A fresh face at Urban Nation, the abstract muralist URKO has just completed the façade across the train tracks from the museum on Bulowstrasse.
Originally from Quito, Ecuador, Urko says he began his true immersion into graffiti and street art when he lived in Sydney, Australia and he hooked up with the Higher Ground crew. His first attempts were painting in abandoned places, he tells us, but the big scale walls really caught his attention.
Living in Berlin since
2015, Urko brought his girlfriend, who is also an artist, along for this installation
on the busy thoroughfare full of noise and distractions. He says his style has evolved more into
abstraction today and he likes to think his art as a visual diary – one where
he re-interprets his daily visual experiences into abstract compositions.
How did he feel elevated
alongside the famous yellow trains of Berlin watching the burners fly by? “Perhaps
it would have been very nice to have appreciated the scene while painting the
wall with the trains running behind me,” he says, “but the fact is I had to
paint all the time and to complete the project. But I was in awe that this was actually
happening and seeing the trains with graffiti passing by was very cool.”
Our special thanks to BSA contributor Nika Kramer for these images and to UN.
We’re proud to announce that our exhibition Martha Cooper: Taking Pictures will be featured during the prestigious European Month of Photography (EMOP) in Berlin this October for Urban Nation Museum’s very first photography-based program.
The European Month of Photography is a network of European photo festivals which began in 2004 when photography enthusiasts in Berlin, Paris and Vienna decided to put photographic art at the center of public attention for one month at least every two years. It is Germany’s largest photography festival.
Today EMOP it is a network of photography and visual arts institutions from seven European capitals: Berlin, Budapest, Bratislava, Ljubljana, Luxembourg, Paris, and Vienna with aims “to confront expertise in curatorial practice in photography and the intention to develop common projects, notably exhibitions, including exchange of information about the local photographers and artists concerned with photography. Founding members include the Maison Européenne de la Photographie, Paris, the Cultural Department of the City of Berlin (Museumspädagogischer Dienst Berlin headed by Thomas Friedrich) and the Department for Cultural Affairs of the City of Vienna (director Bernhard Denscher).
Taking Pictures combine
photographs and personal artefacts in this retrospective that traces her life
from her first camera in nursery school in 1946 to her reputation today as a
world-renowned photographer. The exhibition covers Cooper’s wide range of
subject matter. Many of her photographs have become iconic representations of a
time, place, or culture and are distinguished by their frank human vitality,
with an eye for preserving details and traditions of cultural significance.
We’re grateful for this recognition
of the exhibition and look forward to participating in the EMOP 2020 this October
and we hope you can join us at Urban Nation – if not in person then please join
us ONLINE for our LIVESTREAM opening October 2 ! https://www.facebook.com/events/3400074053384213 All are welcome!
Our special thanks to our entire team at Urban Nation including but not limited to Martha Cooper and Director Jan Sauerwald and Melanie Achilles, Dr. Hans-Michael Brey, Carsten Cielobatzki, Sean Corcoran, Annette Dooman, Steve Fiedler, Seth Globepainter, Florian Groß, Sven Harke-Kajuth, Nancy Henze, Michelle Houston, Hendrik Jellema, René Kaestner, Kerstin Küppers, Nika Kramer, Barbara Krimm, Tobias Kunz, Jean-Paul Laue, Beatrice Lindhorst, Nicola Petek, Carlo McCormick, Selina Miles, Michelle Nimpsch, Christian Omodeo, Christiane Pietsch, Dennis Rodenhauser, Jens Rueberg, Dr. Anne Schmedding, Malte Schurau, Janika Seitz, Anna Piera di Silvestre, Skeme, Markus Terboven, Reinaldo Verde, Lennart Volber, Akim Walta, Samuel Walter, Rebecca Ward, and Susan Welchman.
The international art fair Art
Basel announced today that this year’s flashy Miami event is cancelled, joining
its two other high-profile annual fairs in Hong Kong and Basel, Switzerland, which
had both already met this fate earlier – all due to the complication of
One of the best parts about graffiti, street art, mural, and hip hop culture events like Urbane Kunst here in the city of Basel is you don’t have to worry about air kissing on both cheeks.
Graffiti jams are more interested in getting up on the wall, drinking beer, and having a barbecue – which 40 local and international artists did here from August 20-30, thanks to the event’s sponsor, Bell on Neudorfstrasse in Basel.
“The top criterion for artists was we have to know them: because we’re going to spend a lot of time together,” explains street artist BustArt, who has been working for about five years to make this wall happen. “You are together every day for about two weeks and so the main important thing is having a good time and for this, we just wanted to have cool people here with whom we’ve worked in the past and who we could trust that we were going to have a great outcome.”
Not that “Change of Colours”, as this event is called, didn’t have a lot of complications from the worldwide virus. The artist list kept changing as certain countries were eventually banned from traveling here – First the US, later Spain.
A final list of names was not available at press time but scheduled were artists like Boogie, Cole, Kesy, Kron, Tizer, Seyo, and Sonic. Photographer and journalist Nika Kramer caught a handful of the artists to ask a few questions, including Mr. Cenz (UK), Chromeo and Bane (CH), and event organizer BustArt (CH).
Street artist Julian Phethean aka Mr. Cenz is internationally known for his unique, expressive portraits of women. He tells us “I created one of my futuristic female portraits that I’ve been doing for a few years now and I paint a lot of black women as well because I think they are under-represented in the street art world. It’s very important to me, coming from a multicultural city like London.
Also for me, hip-hop is a black culture that’s why I paint mainly black power for women,” he says. “If you look at it, it’s quite spiritual as well. My style is kind of something transcendent. It’s for people to look at and to get lost in. That’s just what I do, and it’s amazing to do it on a big scale in such a prominent place and I hope people enjoy it.”
Two Swiss artists Fabian
Florin aka Bane and David Kümin aka Chromeo, have worked together on smaller
walls in the past, but the two masters of photorealism have never truly collaborated
on something new together, and they say that they’re very satisfied with the result.
For Chromeo, Basel holds a special meaning to him in the development of his career as a graffiti writer and an artist.
“Basel is history. Back in the days when I started graffiti it was like a duty: you have to go to Basel!” he says. “Because it was considered state of the art. No disrespect to other places in Switzerland but… The graffiti history is here and it is the most important, I would have to say – even though I’m not from Basel.”
In the opinion of Bane, Basel left a major impression as well, but it is much more personal. “I came here with completely fresh eyes. I was drug addicted during the time that Chromeo’s referring to,” he explains. “I’ve just been painting for about 10 years so Basel for me is a very fresh place, like new. What I enjoy here is the community. There’re so many people. It’s a community I’m stepping inside of – kind of a small family already. It was heartwarming and I felt very welcomed and for me, that is the best thing about Basel.”
organizer and hometown boy BustArt, who just completed his largest wall to date
for Urban Nation Museum in Berlin a couple of months ago, this wall has been
beckoning to him and the event is the result of persistence in pursuing it. “I’ve
been wanting to paint this wall for 20 years so we are happy that the company
actually paid for it,” he says. He calls his new piece, “Home Sweet Home”
because it symbolizes the place and the city he loves more than any other.
Stohead (Christoph Häßler) started writing graffiti at 14 in southern Germany, where he was born, and last month he completed his largest mural in Berlin for UN, three decades after he began.
Exhibiting on canvas for the last two decades in galleries and art fairs, he is an innovator with custom tools and he has mastered his own techniques of deconstructing the letterform, repeating and rolling them in layers behind translucence, complementary waves of motion cascading across, over, and down the wall of this eight-story residential building.
Part of the “One Wall” program at the Urban Nation Museum, Stohead is a calligraffitist of the newer international order, not afraid to experiment and grow, borrow and synthesize in untypical directions. Perhaps its this 6th sense that is causing this new work to slow motorists along Delpzeile 14 in Berlin-Charlottenburg.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening : 1. BustArt Says Goodbye to Berlin-Tegel 2. Transform the Tram Wait by MurOne in Barcelona
BSA Special Feature: BustArt Says Goodbye to Berlin-Tegel
A museum curating in public space is not necessarily new. Many eyes are watching with great interest as this museum in Berlin begins an academic approach toward selecting artists and artworks in public space in Berlin as Urban Nation Museum grounds its projects in its community and local history. The new work by street artist and graffiti writer Bustart is a direct reference to the nearby Berlin-Tegel airport, which will be decommissioned later this year.
Part of the
inspiration is from Otto Lilienthal, the German pioneer of aviation who became
known as the “flying man”, now cast through a 1960s comic strip version of
the modern hero gazing upward to witness the post-war middle class flying the
friendly skies. In a twist of irony, most people in this neighborhood will
probably enjoy their daily lives more now that the airport won’t be filling the
air with the sound of roaring planes overhead, allowing them to listen instead
to birds in the trees.
Art al TRAM by MurOne
these rough and rigid spaces whose only purpose is to walk through,” says Marc
Garcia, founder and director of Rebobinart, a Barcelona organization that
brings artists to the urban environment – developing projects with social and
cultural context considerations in public space.
mural takes on the space where people wait for the tram – a nondescript
netherworld, a metropolitan purgatory where you are nowhere, only between. The
Cornellà Centre TRAM stop is transformed by the Spanish artist (Iker Muro) who
has been making murals for almost two decades, combining figurative and abstract,
fiction, oblique narrative and vivid color. It’s the city, and its yours while
you wait to go to your next destination
Iker Muro is
a Spanish artist and graphic designer who has been making murals in Spain and
abroad since 2002. His work combines figurative and abstract art, conveying
both tangible and fictional elements through vivid colours and figures
influenced by the visual imagery in the cities where the artist paints.
that arriving in a place like this and finding a kind of art gallery is a
reason for attraction,” says MurOne, “I feel motivated by these kinds of
The URBAN NATION MUSEUM FOR URBAN CONTEMPORARY ART presents a six-decade retrospective of Martha Cooper’s photographs.
MARTHA COOPER: TAKING PICTURES
October 2nd 2020 – August 1st 2021
Curated by Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo
Skeme, the Bronx, 1982. Copyright Martha Cooper.
and personal artifacts, MARTHA COOPER: TAKING PICTURES traces her life from her
first camera in nursery school in 1946 to her reputation today as a world-renowned
This retrospective is the first documentary exhibition to be presented at the URBAN NATION Museum and it ushers in a new era for the museum under its new director Mr. Jan Sauerwald.
MARTHA COOPER: TAKING
PICTURES presents the photographer’s versatile vision of the world, with creativity
found on every corner. The exhibition opens with the images from Subway Art,
her landmark 1984 book with Henry Chalfant, now credited with jump-starting the
worldwide urban art movement. Martha’s photographs documented the secret subculture
of writers and the coded artworks they created illegally on thousands of New
York City trains.
are distinguished by their frank human vitality, with an eye to preserving
details and traditions of cultural significance. Many of her photographs have become
iconic representations of a time, place or culture. The exhibition will offer a
rare insight into Martha’s archives through previously unpublished photographs,
drawings, journals, articles, letters, and artifacts. As a lifelong and avid
collector, her private trove of black books, stickers, Kodak film wallets and child-made
toys will also be on display. Emphasis is placed on Martha’s extensive travels
and the artistic friendships that she has fostered internationally.
180th Street Station Platform, the Bronx, 1980. Copyright Martha Cooper.
Fans will recognize images
from her books Hip Hop Files (with Akim Walta, 2004), Street Play (2005),
We B*Girlz (with Nika Kramer, 2005), New York State of Mind
(2007), Name Tagging (2010), and Tokyo Tattoo 1970 (2011). As an
exhibition highlight, the original mock-up of her legendary book Subway Art
(with Henry Chalfant, 1984) will be on display, as well as artworks from her
personal collection including a pair of original paintings by graffiti king,
video installation called “The Rushes” will debut in the exhibition by filmmaker
Selina Miles, who directed the documentary Martha:
A Picture Story and premiered at the 2019 Tribeca Film Festival in NYC.
An extensive section called “Martha Remixed” showcases the work of over
35 artists who have reinterpreted Cooper’s photographs or paid personal tribute
with portraits in an array of styles and mediums and locations. Unique to the
exhibition, visitors will see the new collaboration between Martha and multidisciplinary
Lithuanian artist Ernest Zacharevic who will create a two-story mural onsite inside
immediately excited to be given the opportunity to present the world’s first
major retrospective of photographer Martha Cooper and to introduce her body of
work to URBAN NATION Museum visitors. We are interested in focusing on Cooper’s
photographic work and expounding on her working methods. In addition, we will
present her worldwide collaborations with artists and protagonists of the
street art and graffiti movement and provide audiences the opportunity to delve
deeply into the cosmos of Martha Cooper’s work. We are delighted to be able to
present and convey a unique compilation of photographs and artifacts from her
personal collections.” – Jan Sauerwald, Director of the URBAN NATION
Lower East Side, Manhattan. NYC, 1978. Copyright Martha Cooper.
Martha’s specialty is
documenting artistic process in public space. Her formal training in art and
ethnology set a unique template to better understand cultural practices and
techniques and her friendships with artists gave her close and personal access to
show materials, tools and techniques in detail as they evolve over several
generations. As part of this larger practice, Cooper’s iconic photos of
clandestine graffiti activities have proven to be a valuable record and an important
key to understanding the story of the movement’s proliferation around the world.
Martha’s curiosity has always driven her documentation. Her black and white photographs from her book Tokyo Tattoo 1970 (2011), represent her first foray into an underground art world and hidden practices. In Street Play she concentrated on the invincible spirit of city kids who are creatively rising above their bleak environment. Her photographs of 1980s breakers are the earliest published images of an unknown dance form at the time that became known as central to the definition of Hip Hop culture. As the first female staff photographer on the New York Post, Cooper sought out subjects to pursue independently. Her intrepid and sometimes risky pursuit of taking pictures has inspired many young people to pursue their own artwork and career paths.
Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo (New York) have been curators and
co-curators for the URBAN NATION Museum since 2015 (Project M/7 Persons of Interest, 2015, URBAN NATION opening
exhibition UNique. UNited. UNstoppable., 2017). They are also founders
and editors of the influential art site Brooklyn Street Art (BSA) since 2008, a
respected daily clearinghouse of the global street art scene.
“Martha’s style is
to dive in and be fearless, immersing herself in the moment – and she’s been
documenting what she finds around the world for six decades. That’s the
attitude we took curating this exhibition, knowing that each element captured
in her work is genuine and transient. It is our goal for visitors to be
transformed by her unique eye for a historic preservation of the ordinary that
is often exceptional – whether it is documenting the verboten process of making
1970s graffiti, capturing youths performing moves that were later called
“breaking”, the inking processes of Japanese tattoo culture, or the ingenious
games kids devised for play in New York’s abandoned neighborhoods,” say
Harrington and Rojo about MARTHA COOPER: TAKING PICTURES.
URBAN NATION MUSEUM FOR URBAN CONTEMPORARY ART Bülowstraße 7, 10783 Berlin-Schöneberg
Interviews will be
offered in prior with Martha Cooper, Curators Steven P. Harrington and Jaime
Rojo, and Director of the URBAN NATION Museum, Jan Sauerwald. Requests can be
send to email@example.com.
and bright and staring at the summer sky, the new mural in the Tegel area of
Berlin is quintessential BustArt. Two decades after starting his mark-making as
a Swiss graffiti writer, his style borrows elements from that classic graffiti
mixed with cartoons, pop art, and perhaps an eye toward others like Crash and
D*Face who themselves point to the Roy Lichtenstein.
His brand of ‘neopop” mixology is unique to him of course, and the tireless effort, scale of work (40 meters x 16 meters), and relative speed that he works sets him in a category of his own.
“This is the biggest wall I have painted so far and I could not be more happy with the outcome,” he says of the two week gig. The confident command of visual vocabulary, character and line work tell you that this new mural is a challenge BustArt was more than ready for.
wants to shout out his mate @sket185 for the enormous help, the folks at @yesandpro who orchestrated along with Urban Nation, and we all
give thanks to photographer Nika Kramer for sharing her work here with BSA readers.
When Jan Sauerwald, Urban Nation’s Artistic Director, began making plans in earnest for the new facade for the museum, he was pondering what the art on the walls should convey. Given the difficult Covid-inflicted times we are living in he thought that possibly something fun and humorous was what Berlin needed. Indeed, humor has the power to provide levity, but humor is also an exceptionally effective vehicle to impart knowledge and spread a positive message without appearing to be lecturing.
So it seemed most appropriate to gift the denizens of Berlin a fresh, humorous new mural, especially considering that collectively, the whole city had just endured months of lockdown, and they are just now slowly coming out to play outdoors and drink some beers with friends in the parks. Luckily Sauerwald knew who to call. Dave The Chimp. A Berlin-based artist, illustrator, and skateboarder who is known on the streets of Berlin for his simple but street-smart orange characters shaped like a bean. He calls them “Human Beans”.
We reached out to Dave The Chimp and asked him a few questions about the artists he invited to paint along with him and about his experience being able to get up and to get dirty again on the streets.
BSA: How did it feel to get up after the lockdown? How was the experience of working outdoors for the first time in many weeks?
DtC: I don’t work outside often. My work practice is constantly changing, sometimes painting, sometimes drawing comics or creating skateboard graphics, writing the text for zines, and in the past, I’ve organized costumed wrestling parties, played in a punk band, directed pop videos and tv commercials, compiled books… painting outside is just one of a constantly changing set of fun problems to solve!
I personally enjoyed the lockdown. I started meditating again, I was stretching and doing yoga and working out almost every day. Sitting on my balcony in the April sun, reading, catching up on all the movies I don’t have time to watch, helping plug the gaps in my son’s education, trying new recipes. All my projects and exhibitions were canceled so I figured “ok, guess I’m on holiday for a few months, so let’s forget about work”. I realized that this was a very unusual time, so why would I try and carry on with my usual life?
Germany locked-down early. Berlin was quick to organize an emergency fund for freelance workers, so most were able to receive money that meant they could survive a few months without worry. This lessened the fear. Fear shuts down the immune system, and during a pandemic, the one thing you need is a strong immune system!
It was great to come out of the lockdown here and be straight on a worksite, mingling with people, getting dirty, laying in the street. After two months of washing my hands constantly, it was fascinating to feel just how grimy I get just living a normal life! We’re a bunch of filthy little monkeys!
BSA:UN invited you to paint the UN facade for the first time. In turn, you invited four artists to join you. What were your criteria for inviting the other artists?
DtC: Due to Corona, the new museum exhibition had to be delayed until September. They had planned to paint the facade for this exhibition with other artists, so had the city permit to put the lift in the street at the end of May. The crisis has meant that all government offices are running slowly, and a new permit wouldn’t be possible until early 2021. Jan called me and asked me if I could paint the facade two weeks before work had to begin!
The first idea was for me to paint it with Flying Fortress, but unfortunately, he wasn’t available. This sowed the idea of working with others in my mind and I figured “if it would have been fun painting with one friend, why don’t I invite four?” I chose people I like, and whose work I like, and that I could see working with the theme I wanted to portray on the wall.
Originally I had a team of two boys and two girls, but one of the girls wasn’t available, and I couldn’t find another making the kind of thing I needed. Luckily my friend Matt Jones had recently sent me a zine of his doodles, and I saw how some of these could work as a kind of ancient alien language etched into my Stone Henge “stargate”. I invited Mina to paint her powerful females as prehistoric rock paintings, got my skateboard buddy Humble Writerz to chisel the faces he bombs in the streets into stone columns, and had Señor Schnu paste his posters onto boulders. And then I added my own characters so it looked like they were doing all of this work! 😉
BSA: The mural has a playful tone to it which goes well with your character but it also has a message of a team effort in order to build a better world. Is that right?
DtC: I’m pretty sure we don’t need to use fear and anger to change the world. As PiL said, anger is an energy, but I’ve learned that it’s one that is soon burnt out. Much better to try and make the world a better place with love as your fuel. There’s an endless supply of love in all of us. Political action doesn’t need to always be a raised fist, a black, red, and white stenciled shout at the world. Why can’t protests be a fun day out, just like a festival, a carnival of change?
BSA: Can you tell us about the genesis of the concept for the mural? Did you have a brainstorming session with the other artists or did you know what you wanted and just told them your idea and they jumped into action?
DtC: I pretty much see complete ideas in my head. I knew I wanted to paint rocks, and I knew the work of the artists I wanted to paint with. And I had a week to work out the design of an 8 meter high by 50-meter long wall, with three doors, six windows, various corners, and parts inaccessible by the lift! I didn’t have time for brainstorming! I came up with concepts, told the artists what it was I’d like them to do, and then trusted them to do their thing. I had way too many things to think about – five artists with different schedules, a lift that took 20 minutes to move each time, and three days when we were not allowed to use the lift, created an organizational nightmare! Plus I had to try and paint huge structures that I’d never painted before, and 25 characters, all doing different things. But that’s kinda what I like. Painting is setting myself problems, then trying to solve them. It’s fun! If I know what I’m doing, how exactly to do something, and how it will turn out, in advance, then it just becomes work. Better to keep yourself on your toes, make it play!
BSA: Where do you see public murals/outdoor murals going after Covid-19 and the worldwide protests about racial injustice, racism, and police brutality?
DtC: I’ve always thought of graffiti and street art as a political act. It is a reclaiming of the commons. In our cities only those with the money to buy the walls around us – public space – get to have a voice. Advertising is designed to make you require more, to feel like what you have, who you are, is not enough. This is psychological oppression and we are exposed to it thousands of times a day. If we can use walls to make people feel less than, can’t we also use them to feel greater than, to inspire, to cheer, or just simply to help people be satisfied that they are ok? Like Picasso, I believe art can be a weapon to wage war. Bad people win when good people stay silent.
I have been known to make political work and to use a lot of slogans and messages in my work, but right now, in 2020, I find that I am overwhelmed with things that need to be spoken about, with things that are being spoken about, and, frankly, I don’t feel able to speak. Things are changing so quickly. It’s all too confusing. So I am trying to keep my use of words to a minimum, and to try and communicate on a more subtle level. The rocks in this mural represent our belief in the human-built structures and systems of life. The scaffolding, the planks and ropes, represent just how fragile all these systems are, as we have been seeing, and show our need to work together to make life function.
A mural like this couldn’t have been made without a huge network of people. The group of artists I worked with, the production crew at YAP, the lift hire guys, the factory workers that made the brushes, the chemists who brewed the paint, the people that built the wall, the people that cooked our lunch, the people that farmed the food for our lunch, the people that made the bikes we rode to the site every day, that built the roads we rode on… thousands of people are involved in every single human action.
The world is a crazy place right now, and it’s important to remember that we’re all in this together. Maybe it’s better we stop finding ways to divide ourselves, and instead unite.
BSA has been here with you for this entire decade – an honor and a privilege. Reviewing the many interventions and events we witnessed and shared with our readers, we realize that this grassroots people’s art movement is reflecting our society in fundamental ways and reaching deep as well as wide. Here in roughly chronological order we recount for you a Top 10 for BSA that have impacted our way of seeing art on the streets.
The “Girl In The Blue Bra” – December 2011
Oppressive regimes worldwide have a few
commonalities. One of them is patriarchy. Over the last decade we have seen
many female artists rise powerfully to smash it, harnessing their rage and
power and taking their voice to the street.
There were countless images that encapsulated the ferocity and the tenacity of the protesters during the Arab Spring uprisings in Cairo, Egypt in December of 2011. One image, in particular, captured the attention of the media and the public. The image is commonly referred to as the “Girl In The Blue Bra”. The image depicts a young woman, whose identity remains anonymous, being beaten and dragged by soldiers as she was taking part in the protests in Tahrir Square in Cairo, against Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. Her face is veiled and her jeans are still on but as she was being dragged by the soldiers her abaya came undone exposing her bare torso and revealing her blue bra as a soldier was about to kick her in her abdomen.
While the image exposed the abusive practices and of power of the military in Egypt – it also swiftly sparked ferocious reactions around the globe, particularly with women who subsequently staged their own march in Tahrir Square in Cairo to demand the end of military rule.
Among the artists who carried the Blue Bra theme to the streets was one artist, Bahia Shehab, whom BSA and its readers helped to get a movie made about Street Artists in the Arab Spring, called Nefertiti’s Daughters, directed by Mark Nicolas. Later we were the first to debut a scene from it at the Nuart Festival in Norway (“#Activism on the Street Now”), and years after that Nuart actually hosted professor Shehab. This is a small world, this Street Art community.
The actions of the young woman, the
violent response of the military, and the overwhelming support of the public,
in general, sparked a new wave of feminism in Egypt and inspired artists to
create and display their artworks on the streets in protest.
“Art In The Streets” Opens at LA MOCA – April 2011
Art in the Streets was the first major U.S. museum survey of graffiti and street art, curated by MOCA Director Jeffrey Deitch and Associate Curators Roger Gastman and Aaron Rose, an exhibition tracing the development of graffiti and street art from the 1970s to the global movement it had evolved to. BSA was there to capture and share some of what was happening.
“Yes, Banksy is here. The giant ‘Art in the Streets’ show opening this weekend at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles gives a patch of real estate to the international man of mystery who has contributed greatly to the worldwide profile of what is soon to be, maybe already is, a mainstream phenomenon known as street art. A smattering of his pranksterism is an absolute must for any show staking claim to the mantle of comprehensive survey and an excellent way to garner attention. But “Streets” gets its momentum by presenting a multi-torch colorful and explosive people’s history that began way before Banksy was born and likely will continue for a while after.
The show is an audacious multi-platform, colorful endeavor; part history lesson and part theme park bringing about 50 years of graffiti and street art history, it’s influences and influencers, under one roof. Then there is the stuff outside. Engaging and educational, “Art in the Streets” makes sure visitors have the opportunity to learn how certain tributaries lead to this one river of swirling urban goo, mapping connections between cultural movements, communities, and relationships within it. When it does this, the museum system effectively differentiates its value apart from a mere gallery show. “
Banksy’s NYC Residency – “Better Out Than In” – October 2013
An unprecedented city-wide near daily installation of works in New York established a new high-water mark in the flood of Street Art that took many cities in the 2010s. The British Street Artist played to a media capital in such an effective campaign that even the least interested residents became familiar with the elusive prankster.
A Genuine October Surprise for New York Street Art Friends and Foes Alike.
“In a series of communiqués beamed from his website, the global Street Artist Banksy gave graffiti and Street Art followers a near-daily jolt of mystery and mouse clicking that had people looking at every street scene as a possible Banksy by the time it ended. While few can confirm the exact level of involvement the actual artist had in the five boroughs, if any, none will deny that the Banksy brand underwent a major “refresh” this month that again put his name on the lips of those who had begun to forget him and many who had never heard of him.
Thanks to this masterful marketing campaign billed as a month-long ‘residency’ on New York’s streets, many thousands were talking about him daily on the street, on television, radio, social media, in galleries, studios, office cubicles, art parties, and the mayors’ office. By effectively combining the sport of treasure hunting with humor and populism, each new cryptic appearance of something-anything gradually conditioned some grand art doyennes and the plainer mongrels amongst us to drool on command and lift a leg in salute to the curiously still anonymous artist and the team who helped him pull it off.”
The Brooklyn Museum’s Exhibitions with Swoon, Faile, BÄST, Haring, Basquiat, ESPO, JR Expand Knowledge, Appreciation
One cultural institution in New York City and indeed in the United States has been notable throughout the decade for its commitment to organizing exhibitions where graffiti, street art, and the artists whom have shaped it are given recognition for their contribution to the arts. The Brooklyn Museum’s leadership, including former director Arnold L. Lehman, current director Anne Pasternak, and Sharon Matt Atkins, Director of Exhibitions and Strategic Initiatives have been channeling resources and focus to the study, promotion, and exhibition of the works of important figures in the contemporary graffiti and Street Art movement. It notable that the museum has in its permanent collection the works of distinguished graffiti and Street Artists dating back to the dawn of the modern scene; something that other important cultural institutions in New York City that are dedicated to the preservation and promotion of modern, contemporary, and American art lack in their collections.
It’s for this reason that we
have selected the Brooklyn Museum as one of the top ten graffiti and street art
movers of the decade. Predated by 2006’s “Graffiti” exhibition the museum has
mounted several important presentations during this decade that have not only
been blockbusters but they have contributed to the cultural enrichment of all
New Yorkers and the expanded discussion of the relevance of these art forms to
established canons. Here are some highlights:
“Keith Haring: 1978-1982, a traveling exhibition first shown in Kunsthalle Wien in Vienna and The Contemporary Arts Center in Cincinnati, introduces a period of his work not often examined, taking you up to the edge of the seemingly sudden international fame he experienced as artist, activist and public figure through the rest of the 1980s.
… At a time when the small-town boy was developing his visual vocabulary as an artist, Haring was also discovering himself as a man in the world and in a city that he found endlessly fascinating and worthy of exploration. Capturing his spirit of hands-on experimentation, the show is almost entirely comprised of works on paper with one collaborative piece on plywood with his contemporary Jean Michel Basquiat, paper collage, video, and documentary photos.”
“Sharon brought me in here and said, ‘What is interesting to you in the building?’ and I really love that because the thing about working on the street is that you are always thinking site-specifically. And so that thinking has to translate into your work in all places. For me, if I make something in a museum I want it to be very site-specific and this is probably one of the most site-specific pieces I’ve ever done,” explains Swoon.
Under the advice and guidance of an engineer, the artist also modified her design process to allow for foundational considerations like truss sections and lift points. “I showed him an initial model and he showed me an engineered system and then I built another model based on the system that he engineered.”
It is probably unusual for a grand museum to be so amenable to the requests of an artist for a site-specific piece that literally inhabits the furthest reaches of space, and Swoon says she recognizes the leeway she received. “You know, they have been really adventurous in letting us create this. We’ve been sort of pushing a lot with the creation of this piece.”
For Matt Atkins, the opportunity to bring an internationally known street artist and neighbor into the museum has been the result of just over two years of planning. ‘It’s been so wonderful working with Swoon to realize her vision for this project. This is the first time we’ve really used the full height of the 72-foot dome, so it’s quite spectacular. I am thrilled to see her boats back in New York and for them to have this new life. The underlying ideas about climate change in the installation also make this project an appropriate tie into the Museum’s focus on activism with our other exhibitions and collections,’ she says.”
“In Basquiat: The Unknown Notebooks, now running at The Brooklyn Museum until August 23rd, the genius of his fragmenting logic is revealed as a direct relationship between his private journals and his prolific and personally published aerosol missives on the streets of Manhattan’s Soho and Lower East Side neighborhoods in the late 1970s and 1980s.
These notebooks were for capturing ideas and concepts, preparing them, transmuting them, revising them, pounding them into refrains. In the same way his text (and glyphic) pieces on the street were not necessarily finished products each time; imparted on the run and often in haste, these unpolished missives didn’t require such preciousness.”
“FAILE may be a religious experience this summer at the Brooklyn Museum, but only one of the hallowed installations is called Temple. The seedier, more dimly lit venue will surely have the larger number of congregants by far, bless their sacred hearts.
Celebrating the duality and appropriation of words, slogans, and images have been the bailiwick of the duo since they first began hitting Brooklyn streets at the turn of the century with their stencils and wheat-pastes on illegal spots and neglected spaces. In FAILE: Savage/Sacred Young Minds, their new attention-commanding/refracting exhibit organized by Sharon Matt Atkins at the Brooklyn Museum, these guys pour it on, compelling you into a complex panoply of possible re-imaginings of meaning that reference pop, pulp, myth, art history, 50s sci-fi, 60s advertising, comics, punk zines, consumer culture and their own pure artistic and branded fiction.”
Stephen Powers: Coney Island Is Still Dreamland (To A Seagull) is one of 3 new exhibits inspired by the historic attractions of Brooklyn’s seaside.
“Graffiti artist-turned-sign painter Stephen Powers is dreaming of Coney Island and he is bringing a colorful collection of found and freshly produced signage that evokes a forgotten era to climb the columns of a Brooklyn Museum gallery.
Given the boisterous parade of brands and logos into museums that is happening as part of the institutional funding and programming mix, it’s fun to see the ninth episodic installation of this traveling ICY SIGNS shop here; its simplicity and guile recalling amusing persuasive techniques from the mid-century American advertising lexicon. Simultaneously, for those who have been lucky enough to sicken themselves on cotton candy and The Wonder Wheel, the new show imparts a rather reassuring and seedy nostalgia for Coney Island, complete with an inexplicable hankering for a thick beef hot dog.”
“A retrospective at Brooklyn Museum currently showcases the photographic works and public projects envisioned and created by French Street Artist JR. Covering roughly two decades of work, JR: Chronicles dedicates an in-depth examination into his practices and personal philosophies when creating – as evidenced by this collection of his murals, photographs, videos, films, dioramas, and archival materials.
Brooklyn Street Art: JR created a new digital collage for this exhibition featuring a thousand or so people individually interviewed and photographed. Can you tell us about what criterion he used for selecting his subjects? Sharon Matt Atkins: JR’s main focus was on capturing the rich diversity of New York City. As such, he photographed people in all five boroughs of the city, including many neighborhoods that were new to him. While he did invite some guests to participate, most of the people were passersby or business owners and workers of local stores. “
Blu and Street Art – Banksy & Co.
Curated by Christian Omodeo, Luca Cinacabilla, and Sean Corcoran. March 2016
BLU buffing his own works in Bologna took the news cycle, his legion of compatriots armed with rollers and bucket paint. But it was the show that he was reacting to that brought thousands to the museum space to discuss the rightful place of Street Art, graffiti, and the relevance of preserving it for posterity.
“The contested Banksy and Co. exhibition contains, among many other works, walls removed from a privately owned abandoned building in Bologna that were painted by BLU. Displaying the walls and his artwork without his consent so angered the painter that he rallied artists and activists to help him snuff out all his remaining murals and paintings in this Northern Italian city last week. (See A BLU Buffer Talks About the Grey Action in Bologna)
The heavily attended Friday night opening of Street Art – Banksy & Co. at Palazzo Pepoli – Museo della Storia di Bologna was curated by Luca Ciancabilla, Christian Omodeo, and Sean Corcoran and features roughly 250 historical and contemporary works spanning about fifty years and highlighting a number of movements within the so-called Urban Art genre. On balance it appears that 90 percent of the works are studio works, paintings, sculpture, videos, original sketches, and ephermera and were probably collected in a more conventional way and the tagged posters, stickers, metal doors, and wall fragments are viewed in the context of the whole scene.”
“Reality TV is usually completely devoid of reality. That isn’t the exact comparison Andreco said on his Facebook page but we thought it was a fitting analogy. Street Art in a museum or gallery can sometimes feel like taxidermy.
Andreco actually said ‘Deciding which wall to paint or not to paint has always been one of our free choices. This operation, to uncork the walls and move them elsewhere, oversteps this freedom.’ Fair enough.
Of course, that is not the primary reason why activists and Street Artists joined in to help BLU paint over the many murals that he completed on Bologna city walls over the last two decades or so. In an English titled press release on the Italian website Wumingfoundation the artist lays out a multi-layered justification for destroying his own murals, many of which have become beloved landmarks around the city and which have helped make him an art star in some circles.”
American conceptual, activist and street artist John Fekner, whose art and his art partner Don Leicht were represented in the exhibition Street Art: Bansky & Co weighs in the controversy by saying:
The bottom line is: what’s done in public-doesn’t remain in public. There’s no protection for artists who trespass. It’s the chance one takes outdoors.
If you create illegal art murals, street rules are always in effect:
You can’t stop a drunk in the middle of the night from pissing on your wall.
You can’t stop a bulldozer from razing your work.
You can’t stop a neighborhood anti-graffiti squad from painting over your work.
You can’t stop a well-dressed thief in a suit, or their hired slug with a chisel from removing your wall work and hauling it off to their laird, garage, museum or art market.
“Under any circumstances, don’t immediately and irrationally react. If your original aspirations were to be an artist- then just do what you were meant to do: be an artist. Don’t double shift and be a night watchman patrolling the streets to try and thwart thieves of your work. Unique temporary outdoor creations engender a public conversation that includes everyone: art lovers and art haters, lowbrow and highbrow, and everyone who interacts with your public work.”
Urban Nation Museum for Urban Contemporary Art Opens in Berlin – September 2017
We had the unique perspective of being two of the foundational curators who made this exhibition happen and made the doors fly open to thousands of visitors, so it only made sense that we covered the opening that brought much promise to the institutional recognition of Street Art, graffiti, and its move into Urban Contemporary.
“This week is Art Week in Berlin, and you just stole Art Week,” said a handsome and intensely opinionated German to us as we leaned on the arm rail of the M.C. Escher-inspired walkway before a Carlos Mare139 sculpture and above the capacity crowd on Saturday night at the Urban Nation Museum of Urban Contemporary Art (UN).
Not sure if that was the exact goal, but we get his larger point; the UN has just made a massive entry into a number of societally and culturally influential minds when it comes to the relevancy of Street Art and graffiti to visual culture and art history. This movement into so-called Contemporary began as early as the 1970s and has overcome and weathered cultural and market ebbs and flows – persisted, if you will – yet somehow institutions have been wary of this work and these artists and unable to fully embrace their importance, you decide why.”
Five Pointz: A Legal Case For Urban Artists Shifts the Focus – February 2018
“In a ruling that many graffiti and Street Artists interpret as a validation of their artwork and which may spawn further legal claims by artists in the future, Brooklyn Judge Frederic Block, a United States Federal Judge for the Eastern District of New York, awarded $6.7 million in damages to a group of 21 artists in the high profile case of the former graffiti holy place in Queens called 5 Pointz.
Under the leadership of artist and organizer Jonathan “Meres One” Cohen, also a plaintiff, the award is in response to a suit that cried foul on the overnight destruction of multiple artworks on building walls without consultation or notification of the artists.
Citing provisions of the 1990 Visual Artists Rights Act that grants artists certain “moral” rights, the artists claimed that their artworks on the 5 Pointz compound that was owned by real estate developer Jerry Wykoff were protected and should be afforded certain rights and considerations.
Arts and intellectual property lawyers and judges will now be examining the implications of the ruling and citing it as an example in arguments about art created on walls legally and possibly those created illegally as well. In a city that prides itself as being a birthplace of graffiti and Street Art, many artists and wall owners must ask themselves if there will need to be an additional layer of the agreement before an aerosol can is held aloft.”
The New York Times Publishes DONDI’S Obituary – February 2019
In an unprecedented posthumous publication of an obituary, this year The Times acknowledged something that it had so far failed to do; the contribution of graffiti writers to the cultural and art canons deserves serious recognition. By publishing the iconic image of DONDI taken by Martha Cooper that burned “Subway Art” into the mind’s eye of many generations of graffiti writers, the “paper of record” caught up with one the the scene’s leaders and heroes.
“First things first – Full disclosure; we are featured in the movie and we are close friends with both the subject of the doc and the director and we first suggested to the director that she was the perfect candidate to make a film about Martha Cooper. Now that we have that out of the way here are a number of shots from the premiere and our review of the movie:
Martha: A Picture Story had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this Thursday to an enthusiastic crowd that included big graffiti, Street Art, international press and film industry names, to see the highly anticipated documentary about the venerable photographer Martha Cooper by the Sydney director Selina Miles.
The electricity was in the air as Director Miles and producer Daniel Joyce along with the just-arrived Australian members of the “Martha” crew looked for their seats in the Village East Cinema. After a brief introduction by Miles, who told the audience that the film had been a great pleasure to make, the curtain went up to reveal the mother of the superstar art twins Os Gemeos on the big screen. She is sitting at her kitchen table in São Paulo remarking how her boys used to draw on everything, including fruit, and how Cooper and Chalfant’s 1984 book “Subway Art” changed their lives forever. With their story as a backbone for the film, the theme of personal transformation is repeated in a hundred large and small ways for the next hour and twenty minutes. “
Street Art and Activism Takes Larger Share of the Cultural Stage
decade that is coming to an end has seen its share of natural disasters, human
rights violations, atrocities of large scale against humanity, corruption at
the highest levels, the reversal of hard-fought policies to protect the planet
and keep our air and water clean. We have witnessed with despair the
renaissance of hatred based on people’s nationalities, their skin color, their
religion, their choice of attire, their level of material affluence and their
have seen progress as well. Women around the world have been freer to speak
their mind against oppression and abuse of power thanks to social movements
that have flourished around the world in big cities and small towns. Our LGBT
brothers and sisters have scored numerous legal battles in their favor thanks
to enlightened lawmakers and judges who have searched deep inside their
intellect to find the right answer to make sure everybody is treated equally.
Likewise, our peers whom we need to advance our cause have taken seriously the
responsibility at the ballot box to make the correct choice with policies that
will bring relief to those who have less than we do.
and artists have often reflected back to us the world we live in, it is for
this reason that we have chosen Street Art and Activism as an important action
in this decade. We have always championed the work of artists who imbued their
art with a strong sense of social urgency. It is with their art that they talk
to us in the hopes to change one mind, one action, one concept, one attitude
towards the goal creating a common good. There are many of them currently
active on the streets. This wouldn’t be the appropriate space to list all of
them but we would like to give you some highlights:
“This past Sunday, February 17 at La Plaza de las Tres Chimeneas (Three Smokestacks Square) in Barcelona an international group of artists participated in the first ‘No Borders Festival.’
NO BORDERS is a grassroots organization that was created to raise awareness about the refugees, to demand their acceptance, and to raise funds through debates, art, and documentaries.
They say they want to raise the uncomfortable questions – which will undoubtedly lead to uncomfortable answers as well. To paraphrase the text on their website:
‘Do we settle for a society that violates its moral and legal obligations to refugees? A refugee is a person who flees – Flees because he is on the losing side. Because he thinks, feels or prays differently than those who point him with their weapons.’
As usual, artists are bringing these matters to the street for the vox populi to debate.”
An Art, Science and Climate Action project by Andreco
“And the statement isn’t hyperbole, according to AIR-Ink, the company that made his ink, which is “the first ink made entirely out of air pollution,” they explain on their website.
The unique art-making material is part of the Italian Street Artist / Activist’s most recent installment of his Climate Art Project, which he orchestrated on the streets here in New Delhi for the St+Art Festival this year. Part of a global, multi-city installation and demonstration, ‘Climate 05 – Reclaiming Air and Water’.”
” ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Ass Ads,’ says a new stencil-style printed poster by New York’s epic, if sometimes cryptic, street commentator of four decades, John Fekner. Anyway, who will argue with that?
“Post-posters is a cooperative proposition about
public billposting,” says French conceptual street anarchist
Matthew Tremblin about his new project with hit-and-run situationist street
posterer Antonio Gallego. Together they reclaim space
with individually produced posters and they invite artists from around the
world to do the same.
Over a two month period the creative place-makers are facilitating an international crew of artists to post posters on the occasion of the double exhibition by Banlieue-Banlieue group* (°1982, Poissy) taking place in Strasbourg, at both AEDAEN and the Syndicat Potentiel. “
“By putting these images of people of color, women, LGBTQ+ folks on the street with their blunt-force sentiments addressed to would-be harassers, she not only stands with them, but Tatyana has also used her work and vision to give them the courage to stand proud, assert their voice and to take public space.
After all, it belongs to the public.
“Women are not outside for your entertainment”, a startling
truth for some guys that pointedly highlights abusive behavior toward women on
the streets of Brooklyn and many cities around the world. Brooklyn Street
Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh has been targeting daily oppressive experiences of
marginalized people with her campaigns of art on the streets – and in the
Addressing themes of social justice, racism, LGBTQ+ rights, and sexist street harassment, her beautifully drawn campaigns on wheat-pasted posters and painted murals across the globe have brought attention to issues sorely in need of addressing during hostile rhetoric from some men in the highest offices.”
“This spill and these events did not happen in San Diego or Palm Beach. The story doesn’t affect wealthy white families and cannot be used to sell shampoo or real estate. That’s probably why we don’t see it in the press and never on the talking-head news. Street Artist Jetsonorama is not only a photographer who has been wheat-pasting his stunning images of people and nature on desert buildings for over a decade, he is also a doctor on the Navajo reservation, a human-rights activist, and an erudite scholar of American history as it pertains to the poisoning of this land and these people. Today we’re pleased to bring you this long-form examination from Jetsonorama’s perspective on a complicated and tragic US story of environmental poisoning and blight that affects generations of native peoples, miners, military personnel, and everyday people – and has no end in sight.
Most alarming is the news the current White House administration is endeavoring to mine uranium here again.
‘Private companies hired thousands of Navajo men to work the uranium mines and disregarded recommendations to protect miners and mill workers. In 1950 the U.S. Public Health Service began a human testing experiment on Navajo miners without their informed consent during the federal government’s study of the long-term health effects from radiation poisoning. This study followed the same violation of human rights protocol as the US Public Health Service study on the long-term effects of syphilis on humans by experimenting on non-consenting African American men in what is known as the Tuskegee Syphilis Experiment from 1932 – 1972.’ ~ Jetsonorama”
“As part of our core commitment as a non-commercial platform that has helped hundreds of artists over the last decade+, BSA significantly helped Escif to raise money for his Indiegogo fundraiser in Spring 2017 when we promoted his “Breath-Time” horticultural project heavily as he planted trees to reforest Mount Olivella in Southern Italy.
Today BSA debuts REWILD, a new
tree-related project by the Spanish Street Artists – just as the Global Climate
March is spreading to cities around the world, including New York.
The concept of the short film is
simple: can’t we just push the “Rewind” button?
‘The narrative runs in reverse, rewinding the clock on deforestation to undo the damage caused by the unsustainable production of one of the world’s most versatile commodities. Beyond the industrialisation of the land, we end at the beginning, a thriving ecosystem alive with wildlife. The concept mirrors the real world action of the Sumatran Orangutan Society and their partners in reclaiming land on the borders of the Leuser rainforests to rewild them with indigenous trees, expanding the boundaries of one of the most biodiverse places on earth.’
Finally, a stunning custom soundtrack by Indonesian composer Nursalim
Yadi Anugerah captures and carries this into another world, which is
That’s how curator Yasha Young began the UN Biennale in Berlin this month. A fantasy-infused ramble through a future jungle teeming with dark pop goth and an animated gorilla, the multi-featured installation by the outgoing Creative Director was meant to pose questions about a possible future, or many possible futures on an Earth deeply scarred, reclaiming itself from man/womankind’s folly.
Spread along a 100-meter path and teeming with small surprise exhibits popping from the savage magic of two-day overgrowth, the installation appeared to take inspiration, at least in part, from the wildly successful Berlin exhibition two years ago called, “The Haus”, by a trio called Die Dixons. That one featured 175 artists creating immersive, site-specific futurist/fantasy installations on the five floors of a former bank – inviting dance troops and performances and thousands who cued for hours around the block.
One of artists at UN’s “ROBOTS AND RELICS: UN-MANNED”, Herakut, was also in the Haus exhibition and here under the roaring U-Bahn on Bülowstraße produces one of the best synthesis of technology and fantasy. Their sculptural painted theatrical character of Mother Nature is straight from a childs’ imagination, blinking eyes forming a blue inquisitive aura around its visage.
No doubt many visitors winding through this late summer wildness were feeling quizzical to one another, confronting the various staged scenarios by 27 artists and asking “what if…”. Perhaps a lush and greener version of the traveling “29 Rooms” selfie house we saw in Brooklyn a few years ago, this one blended themes of post-disaster with a glistening dark leafy future girded with idiosyncracies and Hans Ruedi Giger airbrushed human/machines locked in biomechanical reverie.
carry us off into barren deserts with relics of human existence,” says the
press release, “colorfully patterned
animals in overgrown areas as well as spherical light worlds.”
First things first – Full disclosure; we are featured in the movie and we are close friends with both the subject of the doc and the director and we first suggested to the director that she was the perfect candidate to make a film about Martha Cooper. Now that we have that out of the way here are a number of shots from the premiere and our review of the movie:
Martha: A Picture Story had its world premiere at the Tribeca Film Festival this Thursday to an enthusiastic crowd that included big graffiti, Street Art, international press and film industry names, to see the highly anticipated documentary about the venerable photographer Martha Cooper by the Sydney director Selina Miles.
Included in the crowd were old-skool New Yorkers and a large international contingent of folks like Henry Chalfant, Doze Green, Skeme, Lee Quinones, Soten1, Carlos Mare 139, Terror 161, Kane, Dink (Baltimore), Okuda San Miguel (Spain), Faith47 (Los Angeles), Mantra (France), 1UP Crew (Germany), Nika Kramer (Germany), Roger Gastman, Lars Pederson (Denmark), Ian Cox (UK), Dean Moses… and many more. Those who didn’t attend this screening are having the opportunity to see it at three more sold-out evenings over the course of the festival.
The electricity was in the air as Director Miles and producer Daniel Joyce along with the just-arrived Australian members of the “Martha” crew looked for their seats in the Village East Cinema. After a brief introduction by Miles, who told the audience that the film had been a great pleasure to make, the curtain went up to reveal the mother of the superstar art twins Os Gemeos on the big screen. She is sitting at her kitchen table in São Paulo remarking how her boys used to draw on everything, including fruit, and how Cooper and Chalfant’s 1984 book “Subway Art” changed their lives forever. With their story as a backbone for the film, the theme of personal transformation is repeated in a hundred large and small ways for the next hour and twenty minutes.
Spanning nearly all of Ms. Cooper’s 75 years, including a photo at age 3 with a camera in hand from her father Ben and uncle Harry’s Baltimore camera store, “Martha” successfully identifies the underlying driving forces, the unique personality and intellectual traits, and the milestones that propelled the photographer across scenes, subcultures, cities, and continents.
While Cooper is most often identified as a crucial documentarian of the 1970s and early 1980s graffiti-writing scene in New York, with “Subway Art” considered a global holy book of preservation that inspired thousands of artists worldwide, the film is judiciously clear that the photographer has had an anthropologists’ zeal for documenting much more over her multi-decade career.
During and after the film you don’t know who you are most impressed with – the director, Martha, the communities touched, the history and stories that are preserved with such care and respect.
“Martha” captures important and character-molding biographical events – like her work in the Peace Corps in Thailand, a subsequent motorcycle trip from there to the UK, her investigations of tattoo techniques in Tokyo, and her work as the first “girl” photographer at the New York Post. During the film’s nearly magical depiction of Cooper’s first meeting with New York graffiti king Dondi, those in the audience who knew this story broke out into spontaneous applause.
The film isn’t shy about the low points and struggles of Cooper, like her repeated attempts to work at National Geographic, the continuous rejections of “Subway Art” by publishers, her loss of money by its initial disappointing sales, and the high-sniffing artworld classism of a clueless gallerist who unsuccessfully tries to dash her hopes of being recognized for her truest and most human work.
You are gently led to take that journey with great interest as well, finally arriving at the mid-2000s European promotional tour for her book Hip Hop Files where Cooper suddenly realizes the impact that “Subway Art” has had on graffiti artists worldwide. Building on that enthusiastic response from new-found fans of her work she jumps back into street photography just as the Street Art scene is exploding.
Despite such a complex story Miles is able to coax out many significant truths in character development along with their infinite shadings, facts and nuances of the story.
With interviews, testimonials, unseen home footage from Cooper’s ex-husband and excerpts from soft-news TV stories of the 1980s, viewers may gain a greater understanding of the sacrifice, dogged determination, and her sixth sense for capturing images that the subject exhibits. Keeping a quick pace aided by a smart soundtrack, pertinent graphic elements, and sharp editing, Miles finds ingenious ways to educate us about the various milieu Cooper worked with and the vicissitudes she had to overcome.
The additional layers of visual language infuse so many aspects of the story – a collaging of words, music, precise editing, intuitive pairings and lyrical, witty storytelling that lands in a pitch-perfect way.
In the end you realize Coopers’ underlying credo of taking pictures is about shedding light on people, their lives, their amazing ingenuity in the face of difficulty, their ability to rise above their environment as well as the artists techniques of art-making.
Careful observers will also be struck by the scenes of quiet moments that remain still for a few seconds to reveal deeper feeling – a remarkable glimpse of the filmmaker’s intuitive grasp of the life path and its trials. It’s those in-between places of luminosity that are revelatory, and the human gestures she lets the camera linger upon allow the viewer to write small essays inside their head, bearing witness.
With gratitude and respect to Director Miles and her whole film crew whom have worked thousands of hours over the past 2 and half years, we know that the graffiti/Street Art/photography scenes have been given a huge gift; almost as big a gift as Martha herself.
It was a name used by my mother when I was growing up,” says the British Street Artist as he talks about his new mural for Urban Nation in Berlin. “She used to call my sister Fanny Fanakapan – it was just sort of a term of endearment,” he says.
It’s a cold/rainy/sunny/windy/calm Monday and we’re in the thick of Aprilwetterhere at the end of March, and Fannakapan is stirring old memories to recall his entirely unusual name for Nika Kramer, the photographer who has captured these shots.
“I know there was this song made in wartime by a lady named Gracie Fields about a useless man named Fred Fanakapan, he says. “So it’s been stuck in my head from a very early age. I always had tag names that were sort of something to do with my family – like the name I had before this was TRIPE because my granddad used to say “that’s a load of tripe!” – which refers to a cow’s stomach.”
The new mural, part of the ongoing “One Wall” program by UN, features his signature chrome texture – this time as a heart shaped balloon. He tells Nika why he’s positioned the cartoon character Snoopy, based on the Charles Schultz comic strip, looking quizzically at his own reflection in the balloon.
He says that with this mural he is actually giving a tribute to his own dog, which he credits with giving him love and support during a tough time in his life.
is kind of dedicated to her. At the time I was quite unhappy and she cheered me
right up so basically I say that I believe in dog. I called the piece “Believe
talks more about the two dimensional dog quizzically gazing up at the balloon
and points out that the background is taken directly form the location. “I took the
photographs next to the wall so it’s reflecting the trees and the buildings
around it. When I do that I think it always makes the
local people appreciate it more to see their street reflected in something.”
Our special thanks to Nika Kramer for sharing her talents with BSA readers here.
now lets sit down to the Victrola to listen to the original song
about Fred Fannakapan by that inimitable Lancaster lassie, Ms. Gracie Fields.