your previous experiences in art making or was it born out from merging your talents together?

Medianeras: Both. We have enough knowledge to be able to bring to painting what we projected in the initial idea. Through the years, we have combined our styles in such a way as to arrive at what we currently do. Each project is a new challenge to integrate portraits into architectures, which are different in each case. We believe that we can achieve great complexities in the representation of depth thanks to the unification of our knowledge, both geometry and color and drawing.

We like to use the technique of anamorphosis. From one angle, one sees images of faces while, from another, one sees the distortion of these faces—the images reveal that they are illusions, something we believe is real, but that is not necessarily so. This is why we study the area around as well as the points of view from which the wall will be perceived: the image is conditioned both by the wall on which it will be displayed and the environment it is in.

Medianeras. La Bañeza, Spain. (photo courtesy of the artists)
Medianeras. La Bañeza, Spain. (photo courtesy of the artists)
Medianeras. Lecce, Italy. (photo courtesy of the artists)
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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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“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


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.

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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F*cking REVS: Interview on BSA by Freddy Alva

F*cking REVS: Interview on BSA by Freddy Alva

“Graffiti ain’t something you do, it’s something you live,” says the text above a wildly lettered REVS piece in a 1996 photo taken in El Paso. If there is a New York graffiti/Street Art icon that you would identify with a credo like this, he’s definitely one. Self-secreted away from the limelight and distrustful of many of the characters that are on the graffiti/Street Art “scene” today, REVS is nearly a New York folk hero, despite appearing to be completely firm in his anti-establishment, anti-commercial views – rooted in punk and hardcore music and those values that helped form his sometimes shape-shifting character since the the 1980s.


REVS (photo © WOES)

Today it is a rare moment for BSA to publish an exclusive interview with an anonymous and articulate thinking man and writer whose practice we consider to be an important lynchpin between graffiti and what would later be called “Street Art.”  The scale of his massive roller tags with sometimes writing partner COST, the series of personal ‘diary’ entries that number into the 200s in underground tunnels, the replication and repetition of tags and messages through new print methods, the move to iron sculpture soldiered to the streetscape – each of these moves broke a mold and expanded the definition of art on the streets in some way.

New York author and respected Hardcore music and graffiti documentarian Freddy Alva is publishing the second edition of his book Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore” this month, where he gives you the full account of personally meeting with and interviewing the elusive writer/artist/musician – a generous portion of which we bring to you here today. Mr. Alva tells us what it was like to meet with REVS and speaks of the illuminating and wide-ranging REVs interview that gives details and perspective behind the lore in his evolution with aesthetic street expression in a way that is rarely heard. Our thanks to both of these folks for sharing their stories with BSA readers.

REVS-COST. Roller 1989. (photo © FREE5)

Intro from Freddy Alva

When I first started to write my ‘Urban Styles Graffiti In NYHC’ book in 2016; the first person on my list that I wanted to interview was REVS. I’d been a big fan of his output since the late 80’s and I knew he came from a Punk/Hardcore background, which made him an ideal subject to highlight the synthesis and crossover of these vital NYC subcultures that went on to have such a worldwide cultural impact. I managed to get a sit-down with him through mutual acquaintances & traveled deep into South Brooklyn to pitch my book. He was a bit distant at first but warmed up as he found out I used to book shows at a place one of his bands played at in the early 90’s.        

As I laid out my vision for the book and the writers that I was planning on interviewing plus images that I wanted to highlight; he patiently listened and towards the end politely declined to be included as he preferred to keep his story underground and maybe I didn’t quite correctly explain what the final product would look like but he did agree for a couple of songs from his early 80’s band Adam 12 to be included on a compilation I was planning on releasing simultaneously with the book. I left Brooklyn a bit dejected but respected his decision & figured that was it.

REVS. Search and Destroy 1994. (photo © COST)

Flash forward to when the book came out in early 2018 and I got in touch with him again to return those Adam 12 songs that I used & also to give a him a copy of the book to see what he thought of it. He called me up the very next day saying how much he loved it & if there was any chance he could still be included. Fortunately, the book quickly sold out and I was planning on expanding the 2nd edition, as there was a chapter that was left off the first time around, plus correcting typos and fixing some of the photos so to add a REVS interview would make this the definitive version.

Like I stated in my intro to his section; people that follow him might not be as aware of how much his experience in being a Punk Rocker has really impacted all of his art in such a profound fashion. It’s unheard of these days, in what’s called the street art world, to have an artist of such magnitude and influence like REVS eschew all and any attempts to commercialize his output.

He will never sell you one of his works, there won’t ever be a gallery exhibition, he will not do any commissions and forget about any merchandise/marketing related to him. One need not look any further than the defiant, middle finger, fuck you to the system attitude espoused by American Hardcore bands like the Dead Kennedy’s or the Do It Yourself ethics of subversive English Punks Crass; all resonating in his work throughout the years. I seriously consider him one of the last great NYC artists from the 20th century that got his start and influence from two rebellious subcultures that are near & dear to my heart. I feel fortunate to fill in some missing pieces, giving a more nuanced picture of who he is and why his art comes out the way it does.

~ Freddy Alva

What was your next tagging name?                        
The very first name I had was SATIRE and I probably got that from the Monty Python show on TV. I didn’t know what it meant, had no fucking clue, but I wrote it on an abandoned house with this kid that wrote RED and lived on my block

At what point did you start writing REVLON?
That started in 1983. After writing SIRO I might have been ME2 for a few weeks, then it was KIRK, took some bullshit tags in the village with that, nothing particularly good. I was hanging out with this guy D-ROCK, he was in a band called Cooker, known before as Weed or also Sacro 13; all the same band. He used to write and we would go on missions and also go to HC shows together all the time. He had a dope dancing style, kind of like John Watson. We were hanging out in my hallway one day and I went to the bathroom, saw this Revlon shampoo bottle while taking a piss and picked it up.

What can I tell you? I was young and stupid, I had so much hatred in me. I hated every fucking thing. I stuck with that for a while because I developed a good one line tag. It’s a horrible tag I know but I love animals and hate animal testing so this I again one of those contrary things that I’m against what the name stands for, like Adam 12. Another tag of mine is SHIESTA and once again I’m the complete opposite of that because I don’t shyster with people. I don’t like shysters, there is always this duality that goes with me.

REVS REVLON. Whole car. 1988. Train. (photo © PM)

Did you do any burners on trains with the REVLON name or get down with any crews?
Yeah, we used to go to the 4th Avenue layups, the M yard, RR layups in the city. We also went to the ‘Dead Yard’ in Brooklyn on 39th street. Me and my partner NB were hitting tunnels pretty extensively in 1983. I never joined any crews.

At what point did the REVLON name transition into REVS?
That happened in 1987. We were painting at King Kong’s cave in Brooklyn where the N train goes to Coney Island. I was doing a wall with LAW and EROS from Staten Island, plus my partner at the time, KAB, and NIKE from DESTINY crew. I did a REVS because REVLON is a such a horrible stupid fucking name. I abbreviated it and put a Z at the end because I was sick of REVLON. By 1990 I was a nowhere guy, like that Reagan Youth song, “Go Nowhere”, that was me. I just threw the rule book out the door and didn’t give a flying fuck about making straight lines in graffiti. I just wanted to destroy like Johnny Lydon and I never looked back because I feel that I’m in my groove.

It’s interesting this transition happened when graffiti in NYC changed after the train era and new techniques, like wheat paste posters, in street bombing became more prevalent. You are associated with that, tell me about it.
I was walking down Houston near Mercer one day and saw some stupid poster for a Tom Cruise movie and I was like; ‘Fuck this, I’m gonna do my own thing’. I figured it out, got wheat paste and started going out solo, putting my posters up in the Village. This is in 1990 or maybe 1989 because I had my first girlfriend in 1988. She was Porto Rock and wasn’t hearing about any of this graffiti shit. I couldn’t be a bum, had to dress nice and take her to dance clubs like 10-18. That was fun, going to places like The Palladium, got to do what you got to do sometimes! She actually ended up running away with a sailor and moved to Hawaii. I was like; ‘Fuck this, fuck everything’ once again. I started doing these crazy sloppy rollers with the wheat paste because everything at that point in graffiti was so meticulous in 1990. Perfect straight lines, right angles… I was like; ‘nah, I hate everything’.

REVS El Paso. 1996 (photo courtesy of Freddy Alva)

People must have have thought you were putting up movie posters when you went out. How did you hook up with COST?
I would do low spots like doorways and one day I saw COST hitting all the backs of the ‘Don’t Walk’ signs on the street and I knew him since like 1985. He was putting these 8 ½ x 11 inch ‘Hello My Name Is COST’ posters and I was doing 11 x 17 inch ‘Who Is REVS’ posters. I ran into the dude from Videograf and told him to give COST my number.

Where did the idea to do rollers come from?
I think LAW and EROS used bucket paint for their piece at King Kong’s cave but they did it as fill-in material. The concept of “John Loves Mary’ written on the side of a bridge with house paint also influenced me but I took it on steroids. I’m a white dude that likes tools, got to use tools, it’s part of my nature. I can physically do some stuff but I’ll always settle for doing something smarter not harder. I got an extension pole, like 24 feet long, for the roller me and COST did. We did our first roller on a parking lot by Duane St, right on the roof. It was a brown roller on a tan wall.

COST is a straight up graffiti dude, he’s a bomber, that’s what he knows how to do. Don’t ask him to draw anything. He can probably do a piece but he’s great at throw-ups and tags. He’s not into abstract work, but when we did that roller a lightbulb went off. We blew up the whole spot, no one could go over us. It was a sloppy roller but to his credit, he’s a very neat guy and meticulous. He cares about perception, wants to get feedback. I don’t care, just don’t go over me, say whatever you want. He was like; ‘Yo Rev, we got to make these things neat, make them clean and everything’. I was like ok; I can go with the flow so when we started doing that’s when it really took off. We started hitting everywhere and these things look pretty good, almost semi-pro lettering, kind of like a stencil.                  

I know spray cans are easy to rack, but how did you get all these gallons of paint and wheat paste?
Wheat paste was cheap. I always worked, been working since I was 11 years old so I had money for buying wheat paste. We found on Reade St. an old paint store that had like a gazillion DOT (Department Of Transportation) yellow standard buckets and I bought every single one for like a dollar a piece. This is the DOT yellow that I used before meeting COST. I ran Houston and Broadway with a DOT yellow piece. We also used whatever we found in the garbage, didn’t care it was oil based, we are not painting someone’s house but just blasting as much as possible. We found Photo Backdrop paper in Soho and started doing what we called street paintings on them, then gluing those up. They were 4 x 6 feet tall. We started doing street paintings where you paint the doorway and then take some shoe dye, put purple in the dye, then do my character. COST was doing his stick figures thing and we ventured out to the outer boroughs as well.

I imagine you guys started garnering attention as far as this is something, it’s not like traditional graffiti from the 70s/80s. What did other writers think of it?
Writers didn’t like it. COST came up with the idea of getting a toll free phone number and then got his grandmother to record some foul language messages, insulting people. People were like; ‘What is this shit? That ain’t Graffiti!’ When dudes saw one of our rollers outside of, like Tower Records, or in Soho, they’d be off balance not knowing what to think. All their shit in the bottom didn’t mean anything anymore.

REVSNUKE. Brooklyns’ Very Own. (photo © Luna Park)

It’s ironic because traditional art theory people would look at this as some kind of performance art and graffiti writers would say what is this?
They would say what is this toy shit? How come you’re not using spray paint? Regular people would call up and ask what is this about. It was mysterious but we were just two graffiti guys.

I was tracing the origins of the whole ‘Street Art” moniker and arguably; a lot of it can be traced back to what you guys were doing then
Oh yeah it can. Street art has been around for a while but they didn’t really call it that, like the dude that put the shadows up everywhere. Then it was the ‘Kill Your TV’ guy. We started calling it street art and now it’s a bad word, at least amongst graffiti writers. It’s not a bad word for the people making money off it. I don’t call it graffiti anymore but “Greed-Fitti.” Once you throw money into something it has a way of making things go weird. All these dudes are selling things because there’s no real graffiti anymore. They took away the trains, buses, handball courts, the parks. Guys play with the tunnels now, RD and SEN 4 have the fire hydrants but we’ve got virtually nothing. Maybe some overpass by the freight trains. All of us still have the itch and being grown men now, we could do a good job. Everyone has a family with mouths to feed so they’re selling everything and calling it graffiti but it’s only graffiti when it’s up.

When did the rollers and wheat pasting era come to an end for you?
Me and COST would argue a lot. We’d have these crazy discussions because we were together so much and have way different philosophies on life. I had to put my foot down otherwise he would have printed t-shirts to sell in Macy’s or something like that. One day we were wheat pasting and it ended up with us saying ‘Fuck You’ to one another. We went our separate ways but cops were trailing him because he was putting up a lot of stickers. Whenever we’d do a roller, he’d bring cans and do throw-ups. I didn’t want to do that because I don’t like spray paint anyway, but love tagging.

Is that when you started your  series in the tunnels?
Yeah, any motherfucker can write on a piece of paper but graffiti needs balls. The best graffiti guys have balls and talent, that’s dudes like ZEPHYR, SEEN, BAN 2. Some guys can get up but don’t have the talent. The tunnel thing was a case of I don’t give a flying fuck, I’m going to do whatever I want to do, don’t care who sees it. It’s not in book form, just made that shit up as I went along. I can’t spell. I was going with bucket paint and a ladder all painted black, clothes were black, pole was black. I used the best quality paint I could get my hands on and did 235 of these series. I didn’t get my groove on.

REVS. Weld Up in DUMBO, 2000. (photo © Scar Gis)

At what point did your steel sculptures come about?
I don’t call them sculptures, more like metal pieces. DIVA used to call them weld-ups. I come from the working class so I build stuff. The first weld-up I did was in 1990 and it was a cage that I installed in Soho with railroad spikes and some epoxy on the bottom. It ran for a couple of months and then I did another one by the cube on St. Marks. It was an oil can that was for the Gulf war in 1991. Me and CZ, who I used to write with, humped that thing from my third floor apartment on the Lower East Side.

I started to get more into welding and even when I was hanging with COST I would tell him to get a book to get the concept of welding. He was like, ‘Nah REV, it’s not the right time.’ He doesn’t come from the working class, has a different background. I got down with my union and started getting better at welding, practice in anything will make you better. I got balls and you combine that with being good at something; this is the shit I’m into. I love getting into steel with a grinder and a torch. It’s so easy to get a rechargeable grinder now but they didn’t have them back then and now everyone is forty years old. Fifteen year olds ain’t fucking with that but grown men know a little bit about tools. You can lose your shit once you weld something. They’ll cut the fence down and go for the easiest part of your piece, just take it down. That’s where I’m at, trying to device ways to make it hard to take down and they’re looking for ways to stop me.

I remember at the time you and COST were doing stickers and the 12” cover cover seemed an extension of that as the cover looks like one giant REVS sticker

I can see why you say that but the cover wasn’t a sticker, it just looks like one. That’s the difference between me and COST. The 12” was a personal thing to me not some kind of mass media campaign. I didn’t give a shit about becoming anybody. That’s the great thing about the Adam 12 guys, none of us wanted to become anybody, that’s why I like those guys. Other dudes like the Greed-fitti guys always want to become somebody, they want to be the next Andy Warhol, Keith Haring or Basquiat.

That’s the problem because the Greed-Fitti guys don’t come from punk. They don’t come from ‘Fuck you, stay the fuck away from me’. I’m not left wing, I’m not right wing, just stay the fuck away. That’s the punk I know and grew up on and when things started changing in 1984, it was disheartening. The machismo, why have violence against your own people? As Jello (Biafra) says; ‘Thrash a bank if you have the balls’. Why fuck with your own kind, back then everyone got along except for maybe there was a hippie or two that got beat up at CBGB’s.

Our sincere thanks to Freddy Alva and REVS and the photographers in this posting. This interview has been edited for brevity. Read the entire interview in book Urban Styles: Graffiti in New York Hardcore”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Interview with Javier Abarca by Adam Void:

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

TAG. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Robin Vermeulen)

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

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

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

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

TAG. Amsterdam 2018. (photo © Robin Vermeulen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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WK Interact Makes Some Noise in Tokyo

WK Interact Makes Some Noise in Tokyo

French New Yorker and Street Artist WK Interact has just finished a new gig on a massive wall in Japan and he is about to help make some noise about it, so to speak. The Japanese band Noisemaker has a substantive following for their nu metal sound recalling the glossy punk stylings of 1990s and bands like Massive Attack, Green Day, and Rage Against the Machine and WK has created work to help them promote their new mini-album and tour kickoff next month.

WK Interact. Noisemaker. Shibuya, Japan. (photo courtesy of the artist)

The 12 meter wall in Shibuya features WK’s signature black and white urban military police-state nomenclature with an attractive female figure bossing in the foreground while holding a vintage recording device familiar to security and law enforcement. The Bands name is splashed in blood red behind her.

It took three days and a night to complete and WK tells us he had a very good time with the bands and the fans. Given that WK’s work on the street has nearly often contained elements of blurring chaotically chopped action, you smile when he tells you “the band was jumping on a trampoline in motion near the wall for their album cover.”

WK and the boys in the band celebrating the finished wall on social media.

BSA: What does the model’s pose and clothing signify to you?
WK Interact: The model is supposed to be one their fans who goes to many different concerts. She has a recording device that dates back to 1980 called a NAGRA. Many people these days carry their own listening device on their SMART phone. The idea is that she’s recording and transmitting to many other people. She is in her own world and listening and recording events is a passion for her – like buying clothes or surfing or traveling.

WK Interact. Noisemaker. Shibuya, Japan. (photo courtesy of the artist)

BSA: How is this wall significant to people in Japanese culture?
WK Interact: This specific place will be destroyed in the next two months and new construction will take over. It’s located four blocks from the Shibuya station and it is in the heart of a district with many different cool bars and shops. Many Japanese are sad to see spots like this vanish.

WK Interact. Noisemaker. Shibuya, Japan. (photo courtesy of the artist)

BSA: How would you describe the scene on the street in Shibuya?
WK Interact: The last time I visited Japan was 17 years ago and at that time I did an amazing opening at PARCO Museum. At the time JAPAN was the most advanced in terms of street wear and a prime environment for street art and graffiti. Tokyo has changed terribly as you almost see nothing in terms of expression from the street. None is visible. All the small little stores have vanished, the economy is not as good, and most of the big brands have taken over.

WK Interact likes to capture the severe men in uniform wherever he goes. Noisemaker. Shibuya, Japan. (photo courtesy of the artist)

WK Interact. Noisemaker. Shibuya, Japan. (photo courtesy of the artist)

WK Interact. Noisemaker. Shibuya, Japan. (photo courtesy of the artist)

WK Interact. Noisemaker. Shibuya, Japan. (photo courtesy of the artist)

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“Martha” the Movie: Selina Miles’ Most Ambitious Project To Date

“Martha” the Movie: Selina Miles’ Most Ambitious Project To Date

The Director Invites You to Participate in the New Documentary

The rising star film director who has captured and woven riveting narratives of artists and graffiti virtuosos like Melbourne’s Sofles and the ultimate train-jumping outlaws 1UP Crew from Berlin – verifiably raising their respective games and profiles in the process – Brisbane’s Selina Miles has been tackling a graffiti/Street Art juggernaut right before our eyes; a full scale movie-length documentary on famed New York photographer Martha Cooper.

Martha Cooper (photo © Selina Miles)

We knew that these two talented and powerful personalities would compliment each other stunningly and that’s why we encouraged them two years ago to do a doc. A short term one was the original plan. But the two hit it off so well and when you are looking at a five decade career like Ms. Cooper’s and you have the dogged determination to do her story justice, Ms. Miles tells us that even an hour and a half film feels like its just getting started.

Now “Martha” the movie is at a unique juncture in the project and YOU may be able to participate; Selina and the team are looking for any original footage you may want to show them – and it may be used in the documentary.

Martha Cooper. Subway Art (photo © Selina Miles)

We have an amazingly involved, interconnected, and brilliant audience of BSA readers across the time zones, so she’s asking you first. Please click this link and let Selina and Martha know if you might have something to show them.

Specifically right now the team  is looking for:

1.     Historical photos and video of artists interacting with “The Holy Book of Graffiti”, Subway Art, by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, and

2.     Modern day footage of Martha Cooper going to any and all lengths to get the shot.

Read more at “Martha” the Movie and please contact them ASAP.

In an exclusive interview director Selina Miles today shares with Martha Cooper fans some unseen images from making the movie. She also gives insights into what it has been like making the biggest movie ever produced about the famed photographer.

Martha Cooper. Archives. (photo © Selina Miles)

Brooklyn Street Art: What gave you the idea to do a documentary about Marty?
Selina Miles: As with most of us interested in graffiti, I knew of Marty’s book Subway Art from a young age. We first met at ONO’U Tahiti Graffiti Festival in 2014, and I was immediately taken with her approachable, passionate and vibrant character. In 2015, I had been working on a series called “Portrait of an Artist,” an anthology of 10 minute documentaries profiling artists, and a good friend asked me “Who’s next?.” Martha was an obvious choice.

We both returned to Tahiti the following year for the same festival. Seated around a dinner table with a group of artists, I casually asked “When do you think you’ll be in New York next?” she replied “I’m not sure, why?” I ended up asking her right on the spot if I could make a film about her, in front of the whole group. It felt very much like awkwardly asking out a prom date. Luckily she said yes.

Martha Cooper at work at the Houston/Bowery Wall in NYC with Pichi & Avo. (photo © Selina Miles)

BSA: Is it true that at the start of the project you were thinking of doing a short film?
Selina Miles: The following February, I had just finished directing my biggest TV commercial yet, and wanted to the use bigger-than-usual pay check to do an ambitious project. I booked myself a 2 week trip to New York, as well as a ticket for Marcus Autelli, an amazing cinematographer from London. Our mission was a 10 minute piece.

Like so many fans of Martha’s work, I discovered her through the graffiti subculture. I did my best to research before the trip. I scoured Youtube and Vimeo for videos and interviews with Marty, flicked through Subway Art, pored over Street Play, re-watched Style Wars and thought I had done a pretty good job.

Martha Cooper. Archives. (photo © Selina Miles)

When I arrived in New York, Marty met me at her train station, and together we walked to her studio. She gave me a key and pointed me in the direction of her archives. Large folders lined the shelves. I still remember the first time reading those labels, hand-drawn in Marty’s signature authoritative, all-caps handwriting. “Windsurfing.” “Korea.” “Tunisia.” “Israel.” Each one full to the brim with boxes of Kodachrome mounted slides, stamped and dated.

The first person Martha suggested I interview was her good friend Susan, who flew down from her home in Maine to speak to me. It wasn’t until a few days before the interview that I learned that “Marty’s friend Susan” was actually Susan Welchman, photo editor of the New York Post and of National Geographic Magazine for 35 years. I began to learn of Martha’s incredible, rich photographic career, too often obscured behind the monumental popular reverence for her graffiti work.

Martha Cooper with her longtime friend Susan Welchman, the former photo editor at The New York Post and Senior Picture Editor at National Geographic  (photo © Selina Miles)

I realized with a combination of terror and excitement that I was facing much more than a 10 minute graffiti video. That this was the story of a photographer who had shaped entire generations of a worldwide subculture. A woman whose camera had witnessed historical events from the 1960s until now, whose story was deeply entangled with that of New York City, whose work had touched so many lives across boundaries of time and place and culture. And most importantly, a story that was relatively unknown, absolutely begging to be told, and that Martha had put her faith in me to tell that story.

It was then that I realized that 10 minutes wasn’t going to cut it.

Martha Cooper. Graffiti Writers. (photo © Selina Miles)

BSA: Is there anything call “a typical day” when you are following Marty in her travels?
Selina Miles: There is never a boring moment when you’re with Martha. What she has can’t even be described as work ethic, because she doesn’t see photography as work. It is just who she is, and there is nothing else. She will go anywhere, any time, to any extreme to do the projects she wants to do.

That being said, there are certain consistencies in her days. Any time she is presented with a window of downtime of more than 3.5 seconds, she is playing Pokemon Go. When it comes to food, Marty frequents exactly 2 restaurants in New York, both 4 blocks or less from her apartment. In total she has about 4 dishes on rotation, supplemented on particularly busy days by Lunchables, ready-made snack packs of deli meats and Oreos.

Martha Cooper. Pokemon fun with Steven P. Harrington at Metro Diner in NYC. (photo © Selina Miles)

It is well documented that many successful entrepreneurs and geniuses keep rigid routines or wear the same clothes every day as a way to save precious cognitive resources for what they really love to do. Marty is no exception. My best tip for anyone lucky enough to share a lunch with her – you have about 30 seconds to decide on your order before her patience runs out.

Marty’s life is chaos wrapped in deeply ingrained habit, on a bed of compulsive, obsessive collecting and photo-taking. An ideal combination for a documentary subject.

Martha Cooper. SIM cards from her international travels. (photo © Selina Miles)

BSA: You have unprecedented access like no one ever before to the archives of 50 years. It must to have felt overwhelming sometimes.
Selina Miles: Most of my career has focused on making short films where the objective is creating something out of nothing. This project is the opposite. The real challenge is to distill 50 years, 17 published books, hundreds of travel destinations and more than an estimated half a million images into a singular, watchable 90 minutes. In this case, making a good film is as much about what you choose to leave out as what you include.

Martha Cooper. Archives. (photo © Selina Miles)

My team and I have collected archive from every major medium, from Super 8 film, to VHS, to DV tapes, to our own 4K video. We have searched high and low over the 19 months working on this project, and there hasn’t been a week that we don’t discover some essential snippet of the story. Friends and colleagues of Marty have sent in material from South Africa, Prague and Germany. Her ex husband’s basement held over 6000 feet of Super 8 home movies, unseen since the ‘80s.

This constant digging and discovery is anxiety inducing, chasing leads that never end, having nightmares of dusty tapes sitting in a basement somewhere that could unlock all the answers if only I could find them. On the flip side, the elation that comes when you find that perfect piece makes it all worth it.

Martha Cooper. Archives. (photo © Selina Miles)

BSA: Were you able to speak to individuals whom you considered to be close to Martha personally or professionally?
Selina Miles: Out of every subject we approached, all but one agreed, the exception being a prominent anti-graffiti policymaker from New York City during the early ‘80s.

I interviewed in 6 cities and had material translated in 4 languages. I spoke to friends and family, peers, cultural commentators, graffiti writers. Each contributor was more varied and vibrant than the last. After the interview, when I would thank each contributor for their time, they would often respond with the same phrase, jumping out at me like a mantra – “Anything for Martha.” It became quite ridiculous how often I heard this exact phrase coming from everyone from kids at the skate park in Baltimore to curators at major New York museums. Access was not an issue on this project.

BSA: Can you share a special insight that you gained one day with her?
Selina Miles: I have been inspired in so many ways by this project, but I would say the most significant lessons I took away from the Marty Cooper approach to life would be to take risks, embrace failure, never grow up, and choose your own path in life. Although it takes place in very fantastical world full of weird and wonderful characters, Marty’s story is full of extremely universal, relatable human experiences, failures and triumphs. I hope that in watching the film, each viewer can find their own insights and take home lessons within her story.

Martha Cooper with the Brazilian twins Os Gemeos. (photo © Selina Miles)

BSA: You live In Australia and Martha lives in Manhattan. How do you make a feature film documentary when you have to travel such long distances?
Selina Miles: Firstly I am very fortunate to have built a freelance career that allows me to work when and where I choose. I can definitely encourage anybody thinking of making that leap to go for it. Not having a boss that you need to ask for time off makes it much easier. Secondly, being Australian you get really used to working weird time zones and traveling long distances. Modern aviation is a wonderful thing! Get on a plane, fall asleep for 14 hours, wake up and you’re in a different country! How cool is that!

Martha Cooper. Archives. (photo © Selina Miles)

Our world is so connected now, and filmmaking has become infinitely easier than it was for previous generations. Martha Cooper traveled the world photographing for National Geographic before the days of digital photography. She would have to physically purchase, carry, store, develop and print the hundreds of thousands of exposures of film required for one story.

She constantly battled against the physical mass and cost of that medium. This made photography or filmmaking accessible only to those with a formal education and money. We don’t have any of those issues anymore, anyone can walk into a store and purchase a $500 camera and a hard drive and start a career as a photographer or a documentary filmmaker. This project has given me a greater appreciation for how easy we have it now, and for the skill that was required to shoot on film.

A Subway Art fan clutching his copy close while looking at some of Martha Cooper’s more recent Street Art photography. (photo © Selina Miles)

BSA: Martha was one of the first documentors of the graffiti scene. What will the audience learn about how Martha first found out that she wanted to document the graffiti movement?
Selina Miles: It is my firm belief that I cannot make a film that will do anything for the documentation of early graffiti that wasn’t done by Style Wars in 1983, but I hope that the graffiti community leaves this film feeling well represented, and with greater context of how Martha Cooper became the legend we regard today.

BSA: How can people help you complete your film?
Selina Miles: Right now we are wrapping up our last month of post production, and searchin over the last few weeks we have been able to dig for new archival material. If anybody out there has footage of Marty, no matter what quality or how big or small, please send it to me! It might be just the bit that I am missing.

Marty’s story is such an international one, it’s so great to receive clips showing her at work in different locations around the world. Every little bit helps really bring to life the incredible bond that is shared within the graffiti and street art communities.

Martha Cooper. Archives. (photo © Selina Miles)

The slides of early tags were a selection for a chapter in Martha’s book “Hip Hop Files”.  “Make Your Mark” was a possible chapter heading she and the publisher eventually decided not to use. It comes from a 1982 anti-graffiti poster Koch put in the subways saying “Make your mark in society not on society.” It became a joke among graff writers, still remembered and quoted today.

Please click this link and let Selina and Martha know you might have something to show them.

Specifically right now the team  is looking for:

1.     Historical photos and video of artists interacting with “The Holy Book of Graffiti”, Subway Art, by Martha Cooper and Henry Chalfant, and

2.     Modern day footage of Martha Cooper going to any and all lengths to get the shot.

Read more at ” ‘Martha’ the Movie’ ” and please contact them ASAP.


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