After Covid kept us all away from this exhibition, BSA and Martha finally got a chance to see her retrospective in person, rather than through virtual 3-D tours or videos and photos. Here she is at a vitrine this morning for our first official tour together in person.
We have some special events taking place this month to celebrate one complete year of the career-spanning exhibition “Martha Cooper: TAKING PICTURES”, which we created with the team at Urban Nation Museum in Berlin.
Today graffiti/street artist AIKO talks about her striking new graphic mural for the façade of the museum that highlights and interprets a suite of recognizable elements from Martha’s iconic photographs – a perfect answer to the Martha Remix section of the exhibition inside featuring 70 or so artists “remixing” her photos in their individual styles.
Later this month we are announcing a collaborative print release worldwide featuring another remix and a countrywide screening in theaters across Germany of “Martha: A Picture Story” with us and Martha interviewed by Nika Kramer at the Berlin opening. At a separate ceremony we also will co-host with Martha and Urban Nation the official opening of the Martha Cooper Library (MCL), a full library facility and research center to be permanently housed in the museum building.
To start off the excitement, here is Lady AIKO herself speaking about her new mural welcoming visitors to see “Martha Cooper: TAKING PICTURES”, now open until May 2022.
Q: Tell us about this mural project for UN. AIKO: Firstly, this mural is a gift for Martha Cooper in celebration of her big retrospective show at Urban Nation. Martha and I have been friends since 2006. We’ve been partners in crime, so to speak, for the last fifteen years. We have worked on many different projects together all over the world from the United States to Japan to Africa. Martha has taken over 16,000 pictures of AIKO and has archived many of her art projects.
I am honored to be part of this opportunity and working with Urban Nation to allow me to create this epic mural for Martha. The museum facade is almost like fresh skin wrapped around her massive historic exhibition with big love from everyone who was part of this production.
Martha and I have been collaborating on this one; it’s called the “Martha Cooper Remix” whereby I interpret and illustrate her images, create paintings on paper and on outdoor & indoor walls. For UN, I easily imagined us creating a big remix piece on the wall.
To begin this mural mission, I asked Martha what she would like to see on the wall; especially since I wanted to paint based on the classic pictures she photographed in NYC. She suggested several of her favorite pictures such as the one with Lady Pink when she was in the yard with the boys, Little Crazy Legs with spray cans, and the boom box one (which is the most iconic picture and the cover photo of the Hip Hop Files). Also, I included break-dancers Emiko and Frosty Freeze which are popular ones as well.
Based on her selections, I spent time at my studio to illustrate a large-scale portrait in my style and imagined it as the giant invitation banner for her show – as if it were a classic hand-painted movie ad in old Times Square. Since her show runs until next spring, till 2022, I’d love to invite everyone and spread the vibe even to the people who see the mural from the U-Bahn train above.
Q:Can you tell us about you and little background? AIKO: I’ve been based in NYC since 1997. NYC has been my playground and a huge inspiration. I met many amazing local and international artists, Faile, Bast, Banksy, Ben Eine, Obey, and Space Invader at that time. We were young artists, not famous yet, but we connected with one after another pretty much spontaneously – as if it were destiny. I started working in street art with everyone daily during the early 2000s and I was part of numerous gallery shows, jams, festivals, and museum installations. Being part of the history of street art and the graffiti (urban art) movement is how I got involved as AIKO as well.
… Meeting Martha Cooper was also another magical happening for me. Martha and I met in 2006 when I just started leaving my boys’ crew, working solo and stenciling bunnies on the streets. We became good and hard-core girlfriends and started traveling together. She introduced me to subway art legends and all other kinds of fascinating people and stuff in the world. I feel I’m one of the people who is continuing the history for the next generation.
Q:What do you think about working in Berlin? AIKO: Berlin is such a memorable place in my personal art life history. I spent lots of time without the Internet and enjoyed every day as a young artist. I made lots of friends and lots of stencils on the street. Of course, I was with Martha and spray-painted my bunny too. I’m so grateful that Urban Nation welcomed me back to town and let me create such a huge piece on the facade of the museum. Thank you so much for everyone’s support.
“MARTHA COOPER: TAKING PICTURES” Curated by Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo is currently open to the general public. Click HERE for schedules and details.
The Ljubljana Street Art Festival 2021 took place as a cultural festival this year in the capital of Slovenia with painting, lectures, panels, special events, and guests like street artists Escif, public installation artist Epos 257, cultural instigator/commentator Good Guy Boris, and global graffiti/street art documentarian and photographer since the 1970s, Martha Cooper.
A unique event during this year’s festival included graffiti and street artists of various hand styles and influences crushing walls in monochrome. “The Left Over Graffiti Jam will give a chance to empty the leftover spray cans and hand the walls over to new generations to add to the layers of paint and subculture,” said the program’s description.
Based on the format of a graffiti jam, artists were invited to a series of walls to create while friends and fans set up impromptu picnics, parties, and took photos. The primary link between them all was their limited paint palette of whites, greys, and black paint that was allegedly “left over”. A historic place for many, this time the Hall of Fame was largely given over to new artists, aspiring writers, the new kids on the block. Whether it is still appropriately called a subculture or just “culture”, there is no doubt that the scene thrives on fresh blood and fresh paint.
The result brought more direct comparisons between styles and mastery – enabled by forcing artists to basically use the same materials for public expression. As an audience, you get a true sense of the writer’s personal style and poles of gravitational pull.
Luckily for us, Ms. Cooper shares her exclusive photos of the event here with BSA readers, while we speak with Sandi Abram, a co-founder of the festival with Anja Zver and Miha Erjavec.
A scholar and historian, Mr. Abram also gives us some context of graffiti here in the Balkans and helps us to position the significance of this festival.
BSA: Is there a history of the practice of graffiti and street art in Slovenia and specifically in Ljubljana? Or is it relatively new?
Sandi Abram: In Ljubljana, graffiti have a long history, beginning with World War II. During World War II, the territory of present-day Slovenia was occupied by German, Italian and Hungarian troops. The occupation of Ljubljana dates back to April 1941. The city was divided between Germany and Italy with barbed wire, roadblocks, military bunkers, machine gun nests and minefields.
In response to these events, the Liberation Front was formed. From 1942 to 1945, graffiti was used by individuals, various organizations and authorities as means of expression and as a reflection of socio-political events.
Soon after the occupation of Ljubljana, the so-called resistance graffiti by activists of the Liberation Front appeared on the walls. The first mass graffiti appeared in the shape of the letter V, short for “victory”, as a message to the occupiers that they would be defeated. Other symbols included the acronym for the Liberation Front (“OF”) or the stylized Triglav mountain (Slovenia’s highest mountain). The activists used numerous techniques to leave their mark on the occupied city, such as paste-ups, sgraffito, acid on shop windows, stencils, etc. I refer to these forms of expression as street art before street art; the techniques and strategies were a creative way to confront hegemony, a weapon of the weak, if I use the expression of anthropologist James C. Scott.
From this period, we also know of the so-called collaborator’s graffiti in the form of posters of Mussolini and the Italian king, leaflets also appeared on the streets occasionally. A particularly famous symbol of collaboration was the black hand with which the secret military units confronted the Liberation Army activists.
After the liberation of Ljubljana, post-war graffiti glorified leaders (e.g. Tito, Kardelj, Stalin) and the army (e.g., “Long live the Liberation Army!”). The symbols of communism (sickle and hammer) and praise for the Soviet Union (USSR) as representatives of the revolution and military allies were very common.
Graffiti as a predominantly leftist medium reappeared in socialist Ljubljana in the early 1980s as part of the punk movement, alternative subcultures, and sub political groups. This was also the time of coexistence between political graffiti and more sophisticated subcultural graffiti. On the one hand, punks sprayed “Johnny Rotten Square” to reappropriate space. On the other hand, fine arts students used graffiti as an alternative medium to paint canvases and the interior walls of underground cultural venues.
Finally, after a group of activists and independent artists occupied the former barracks of the Yugoslav People’s Army, today known as Metelkova, in the early 1990s, the first public and legal wall slowly emerged as a field of experimentation for new generations of budding writers. Today, the Metelkova City Autonomous Cultural Zone represents a cultural, artistic, social and intellectual hub where one also finds the Hall of Fame.
In the early 1990s, local artists incorporating the medium of graffiti started to emerge, an example being Strip Core. In more recent history, graffiti crews have left an important mark in the local public space, including ZEK Crew, Egotrip, 1107 Klan, Animals, and writers such as Vixen, Whem, Lo Milo, Rone84, and Planet Rick. Contemporary street artists who emerged from this scene include names like Danilo Milovanović, The Miha Artnak, Nataša Berk, Veli & Amos, Evgen Čopi Gorišek, Sad1.
BSA: We have talked previously about how your festival focuses on content, not on bringing in a dozen big-name artists just for the sake of having big names on your line-up. Why is this important to you?
Sandi Abram: Through LJSAF, we bring together international and local artists and scholars. The Programme Committee, which included me, Anja Zver, and Miha Erjavec, designed the festival events to encourage visitors to read the streets and participate in various activities.
For instance, the mission of the alternative tours and the street art conference is to interpret heterogeneous urban spaces, to explain the actors in the public space, the artistic and creative inspirations, the social struggles, to recognize and decipher ideologies of intolerance. So it is not only about producing the “text” (a mural as a thing-in-itself) but also sensitizing the public about the “context” of street art, i.e. the micro-location in the urban space. It is hard to understand a city if you do not “read” the screams on the walls – already the philosopher and sociologist Henri Lefebvre said that graffiti best illustrates the contradictions of contemporary society. They point out what is tolerated, what disappears.
Content co-creation is another important dimension of LJSAF. The festival events not only showcase young, emerging generations of street artists and scholars, they also provide a space, a productive crossroads for them to meet and collaborate. And for us, that is exactly the purpose of the festival’s art residencies, exhibitions, and graffiti jams. In short, street art is not only about big names, but a broad stream of unknown and underground creative minds joining forces.
“The festival events not only showcase young, emerging generations of street artists and scholars, they also provide a space, a productive crossroads for them to meet and collaborate.”
Our thanks to writer Igor López at El Pais for his article about Martha Cooper and our exhibition running right now in Berlin until Spring 2022. Appearing in the Spanish newspaper’s magazine called ICON, Lopez describes the New York social matrix of the 1970s with pithy acuity; one where the city seemed at war on many fronts while various important cultural scenes were germinating alongside graffiti writing and musicians like Afrika Bambaataa, Grandmaster Flash or DJ Kool Herc who were laying the foundations of hip hop as the dominant global culture.
“One of the first measures of Mayor Ed Koch, who had taken office in 1978 to save the city from bankruptcy and chaos, was to put concertina wire around the subway garages to prevent “vandals” from accessing the city at night,” he writes.
Enter the documentarians who capture the quickly shifting winds of change, like Martha Cooper, and forty years later we have solid evidence of multi-cultures in motion.
“I thought I was capturing a phenomenon unique to the city and that it would disappear in a few years,” recalls Cooper of her now seminal body of photography that captured the birth of many movements. Dryly modest, Cooper doesn’t brag much. “I am surprised and grateful that my photos continue to be of interest.”
Check out this article in print and online, and please feel welcome to Urban Nation on our behalf this fall, winter, and spring!
The exhibition, Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures at Urban Nation Museum for Urban and Contemporary Art in Berlin is currently open to the general public. To learn more about the exhibition’s details and schedules click HERE
We’ve had the privilege to travel to many cities and cultures over the last decade and a half, from Russian to Chinese to North African to Tahitian and Norwegian, to witness the affecting power of street art on cities, communities, and everyday people. Regardless of the street author’s intent, however earnest or carefully considered, we’re often surprised by the variety of interpretations that can arise from a singular work of art or intervention.
This new mural by the Spanish conceptual artist and social philosopher Escif for this year’s Ljubljana Street Art Festival (LJSAF), begun in Slovenia’s capital in 2019, is just far enough removed from the obvious to have triggered myriad interpretations. In the race for capturing imagination, adoration, and vilification, his seemingly simple, if unconventional, mural has scored a stunning trifecta.
Our reporter on the ground, the renowned photographer and ethnologist Martha Cooper, one of the few who have stayed active on the graffiti and street art scene continuously for the last five decades, tells us that she keeps thinking that we are witnessing a more pronounced movement toward work like this on the global stage. Describing how the unique curation by festival director Sandi Abram and the program directors Anja Zver and Miha Erjavec strikes a balance, Cooper says they chose what may appear as a quirky selection of artists to participate, “with an emphasis more on conceptual, political work than on aesthetics.”
“I’m wondering if this is a general street art trend or maybe just more prevalent in Eastern Europe,” she says. A veteran of the last decade’s evolution of street art festivals that may now appear as baldly commercial or trite “revitalization” efforts by moribund city councils, Ms. Cooper is fascinated by unusual festivals such as Ljubljana’s. It may be due to Abram’s pursuit of a Ph.D. in anthropology, but Cooper observes that her Slovenian experience was of a program “thoughtfully curated with some interesting and innovative twists.” Since this year’s festival theme centered on the preservation and documentation of street art, Cooper was an honored guest and speaker as well.
With a borrowed bear from a local school child’s wall painting, Escif created a re-contextualization of the original furry friend. Enlarging it to fill the wall of a two-story building and attaching a stolen slogan from a nearby graffitied wall, Escif declared that “ograja mora past” (the fence must fall). The reactions haven’t stopped since. Depending on the opiner, the deceptively simple mural is addressing the contentious issue of immigration with Croatia, the historical memories Slovenians have of Hitler, or the increasingly impeded flow of wildlife along historical natural routes through Europe.
When Sandi took Martha to shoot the original bear painting, Mojca, a teacher in Vodmat Kindergarten, shared a sense of optimism she had by witnessing the resounding waves of impact that rippled outward from the original project. “The goal of the project was for the children to develop the heterogeneous language of art. If by painting this bear we have impacted society and the environment, then we have accomplished more than we could have ever imagined.”
The thoughtful and resolute Escif, as ever, developed and delivered a manifesto on his piece, “The Fences Must Fall”, where he states that “Painting a big wall in a big city is a firm and decisive position” for an artist.
“I set out to find the truth that children paint on the walls of kindergartens. I cruised around the city streets, looking for the truth that crazy people spray paint on the walls. As I matched the truths of crazy people and children, of the walls of the former with the walls of the latter, the idea for the mural was born. An angry bear roaring ‘the fences must fall’.”
He continues, “As a foreigner, ignorant of the local reality, I couldn’t quite grasp what this mural was all about. Fortunately, it seems that the locals came to wise insights. Some seemed annoyed by the content. Others seemed happy and read it in a variety of ways. They spoke of the bears in Slovenia that the government wants to control. Of the cruelty of the border fence with Croatia, where refugees are harmed trying to cross it. Of the wild animals that can’t cross that fence either, locked in with no way to migrate. Of the fences that the government puts up to protect the National Assembly from protests. Of the problem of the privatisation of natural resources. And of many other fences that should be coming down everywhere.”
The simplicity of the design and placement are undoubtedly what makes it most magnetic; If you don’t understand the slogan, you want to. If you do understand it, you may crave the opportunity to respond.
“I found Escif’s wall much more interesting after I understood the story behind it,” says Cooper.
We spoke to directors Abram and Zver about the goals of this year’s festival and why they chose Escif to paint one of the larger, higher-profile walls of the Ljubljana 2021. We discussed how it became a somewhat emblematic piece that was at once surprisingly provocative and also caused dialogue in the streets. “To paraphrase what Escif said about his mural in Ljubljana: painting a mural is a political act, a responsibility, and a commitment,” they say.
“This is also true for the entire production of LJSAF – it is a commitment that requires the recognition that the festival is not a stable and fixed entity, but a heterogeneous and fluid mosaic of events, people, and creativity, operating at a micro and macro level. This is similar to Michel Foucault’s definition of heterotopias – a multiplicity of fragmentary spaces in a single place that allows for spontaneity. LJSAF is also about the experience as the essence of festivals – being part of the festival crowd means mingling with other creative bodies and forging new vectors of collaboration.”
Escif appears pleased with the effect as well, perhaps occupying the ideal role of an artist working in public space today in a meaningful way.
“The etymological root of the word ‘politics’ is anything that directs, conditions, or modifies life in cities,” he says. “So painting a big wall in a big city is a big political act, as it directs, conditions, and modifies the urban landscape. Consequently, it also directs, conditions and modifies the lives of the citizens.”
In many cases, we’d have to agree that well-placed graffiti can have a similar effect.
To read more about the history of Slovenia under Italian and German occupation during World Ward II and barbed wire fences click on the links below:
Our exhibition got a lot of great press and we like to highlight some of the articles once in a while just to remind you that the museum is now open after a long Covid-19 closure.
The Financial Times Sunday magazine did us the biggest favor by printing a multi-page spread about Martha Cooper and our retrospective of her work at at the URBAN NATION Museum – the first major and expansive photo and documentary exhibition of her career.
As the UN Website says “‘Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures’ sets new standards in the museum program. The curators Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo (Brooklyn Street Art) , in close cooperation with Martha Cooper, have created a multimedia exhibition in which artistic works and documentary material are juxtaposed.
The exhibition, Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures at Urban Nation Museum for Urban and Contemporary Art in Berlin is currently open to the general public. To learn more about the exhibition’s details and schedules click HERE
This time of year, it is hard to find people in Manhattan on the weekends – they’re “weekending” in the Hamptons, darling.
Not exactly the original setting you might associate with graffiti, street art, hip-hop, punk rock, zines, and underground art culture but where else can curators Evan Pricco and Kim Stephens sell these works on paper while sipping cool drinks poolside?
“Beyond the Streets” carries the mobile party to Southampton Arts Center this Saturday with a wide swath of styles – 500 works from over 100 artists in an art fair-sized venue. It may remind you of the Urban Air Fair tried in Manhattan in summer 2017, but this one has something that one didn’t: Roger Gastman.
If it’s here, it’s because it is quality work and has a connection to the roots of these subcultural scenes usually as well. Expanding now to the more nebulous category of Contemporary, you may be surprised to see more accessible interpretive variations on the themes. Let’s see that paper, people.
Artists include: Action Bronson, Addam Yekutieli, agnès b, AIKO, André Saraiva, Andrew Schoultz, Andrew Thiele, Andy Rementer, Aryz, Bert Krak, Brandon Breaux, Broken Fingaz, Bryant Giles, Camille Walala, CES, Cey Adams, Charlie Ahearn, Chloe Early, Chris FREEDOM Pape, Clark Fox, Cody Hudson, Conor Harrington, Craig Costello, CRASH, DABSMYLA, Daniel Rich, David “Mr StarCity” White, DAZE, DEFER, Emily Manwaring, Eric Haze, Ermsy, Escif, FAILE, Faith XLVII, Fucci, Greg SPONE Lamarche, Gustavo Zermeno, Hilda Palafox, House 33, HuskMitNavn, Ian Reid, Icy & Sot, Jaime Muñoz, Jamilla Okuba, Jane Dickson, JEC*, Jeremy Shockley, Jillian Evelyn, JK5, John Konstantine, Julian Pace, KATSU, KC Ortiz, Kelsey Brookes, Khari Turner, Kime Buzzelli, LeRoy Neiman, Linas Garsys, Liz Flores, Lucy McLauchlan, Lujan Perez, Maripol, Mark Mothersbaugh, Martha Cooper, Marshall LaCount, Matt McCormick, Maya Hayuk, Michael Vasquez, MIKE 171, Mister CARTOON, Neena Ellora, Nehemiah Cisneros, Nettie Wakefield, NUNCA, Otto183, Paije Fuller, Paul Insect, POSE, Rebecca Morgan, Reko Rennie, Rello, Richard Colman, RISK, Ron English, Ryan McGinness, Sage Vaughn, Saladeen Johnson, Scott Campbell, Sean from Texas, Senon Williams, Shantell Martin, Shepard Fairey, SJK 171, Sofía Enriquez, SNOEMAN, Spacebrat, STASH, Steve ESPO Powers, SWOON, TAKI 183, The Perez Bros., Timothy Curtis, Todd James, Troy Lamarr Chew II, Umar Rashid, Victor Reyes, Wasted Rita, Wulffvnky, Yarrow Slaps, Yusuke Hanai, ZESER, ZOER and 45RPM.
BEYOND THE STREETS on PAPER July 17—August 28, 2021 Southampton Arts Center, Southampton, New York, 11968
Graffti Art Magazine: Can you tell us about Urban Nation and about this unprecedented collaboration with Martha Cooper to create this impressive Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures retrospective?
Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo: In Berlin, the Urban Nation Museum has a core mission to educate visitors about the many movements of art in the streets globally. We opened it in 2017 alongside a director, 7 curators, and 165 artists representing five decades and many countries. This first solo show is the museum’s third, presenting a retrospective exhibition of seven decades of Martha Cooper’s photographic career.
Graffti Art Magazine: What narrative do you propose with respect to Martha Cooper’s work through this documentary exhibition?
Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo: The narrative is a world-renowned photographer with roots in ethnology who has traveled the world for 6 decades, shooting peoples’ creativity. Her pivotal documentation of early graffiti and Hip Hop is well-known and cherished, and we want visitors to experience it in the context of a life’s work. The most extensive career survey ever exhibited, it’s culled from Martha’s archives, personal artifacts, and collections. It’s an absorbing display of photographs, black books, ephemera, original works by artists, a video installation, and hundreds of her well-known and unseen shots.
Graffti Art Magazine: What role do you think Martha Cooper has played in the global urban art scene?
Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo: Martha’s unpretentious, revelatory view of a previously hidden subculture unquestionably humanized the practice of graffiti – she gave it a heart and a name. Shooting with the gritty determination of a New York City newspaper photographer, she was also a formally educated and well-traveled ethnographer when she first captured the people, techniques, and graffiti practices. Her photographs from Subway Art with Henry Chalfant made their book the “Bible” of the graffiti writers worldwide for the decades that followed.
Graffti Art Magazine: If you had to highlight one memorable moment of this collaboration with Martha Cooper, what would it be?
Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo: We have two: The first one was our overwhelming sense of discovery during a weekend in her studio – she entrusted us with all her archives, books, ephemera, and artifacts that would eventually help us tell the story of her life. The second one was the Zoom meeting early in the pandemic with Martha and us in New York and Michelle Houston and Reinaldo Verde from YAP in Berlin. After months of trans-Atlantic communications, we virtually toured all ten sections of the exhibition together. Martha loved what she saw, and that’s when we knew the exhibition would be a success.
Graffti Art Magazine: What are your 3 most iconic photos by Martha Cooper?
Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo: It’s hard to choose but we might say 1. Dondi painting at the New Lots Train Yards in Brooklyn. 1980. 2. Subway Art “The Cadets” 1977-1980. 3. Street Play Lil Crazy Legs. Riverside Park, Manhattan. 1983. Hip Hop Files
New York City is gradually opening up for business, and that includes art shows. Curator Robert Aloia has organized a small exhibition of graffiti writers including one of the few photographers who was there when the action was happening on the trains and in the yards during the 1970’s and 80’s, Martha Cooper. Martha has provided prints of her vintage photos that she took of the graffiti writers, Skeme and TKid decades ago when they were young and bombing the New York City subway trains. Skeme and Tkid are using the prints as canvases in a remix collaboration with Martha.
We stopped by the raw space which is serving as a pop-up gallery to give you a sneak peek of the exhibition while in the process of being installed. The lighting was not adjusted and not all the art pieces were yet framed or hung on the walls.
Mr. Aloia tells us that Snake 1, Terrible TKid, Olga, Martha Cooper, Kade198, and Skeme Originally slated for last year this show was manifested from the mind of graffiti writer Skeme to do a show where the artists were in charge. Some of the artists are working in the space to finish their works and for the first time ever Skeme, Tkid and Martha Cooper have signed prints of Martha’s photos of them.
This is the 6th event at the space- previously featuring art from Al Diaz, Queen Andrea, Janette Beckman. Todd James & Testify Books, Sue Kwon, Chris RWK, Dr. Revolt, Peter Paid, ASVP and JJ Veronis.
Mr. Aloia says, “The vibes at the space between the artists, myself, friends, and passersby have been so good we can’t wait to open to the public this Friday.”
We spoke with Robert Aloia, Skeme, and JJ Veronis briefly while they were preparing for the show.
BSA:How did you select such a diverse collection of artists across techniques genres and decades?
Robert Aloia: It was mainly SKEME’s idea and then we collaborated on who could be in it. So I’m going to give all the credit to him. I just helped edit the process
BSA: Does it feel like New York art culture is gradually waking up or did it never go to sleep? Robert Aloia: I think for me it never went to sleep it’s the same for a lot of our collaborators and friends. And maybe to the general public it went to sleep a little bit. But it’s been vibrant – obviously during the beginning of lockdown it was dead for a little while.
JJ Veronis: Not for me. It’s been a great time for art and artists with all the boarded walls and everything – The legal and the illegal. BSA:How do you feel about doing those remixes with Martha’s work now after all these years? SKEME: Well I think they’re great. I feel like Dorian Gray, man, looking at all those photos we’re coming up on 40 years since some of these pictures were taken. My favorite of course is the one with me and TKid. Because now we’re both old and a little pudgy, you know, but I love the photo and the fact that we are able to come back and celebrate our friendship. Marty is always on the spot with the right photo, at the right time to catch the moment.
BSA:She has this uncanny ability to be at the right time at the right place. SKEME: It’s not an accident. That’s what separates the great from the mediocre
BSA: Robert told me that you initiated this exhibition a show where the artists are in charge. What does that mean in this circumstance? SKEME: The artist is always in charge. It’s up to the artist to bring the creation to the venue. Even if you have a curator, and of course a curator’s job is very important right, but if the artist doesn’t bring potential or good works – what is there for a curator to pick from? You know it’s a symbiotic relationship man but the artist is always in charge to some degree.
BSA:How do you know when you have reached the point where the work is finished? SKEME: When it conveys what I’m trying to say. So this one, for example – when you look at this I want you to believe that the plane is flying. If you can look at it and believe that the plane is flying then I am done.
Outlaw Arts Presents: “S.T.O.C.K.S. & BOBMS” A Group Exhibition. 205 Allen St. New York City. May 14th -23rd.205 Allen St. L.E.S. Fridays 5-9 pm Saturdays & Sundays 1-6 pm.
James Prigoff signed all of his emails with one word in Spanish: “Paz.” (peace)
It was deliberate, intentional, and with that one word, he created a tag for himself that spoke to his commitment to peace on the street and across the world. Looking over his decades of dedication to exploring and documenting, one sees a sincere commitment to understanding and identifying with other cultures and embracing others as brothers and sisters.
Known foremost in the graffiti world for being the co-author of Spray Can Art with Henry Chalfant in 1987, he captured 100,000 photographs worldwide over five decades. His professional sense of curiosity and self-education drove him to persevere in his documentation of the graffiti scenes of the Western US but eventually spread worldwide.
Today we recognize the personal sacrifice and pride that went into that publication or his subsequent publications and honor the dedication. With his efforts and others like him, the graffiti/street art/mural art cultures received much greater recognition and validation. Serious discussion of the contributions of these practices can be directly attributed to the massive platform his work provided the scene.
Along with Subway Art by Chalfant and Martha Cooper, Spraycan Art is annually sighted as a powerful inspiration to thousands of artists worldwide who needed that encouragement to express themselves as artists. That alone is a reason to celebrate his life and be thankful for his work and deep dedication to the culture.
It was in the early 1970s “I became fascinated with the political nature of the art in the streets,” Jim wrote in perhaps his last personally written essay and publication here on BSA Writer’s Desk just last month. The inaugural opinion/editorial of the monthly series provided him the opportunity to talk about his life, formal and street education, his observations of artists and movements in culture and politics during the last 7 of his 9-plus decades. A civil libertarian and champion of the rights for the equality of people across the spectrum, he was happy to make “good trouble” even suing the federal government over an unconstitutional surveillance program in the mid-twenty-teens.
An avid observer and analyst, we prized Jim as a friend and confidante because he knew how to connect the dots between larger socio-political movements and to put the art and artists within context. Astutely diplomatic and wise, he advised us on navigation and perspective in this vast creative world of graffiti, street art, and mural – lessons we will not forget. He also shared his theory about photographers being led by “the Graffiti Gods” with a smile and a glint in his eye.
His empathy was never far from any topic, despite his strident views and opinions. Even during this last year of Covid he wrote to check on us;
“Not an easy time to be shut down in NYC. Hope you are doing OK.”
Only two weeks ago Jim wrote to us with his concern that Gen Z was not getting vaccinated at the rate of the rest of the population and he wondered aloud if street artists were helping to reach out to them on the street.
Less able to travel as freely in recent years, he attended big exhibition openings near his home of Sacramento and Miami and New York – usually with one of his gentle and patient children pushing his wheelchair. Each time he was enthusiastic and opinionated and, well, joyful. Last summer, during Black Lives Matter protests across the country, he was thoroughly following events and their effects on art on the street. He was also eager to share what he found with the world.
He shot photos from the open window of a car driving through Oakland, eager to share what he found – which we published. Jim often commented on our daily postings to us in emails – and we are proud that he shared his writing and photos on several occasions with BSA readers. Always more interested in people than profit, Jim understood our platform and mission better than many.
Our hearts are sorrowful to bid goodbye to Jim Prigoff now, but we are comforted to believe that he is joining his dear Arline, with whom he spent 72 years as husband and wife. An absolute pillar in graffiti, street art, and mural history, documentation, and archiving – Jim was a scholar, an ardent peace activist, an author, lecturer, community activist, a fervent supporter of so many, and a kind person. Our deep condolences to his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, his graffiti/street art family, and his colleagues. We are grateful to have called him a friend.
Jim’s last published essay was on Brooklyn Street Art as the inaugural essay for BSA Writer’s Bench in March, 2021:
Selected quotes from hundreds of social media commenters across Facebook and Instagram
“Jim’s good work is done, may he rest in peace.” Henry Chalfant
“Jim was so good to us. He allowed us access to hundreds of rare East Bay photos and couldn’t have been any more generous. Jim loved the East Bay and knew most of the writers by name. His only hope was that his photos would be seen and we intend to make that happen. Rest in peace to a great human being and true graffiti devotee. You will be missed. Much love, Will & Jake” from East Bay Archive
“The coverage Henry and Jim gave to Goldie in Spraycan Art provided a massive worldwide boost to his career and encouraged him to think globally.” Martin Jones
“Pictures that meant so much to so many. Those pictures was part of so many people’s phase of growing up and becoming those who they are today. People such like myself. Thank you Jim.” Tatu Moisio
“Spraycan Art was, is and will remain alongside Subway Art as the Bibles for anyone interested in graffiti. I’m from North-East Scotland, and it certainly had a huge influence in my life.
Not to mention being one of the most stolen books OF ALL TIME!
RIP Jim, and thank you.” Eddie Grady
“A worldwide generation were introduced to a new breed of heroes who became a catalyst to our lives, and for those whose work was featured by Henry, Jim and Martha, their lives were forever changed. Take a moment to imagine a world where your work never existed… … that truly provides an awe-inspiring perspective. A life lived with huge contribution. Rest In Peace Jim!” Gordon Barrett
“We went on a 6 hour tour around Chicago together. Fascinating conversation about art and life, thru the years. Very enriching conversation for a youth of 17. A Gentleman and a Scholar truly. Risen In Perfection.” Tyr Dem
“It’s so Strange. I was just going through Spraycan Art this morning.” Lars Skouboe
“I am saddened by the news of the passing of a champion of graffiti culture.” Gonzo 247
“Spraycan Art introduced us to other graffiti legends in across the country and internationally.” Carlos Tiangco
“This guy gave us kids access to a culture that shaped us, our futures and our world. Thanks James / Jim Prigoff. 1927-2021.” Sunk One
The graffiti community lost an advocate and documentarian yesterday. Thanks for all your years of dedication to documenting us all Jim. He was one of a kind. I’m glad to have known him. Rest well.” Alan Ket
“Rest in Peace James Prigoff — Spraycan Art was the first book I ever looked thru as a teen to learn about graffiti. It is where I saw Lady Pink for the very first time!” Toofly
“This was our culture. What we offered the world. The birth of a culture. A culture that became a world wide phenomenon. Last night one of our documentarian passed. RIP James Prigoff. A great guy who shared with the world through his photos this culture we created. Yo James..
“AND WE DONT STOP!” TKid
“My Heart is still breaking from the passing of our friend and historian, author and photographer Jim Prigoff whom I was in constant communication with until 3 days ago.” Portia Gail McHenry-Ogburn
“This book changed the course of my life forever… as well as tens of thousands of youths across the world throughout the 80’s – 90’s. Thank you #JimPrigoff for your passion and dedication. #JimPrigoffForever.” Revok
“Saddened to hear of Jim’s passing, my condolences to his family and friends.” John “Crash” Matos
“Wow. This is sad… he would stay at my dads house and do you Friday night slideshow sessions with popcorn when he would come to town.
Jim will would always remind me how lucky we are and to never throw food away. This has stuck with me to this day.” Carlos Rolon
“So sad to hear about the passing of one of the greatest – graffiti and street art photographer, author and peace activist Jim Prigoff.
I met him in Los Angeles where he took me on a tour to photograph graffiti. We shared a panel in the Museum of Contemporary Art (MOCA). He supported me so much with my books, contributed an amazing photo of female graffiti artist Reminisce to my Graffiti Woman book and even wrote a foreword for my last book Street Messages.
Through him I ate the American version of coleslaw for the very first time.
He was an amazing and inspirational person. He influenced the whole world with his book Spraycan Art (together with Henry Chalfant), that sparked a main flame for the widespread graffiti fire.
Thanks so much for all the time you shared with me, my thoughts are with your family and friends. May you rest peacefully.
“I have so many photos and emails from Jim from over the years. This man was a force and driver in the culture. If he was a kid when writing started he would have been a writer for sure. It’s nice to read all the stories about the him. This photo of me holding his book is from the beginning of 2020 when he had a showing in San Francisco. I told him i couldn’t believe after all these years i didn’t have a signed copy from him. He hooked it up in classic Jim style. I salute you to a full impactful life and thank you for helping a lot of writers careers one way or another. Rest in power” Apexer
“Yea man heavy hearts right now. That book man was the west coast bible!” Aaron De La Cruz
“Our dearest Jim.
When we last saw you two weeks ago you said the single most amazing technological advancement (in your opinion) was the ability for photographs to be shared via email. You said that you imagined that it was even more impressive to you than the automobile had been to your parents. Despite your awe of the invention of digital photography and email, you took on this miracle as you did all things you were passionate about, with gusto.
How lucky are we that you lived you in the era of the modern day camera. You took an art form that was inherently temporary (graffiti) and made it permanent. You took an art form that was the voice of an entire generation, who could not find a platform to be heard, and shared their voice with the world. You knew that “Art is power” and you never failed to use your privilege in this world to ensure that that power could be amplified for change.
You are a legend, who left the world a better place not only through your photographs but also simply through your presence on this planet.
To us however, you will always be our Grandpa Jim and our very small world will forever be just a bit sadder everyday now that you are no longer an email away.
It was an auspicious night in New York City, but a very strange one also.
The governor of the state had cleared the way for movies to be seen in theater settings in March, although only at 25% capacity. Fotografiska, a premiere global photo gallery emporium, had invited us after the movie screening to speak with Martha Cooper onstage with Sean Cocoran from the Museum of the City of New York, but there was once catch: everyone had to wear masks. Maybe this has become normal for politicians, but it was odd for all of us. Later when graffiti writer/historian Jay Edlin and artist Aiko joined us onstage, we all were having more fun, but also felt even more claustrophobic.
Chalk it up to experience, as they say. And ultimately it was a true pleasure to share the new cut of “Martha: A Picture Story” by director Selina Miles as it is being released commercially in the US four and a half years after we first suggested to Selina that she might make a documentary about the celebrated photographer in September 2016 in Detroit. The audience appeared to enjoy the film, even though chairs were 6 feet apart, and we even had a book giveaway at the end.
We thank our hosts at Fotografiska for inviting us and for running a great event for Martha and all of us as we emerge from a year locked down.
“For this evening’s screening Martha Cooper was joined in live conversation by Jaime Rojo and Steven P. Harrington, founders of the influential art site BrooklynStreetArt.com and curators of the current “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” retrospective exhibition at Urban Nation Museum in Berlin.
Moderated by Sean Corcoran, Curator of Photographs, Museum of the City of New York. Utopia Films’ Martha: A Picture Story is a portrait of trailblazing photographer Martha Cooper – an American photojournalist who became the first female staff photographer for the New York Post during the 1970s, later becoming best known for documenting New York City communities and the graffiti scene of the 1970s and 1980s. Director Selina Miles’ affectionate tribute to Cooper journeys viewers from her snapping shots on a motorcycle trip through east Asia in 1963 at the age of 20, to today, an influential icon to the global movement of street art.”
“Question: When you’re finding the moment within the environment you’re shooting in, do you always go up and ask the people you’re photographing if you can take their photo, or do you try and blend in?
Martha: It depends on the situation. Often if you ask first, you destroy the moment you’re trying to capture. My preference is to be a fly on the wall.
The Los Angeles Times Review: ‘Martha: A Picture Story’ shares the joy of a septuagenarian NYC street photographer
“But it’s not just her great eye that makes her such an icon on the street art scene; it’s also her unique nerve that led to her photograph so many iconic moments for fans of graffiti, taking risks as she takes photos.”
The San Francisco Examiner ‘Martha: A Picture Story’ celebrates street art
“Documenting street art, which was vilified as an unsightly manifestation of vandalism at the time, Cooper demonstrated that it, in fact, involved imagination, skill, beauty and other qualities connected with art.”
“But, back when Cooper first turned her lens on this ephemeral art form, it was truly anti-establishment. As a potent means of talking back to power, graffiti presented an opportunity for public self-expression and protest. “1977, the Bronx was burning down. No one really wanted to write that graffiti was an interesting thing. But I don’t want to shoot something that’s done with permission,” Cooper explains. ”It’s an outlaw art. That’s what makes it thrilling.”
“Decades before the work was taken seriously by the art world, her focus helped the people creating the work think of themselves as artists and it inspired a generation of new artists to express themselves. One of the joys of this movie is seeing these young people treat Cooper as something between a rock star and their grandmother (“maybe mother” she tells one of them).”
We congratulate our partners at the Urban Nation Museum in Berlin for the re-opening of the museum during these difficult times. We applaud their commitment to the arts and to the institution and the people who they serve, including the artists and the community both local and international. As curators of the critically acclaimed current exhibition “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” we are elated to know that more people are going to be able to enjoy the exhibition now extended until May 2022.
The URBAN NATION Museum will open for you again on March 16. Here’s what you need to know regarding your next visit:
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, there are limitations in place. As usual, admission is free of charge. However, access to the exhibition is currently only possible with a time slot ticket reserved not less than 24 hours in advance. Therefore, please book your time slot ticket at least one day before your planned visit to the museum.
▪️ Visitors will be admitted to the museum only with a booked ticket at least one day in advance via their digital ticket system. ▪️ A maximum of 12 people per hour are allowed to enter the museum. The maximum time spent in the exhibition is 60 minutes. ▪️ All visitors must register on-site with their contact details. ▪️ Access to the museum is only permitted with a medical face mask or FFP 2 mask. ▪️ A maximum of three tickets can be booked per person. ▪️ Guided tours and admission of groups of 5 or more are not possible for the time being.
Urban Nation asks for your understanding of these measures, which will allow them to reopen the URBAN NATION Museum within the framework of the current regulations of the Berlin Cultural Administration.
All information about Urban Nation’s current exhibition “Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures” can be found HERE.
If the Berlin-wide incidence rate rises above 100 per 100,000 inhabitants, we will be forced to close the URBAN NATION Museum again.