It’s just the irony of it; A guy who makes art in the streets to raise awareness about endangered species has his mural of a bog turtle used to sell burgers and bacon on a bagel by a fast food company that has been regularly accused over many years of creating deforestation that’s caused by cattle production.
McDonald’s of course, didn’t make or contribute much to this graffiti/Street Art/mural scene, nor did they take any time to understand it. Creative culture vultures everywhere know that it is far easier just to seize other people’s work and slap it into a product than to do the homework. If they’d talked to Louis Masai, they would have gotten an earful.
Preliminary signs point to a lot of people not knowing how Street Artists work would have ended up airing without permission in the newest campaign for McDonald’s in Netherlands that purrs with pride over its connection to real street flava in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Bushwick. AdWeek displayed the videos in an article discussing the campaign, but mysteriously the videos have disappeared from that posting and the McDonald’s YouTube channel. The Street Art blog Vandalog had an article about the matter yesterday, and perhaps that fire added to the unbearable heat in McD’s kitchen, as it were.
Naturally on social media posts fingers have been furiously pointing at Joe Ficalora of the Bushwick Collective because he appears giving a tour in the long-form “documentary” style ads that were made by the creative agency who was producing the campaign. In the montages of images, voices, and music you see interviews with four early NYC graffiti writers and one Brazilian street artist – each of whom Joe invited and who created work for the campaign.
People are quick to pounce and surmise and pontificate about who got paid and what everyone’s good and bad intentions were – and then extrapolate outward into discussions around gentrification, cultural hegemony, parasitic behaviors, selling out a culture, etc. We don’t know for sure what all those details are so we’ll stop short of making accusations at the moment – much will come out in lawsuits going forward no doubt – and really we’re supposed to be writing an intro here…
The thing we do know for sure is there were a lot of shots of other works in those videos by artists – including from another community wall initiative named JMZ Walls – who are all saying that they were never contacted nor did they give McDonald’s permission to use their work in promoting McD’s. This group includes Louis Masai, who writes an editorial essay today here about what his experience was, what his personal opinions are and what he thinks about using his artwork to sell burgers.
McDonalds x Bushwick Collective
by Louis Masai
Right now I should be painting, I have a solo show coming up. Instead my mind is over consumed by the frustration and outrage of an advert that was brought to my attention mid Friday afternoon by another artist.
He said to go check my Facebook or Instagram account, that McDonalds had just released what has to be one of the most culturally thieving adverts I have ever seen. After 3:37 minutes, for almost 4 seconds, there it was; my mural of a New York state, endangered bog turtle.
My mural is now advertising a New York bagel beef burger and I am not loving it.
A screenshot of Louis Masai’s bog turtle in Bushwick from the Dutch advertisement for McDonald’s. This was the first in a 3 month cross country mural program Louis did which BSA followed from beginning to end.
See One Artist’s Mission to Save Endangered Species: Louis Masai Completes “The Art Of Beeing” Tour.
For those that are unaware of my work – I paint about endangered species; I use public walls with granted permissions to highlight issues such as biodiversity, the sixth mass extinction, deforestation, and climate change. I am also a vegan. So even if McDonalds had asked me if I minded to be included in their campaign, I would have told them where to shove that bun with a hole. Today, Monday March 13th, after over an hour on the phone talking with the founder of the Bushwick Collective, the three adverts have been removed from the Internet – for now.
Why was I so outraged by all this? Here’s why: The Amazon was the place that inspired scientists to coin the term “biodiversity.” The region is home to 10 percent of all plant and animal species known on Earth. There are approximately 40,000 species of plants, more than 400 mammals, almost 1,300 Birds, and millions of insects. All this life depends on each other and cows are not one of those 400 mammals, according to greenpeace.org.
The production of beef is, without question, the biggest cause of deforestation in the Amazon, with figures ranging from 65 to 70 percent of all deforestation in the area from 2000 to 2005. However these numbers account only for the areas cleared for the creation of pastures, and they fail to include the food being produced for cattle consumption.
The Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies stipulates that Brazil alone has 24 to 25 million hectares devoted to the production of soy, 80 percent of which would end up as animal feed. These numbers all contribute to the consensus that the primary reason for rainforest deforestation in the Amazon can be attributed to the beef industry, according to rainforestpartnership.com.
A screenshot that gives that Brooklyn flava from the McDonald’s commercial
McDonalds sells beef burgers, a lot of them. In fact in 2015, despite not being able to disclose exactly how many burgers they sell each year, as this is ‘commercially sensitive information’, it was reported that they expected to sell over 91 million of the world famous Big Mac sandwiches. Who really knows where that hip-hop, New York bagel beef came from? That is why I am outraged that my painting was aired in an advert for McDonalds.
We live in a world where things are perpetually looked at in the wrong light. Think about the text message that you misinterpreted or the tweet that you didn’t manage to squeeze in all the right words for. We live in a “judge me” society, and I’m not favourable of being twinned with a conglomerate company that is directly associated, past or present, with the destruction of biodiversities, lost species and communities.
Portions of another public mural initiative in Brooklyn called JMZ Walls also appear in the commercials.
The fast-food giant announced in 2015 it would be working with its suppliers to end deforestation in its global supply chain. But how much of that is effective? And how aware is the general public? Whether my point of opinions are correct or not, that doesn’t excuse the fact that McDonalds is not a “sustainable” business; they do not help the environment in a meaningful way, and they definitely have a horrendous past track record. These facts I do know.
I also know, the Bushwick Collective allowed McDonalds to have ownership of my artwork and the sharing of my mural on the Internet, even if that did only last 5 days. Why did Bushwick Collective allow for something that they didn’t own the rights for to pass on in the first place, to be sold? It was an insult to me as a vegan, a violation of my artistic rights and somewhat dark waters for the correlation of my works context.
Screenshot of wall by artist LMNOPI, which was done as a result of a private agreement with the landlord.
McDonalds, cowing back to the depths of its shadows, probably due to concerns of legality, removes the issue of copyright infringement but does it remove their intent to exploit a cherished culture. I am sure that this is not the end of the issue as a whole but for now, I hope that this is a warning to others. Artists are not to be taken advantage of anymore, we will not tolerate it and we will fight back.
Now I’m worried about what is next to come. Should I be watching out for Monsanto to use my bee paintings in a ‘documentary’?
The opinions expressed by Mr. Masai are his own and do not necessarily reflect those of the editorz.