A great project has just emerged from the collaboration between Urban Nation Museum and the dynamic Berlin-based street art duo Various and Gould. This new addition to the ONE WALL series has been expertly curated by Michelle C. Houston, with valuable production support from YAP. The project bears the name ‘We all belong to this community’ (Wir alle hier gehören zum Wir). At a time when xenophobia has been on the rise in many Western societies, public art has taken on a crucial role in educating and reconnecting people and communities.
What makes this project in the Berlin-Spandau district truly captivating is its engagement with local kids at a youth center through an inspiring art workshop. During this workshop, the artists introduced their mural concept and collaborated with the young participants to create captivating collages and individual portrait photos. The mural is an eclectic collage sketch that beautifully incorporates elements from the participants’ faces, effectively symbolizing a collective identity for the neighborhood.
The artists behind this remarkable piece tell us, ‘Our mural is based on a collage from our ongoing Face Time series, which we initiated back in 2015 to celebrate human diversity and question conventional beauty standards.’ Throughout the mural’s creation, the artists meticulously inscribed numerous first names on the wall, including those of workshop participants and other individuals they encountered in the neighborhood. Remarkably, the project seemed to tap into the live pulse of community sentiment as kids and adults gathered on the sidewalk below, joyfully shouting out their names to be included in the mural. A local legend named Moha even stepped in to lend a helping hand by sending lists of names up to the artists’ phones.
As Various notes, ‘When you paint a mural, it’s an exhilarating journey where every day and hour counts, and you must transform your sketch into a grand-scale masterpiece.’ It’s a process that demands intense concentration, all while under the watchful eyes of local residents. Gould adds, ‘Our playful approach might make it seem effortless, but each step of the way is filled with intensity.’ This is evident in instances such as when they found themselves stuck in a lift – and during the tumultuous, rainy hours when painting was challenging.
In essence, this mural project not only showcases the remarkable creative talents of the artists but also underscores the significance of community and diversity in the face of pressing societal issues like racism and exclusion. Their manner and message both serve as powerful reminders of the need for every member of society to feel valued and included.
Various and Gould would like to express their gratitude and extend a heartfelt shout-out to Luis Limberg for his daily production assistance and offer many thanks to their fellow artist friend, Tavar Zawacki, who joined them for a day on the cherry picker, contributing to the project’s success. Our special thanks to Sebastian Kläbsch, Luis Limberg, and @MOHA for sharing their photographs with BSA readers.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening: 1. URBAN NATION 2022 – “Talking… & Other Banana Skins” – on FWTV 2. Flower Punk”- Azuma Makoto 3. JR: Can Art Change the World?
BSA Special Feature: URBAN NATION 2022 – “Talking… & Other Banana Skins” – on FWTV
In his first official visit back to Urban Nation since its opening in 2017, Fifth Wall host Doug Gillen finds a more democratic collection of artists from various points in the street art/urban art constellation. That impression is understandable due to the heavy presence of commercial interests involved in the selection of bankable street art stars and OGs chosen to represent five decades of graffiti/street art at the opening of a new institution dedicated to the scene. Curators were careful to program several relative unknowns and lesser-recognized artists into that initial grab-bag collection, but we take the point.
It’s refreshing to hear the current show’s curator Michelle Houston speak about her personal and professional philosophy toward street art and our collective relationship to it. A hybrid of the existing UN permanent collection and new works, it comes off as a rather wholistic approach that respects more players and their contribution to what has proven to be a very democratic grassroots art movement on streets around the world.
With decidedly less focus on the ever-more codified, commodified, and blue-chip-ivy-league-endorsed criterion of exclusivity that plagues the ‘art world’, this varied collection may represent a retaining wall against trends we witness that threaten to erect the same sort of structures of exclusivity that unbridled art-in-the-streets set out to destroy. Of course, every modern counterculture eventually gets transformed on its way to accepted culture, and we’re somewhat resigned to that reality. However rather than zapping the life out of the free-wheeling nature of graffiti and street art, Urban Nation may be staking a claim of departure from peers to defend some of those original tenets – in this insistently self-defining scene.
And speaking of every modern counterculture that eventually gets transformed on its way to accepted culture, we present the Punk Florist, artist Azuma Makoto, who uses plants in a sculptural manner. It is a practice that he hopes can connect humanity and nature. It may help if you are listening to Dead Kennedys or Black Flag – or perhaps something more industrial, or no-wave. But when he and his team send a ragged bundle of beauty literally into space, all bets are off. It’s a new game.
“Happy kids are playing the game, but something is off, the chairs have been replaced by life vests and the EU is playing the music.”
Street artist LAPIZ says his darkly themed new stencil piece is based on the game ‘musical chairs’ and is pointing directly to the number of refugees who drown in the Mediterranean Sea. So many die so frequently that people in Europe have grown tired from the news, he says. And that’s why he’s depicted this ‘game’ of children playing with life vests.
“It is supposed to look that way because it became normal that people are drowning in the Mediterranean which is why we do not hear anything about it anymore,” he says.
It’s all a dog dance, this social life, this series of prescribed and occasionally poetic movements that we must learn to navigate. Whether its origins are in Israel, France, Russia, New York, or Berlin, the Broken Fingaz Crew (BFC) tells us that the complexity of contemporary communication all comes down to ‘Dog Sniff Dog.’ It could be a reference to the contortions of connections on social media or simply the convoluted machinations of the so-called ‘art world.’ Still, you get a clear idea about their sarcasm and opinions with their new mural for the façade of the Urban Nation Museum (UN) that accompanies the opening of the latest exhibition.
Often referencing the visual language of comic books, poster graphics, mid-century advertising, and hand-animated music videos, the Haifa-based crew brings a fresh neo-primitivism to their stinging social critique as it bends across the public-facing walls of Urban Nation Museum.
Appropriate for the graffiti writers and street artists whose work this museum champions, the painter Henri Matisse was also known for breaking the rules of harmony and order well over a century ago. They haven’t pointed to Matisse in their public comments on this canine cavorting street canvas. Still, modern art historians will instantly identify the rough contours, bright color fills, and interactive natural movement as a possible reference to his study Dance (1) (at MoMa in New York) and completed painting Dance (at the Hermitage in Saint Petersburg).
We’re all familiar with these instinctive behaviors of dogs that can be comical or embarrassing to their owners. Still, science tells us that dogs sniff each other’s butt with an olfactory system far more complex and advanced than humans – and with a great sense of purpose. The layers of scents detected give information about gender, reproductive status, temperament, health, and much more. You may try to tell engaging stories and jokes at cocktails, dinner parties, and beer halls. Dogs sniff butts.
Photographer Nika Kramer captured the action of Broken Fingaz’s sometimes animated visceral dance on the wall as they installed ‘Dog Sniff Dog.’
“Talking… & Other Banana Skins” is currently open to the general public at Urban Nation Museum Berlin. Click HERE to find schedules and details on the exhibition.
Our weekly focus on the moving image and art in the streets. And other oddities.
Now screening: 1. Grand Opening of “TALKING…& OTHER BANANA SKINS / UNARTIG 2. Footprint by The Krank 3. Six N. Five: “The circle”
BSA Special Feature: Grand Opening of “TALKING…& OTHER BANANA SKINS / UNARTIG
TALKING… & OTHER BANANA SKINS
In the UK and English-speaking Europe, the term “banana skins” means a sudden unexpected situation that makes a person appear silly or causes them some difficulty. We have no idea what it means in the US because we’ve never heard the saying. To paraphrase, you could slip and make a sudden problem with your words these days.
At Urban Nation this weekend, a new show aims to broadly address the fact that attitudes are so polarized today that almost any opinion threatens to antagonize someone else and start a heated discussion. With a wide range of artworks expressing different viewpoints in vastly different ways, UN encourages visitors to question some of our perspectives. When it comes to graffiti and street art and nearly six decades of history in cities worldwide, you are guaranteed many views will be expressed.
“Conflicts and issues are multi-faceted, not to be pigeonholed,” says curator Michele Houston and the team who are mixing permanent collection pieces with brand new ones. “The artworks presented in the eight chapters of the exhibition are asking how and what is being communicated within society and the urban environment,” she says. “-Putting exchange and dialogue back at the center.”
Footprint by The Krank
How big is your footprint? A new one on the island of Paxos, Greece is 1.000m2.
“Footprint’ deals with the meaning of loss. Nature, ecosystems, and biodiversity are all in a variable state with a negative sign. The parallelism that emerges through the impermanence of my work, and our presence as a species, reinforces the message I wanted to communicate. Everything is fluid, and nothing should be taken for granted.” – The Krank
Six N. Five: “The circle”
Part of the Moco Museum in Amsterdam and Barcelona, this short film by Ezequiel Pini of Six n. Five is ‘an introspective journey of wonder and imagination through these glimpses of time.’
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.
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.
The elevated bridge walkway that wends up and down and through and above the spaces creates so many dynamic opportunities to see and re-see art. Painted all white for this inauguration, this is the first museum of its kind dedicated to Urban Contemporary Art, and with this show the house in Berlin Schöneberg has blasted the doors open with 150 of today’s Street Artists, graffiti artists, urban artists in a spirit of celebration and recognition for their contributions to an ever changing scene.
The labels we use today to describe the artists and the art rarely fit them very well and are frequently contested, derided, embraced. With thoughtful and informed planning, programming and curatorial decisions this place will showcase the work of progenitors, superstars, and unsung heroes over time.
A scene born in rebellion and transgression on the streets of cities around the world for a half century now morphs into studio practice and more traditionally formal visual art forms. Often courting collectors passions, gallery shows, auctions, commercializing influences, and academics’ study, we know that the roots of this movement are much more than an object to behold in a frame under good lighting. But the scene and its roots and many branches contain these things as well.
No one said this would be easy for our studied, enthusiastic, knee-deep-in-it, world traveling curatorial team and Director Yasha Young to find a perfect balance with this collection, so ultimately we just trusted each other. Our consensus of course reflects us, the next show will reflect its curators. We agreed to present relevant artists and directions catalyzed in this moment with a respect for what came before; a cross section that we know leaves many out but contains works that speak for themselves about the multitude of rivers that flow through urban streets in 2017 out here, in here.
With 150 artists inside, 40 outside, and hundreds curated into shows and walls and festivals across continents over the last four years leading up to this, this is one look at Urban Nation. A worldwide scene that took flight and merged with every form of art-making in public space, a scene where the majority of the artists are still alive and which continues to re-shape, to re-define itself.
Pedantic, cryptic, confusing or revelatory. The most you can hope for are moments that distill it like these, helping to make sense of a movement in motion. We’re grateful that Carlo McCormick agreed to do the contextualizing work of didactics in the exhibition and that Christian Omodeo is agreeing to help organize the Martha Cooper library with an eye toward archiving and scholarship.
As but two of the founding curators, we’re excited to foster the fullness of programming that teaches about the roots and the philosophies as well as the techniques of this generous Street Art/graffiti history, that invites communities to take ownership of their museum and to look forward. Along with the artist residencies offered in studios above the museum’s formal exhibition space we hope there will be room for scholars to study the materials here and to write, hold panels, publish works. Here’s to the future of Urban Nation, a place we can all learn from.
Here’s a home made video showcasing the show in its entirety, via BrooklynStreetArt.com
A note of thanks:
This project took roughly five years in the making from its initial concept to opening night. We wish to express our heartfelt gratitude to Yasha Young the museum’s Artistic Director for her passion, for her unique commitment to the arts of the streets and for inviting us to be a part of this journey with her. Thank you to our fellow curators Marina Bortoluzzi, Marcello Pimentel, Johnathan Levine, Roland Henry, Andrew Hosner, Roland Henry, Charlotte Dutoit, Rom Levy, and D*Face a.k.a. Dean Stockton, for their insights, guidance, hard work and camaraderie.
To the Urban Nation team, those who are still a part of the team and those who have left, for their extraordinary patience, grace and endless hours working hard to help us make this dream a reality. To the production team at YES AND…productions who with their optimism and positive outlook labored tirelessly to make certain we had what we needed always. To Schrenk & Schrenk who organized all the auxiliary events and made sure we enjoyed the festivities, to Spring Brand Ideas for their assistance in the whole process, to Thomas Willemeit and Denis Hegic of GRAFT architects for such vision to showcase works and invite the visitor, and to project initiators Markus Terboven (Gewobag) and Hendrik Jellema (Berliner Leben Foundation) who have been there with us from the beginning.
To Martha Cooper for always being there and for inspiring us. Finally to all of the artists in all the venues for their talent, guts, and commitment to dig deep, take chances and to produce the best work possible for this multi-headed monster called UN.
BSA is in Berlin this month to present a new show of 12 important Brooklyn Street Artists at the Urban Nation haus as part of Project M/7. PERSONS OF INTEREST brings to our sister city a diverse collection of artists who use many mediums and styles in the street art scene of Brooklyn. By way of tribute to the special relationship that artist communities in both cities have shared for decades, each artist has chosen to create a portrait of a Germany-based cultural influencer from the past or present, highlighting someone who has played a role in inspiring the artist in a meaningful way.Today we talk to GAIA and ask him why he chose his person of interest, Fereshta Ludin.
Street Artist Gaia typically studies the society and culture in which he paints murals and depicts figures who reflect the history and forces of change and stasis that characterize that neighborhood, town, or city. A leader in what we’ve been calling the New Muralism, Gaia has produced these amalgams of symbols, history, and persons – these glocalized paintings – around the world in cities from Seoul to Perth to Honolulu to Baltimore to Miami and Johannesburg, among others in the the last five years.
Since his earliest days as a Street Artist in Williamsburg and Bushwick, Brooklyn, Gaia has engaged the personal, social and political with his artistic ability; first as linotype prints, later as full-blown aerosol murals. So it is no surprise that he chooses as his subject for this show a figure who has held a pivotal role in the evolution of a necessary conversation in classrooms, boardrooms, courts – and the court of public opinion. It is here in the public sphere that Gaia has always drawn inspiration and energy and returned it back with an impetus to spark examination, discussion and debate.
“The proposal for ‘Persons of Interest’ features a portrait of Fereshta Ludin superimposed over a sky and images of peace,” Gaia says. “I chose to focus on Fereshta Ludin because of her advocation for multicultural understanding and cooperation in the face of intense national debate regarding the sphere of religious expression in German politics.”
BSA is in Berlin this month to present a new show of 12 important Brooklyn Street Artists at the Urban Nation haus as part of Project M/7. PERSONS OF INTEREST brings to our sister city a diverse collection of artists who use many mediums and styles in the street art scene of Brooklyn. By way of tribute to the special relationship that artist communities in both cities have shared for decades, each artist has chosen to create a portrait of a Germany-based cultural influencer from the past or present, highlighting someone who has played a role in inspiring the artist in a meaningful way.Today we talk to Swoon and ask her why she chose her persons of interest, Turkish Immigrants.
The topic of immigration is relevant to both sister cities and their artists communities, as they grapple with age-old questions about absorption and assimilation into the culture and whether traditions and behaviors can accommodate one another. Naturally, emotions can run high and rhetoric can be very strong at times and as usual art on the streets reflects society back to itself in an ongoing dialogue. If New York’s reputation as a melting pot is any indication, eventually people do find a way to coexist despite our sometimes marked differences.
When Brooklyn Street Artist Swoon first learned about PERSONS OF INTEREST, she first thought of the many times she has been to Berlin and the artist community with which she has worked and played over the last few years. Known for her intricate paper cuts and linotypes that depict an inner world of a person, often you can read the interior of her forms as a diary. To join the two cultures and her experience of it Swoon also thought of the rich Turkish community she became familiar with in Berlin and she decided to dedicate her portrait to them.
“This portrait is a celebration of the cultural diversity of the city of Berlin, and specifically of it’s large and vibrant Turkish community,” she says. A hand painted linoleum block print with cut paper elements, Swoon says she thinks of this installation as “a long distance love letter to the city that informed so much of my early work, and which inspired and embraced the creative evolution of art on the streets like few other places in the world.”
Olivia Katz, an artist who has worked closely with Swoon in studio, agrees with her sentiment about this piece and expands on it. “This piece celebrates urban diversity,” says Katz. “It is meant to reflect on cities as densely pluralist environments that are built upon countless different people and communities living and working together. It is essential to recognize each other as neighbors, each living our lives soulfully and with meaning, and to nourish relationships that cross even the widest cultural chasms.”
Urban Exchange: Crossing Over 2014 is a brand new street art festival in George Town, Penang in Malaysia. In November they hosted 16 artists to paint walls throughout this city of two and a half million on the Strait of Malacca.
It is not a city that has hosted Street Art traditionally and one that frowns strongly on graffiti, but ever since Lithuanian Street Artist Ernest Zacharevic did some very successful installations here in 2012 which drew crowds and cameras, the citizenry and elected officials have become very hospitable to the idea — and have even enacted a formalized process for approving public art.
Today we travel to Penang to see the brand new pieces for this first-year show, co-curated by Gabija Grusaite and Eeyan Chuah, who run Hin Bus Depot Art Centre, a creative space in the ruins of a bus depot that hosted a corollary gallery show. Alongside Berlin based Urban Nation’s director and curator, Yasha Young, the two invited a mixture of local and international artists to complete murals and to host some community workshops.
“There’s never a dull moment at Urban Nation’s exchange program,” says Young, “after a year in the planning we were excited to finally make the journey.”
Among the various murals you’ll see a selection of figurative, realistic, and illustration styles that carefully walk a community moderated fine line, hoping to bring locals to be more actively engaged in the program. As a novelty outlier, you’ll also see Brooklyn’s Mr. Toll installing his colorful hand formed clay sculptures in unusual spots if you keep your head up.
In an interview with Malay Mail Online, Ms. Grusaite says, “We want to create an artistic international cultural exchange so that local artists can learn from international artists who will be here for the project while the international artists will get exposure to the local culture and art scene.”
As is the case more often, with Urban Exchange we are again seeing a new model of public art developing where at the forefront are artists who have laid their groundwork in graffiti rather than university exclusively. We’ve been using a term we’re calling the “New Muralism” to indicate the grassroots nature and populist generation of these works and we still think its definition is evolving. Not quite community murals in the strictest sense, and not seeking the approval of gate-keeping institutions either, these artists are looking for and finding new ways to challenge themselves creatively in the public sphere while being responsive to needs of the public. Huh!
Included in the Urban Exchange project are Antanas Dubra (Lithuania), Bibichun (Malaysia), Don John (Denmark), Donald Abraham (Malaysia), Elle (United States), Ernest Zacharevic (Lithuania), Fauzan Faud (Malaysia), Karl Addison (Germany), Kenji Chai (Malaysia), Rone (Australia), Sk10 (Singapore), TankPetrol (United Kingdom), Black Fritilldea (Malaysia), 4Some (a crew from Kuala Lumpur consisting of Donald, Black, Fauzan and Jojo), Mr Toll (New York) and Vexta (New York)
Our heartfelt thank you to Henrik Haven, who took a trip from Copenhagen which took 31 hours (and four different flights) for sharing his excellent photographs here with BSA readers.