Joel Bergner

This is the twelfth in a series of posts featuring the range of faces have surfaced in NYC open spaces:

Werc in Bedford-Stuyvesant with the Open Society Foundations

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Vexta and Askew in Williamsburg for the Greenest Point, one fragment of huge mural

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Joel Bergner aka Joel Artista in Bellerose, Queens with the DOT

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LMNOPI in Long Island City with Arts Org

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Cern in Williamsburg, close-up

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Thiago Valdi in Staten Island with the NYC Arts Cypher

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Leticia Mandragora, Bushwick 

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 Photo credits: 1, 3 & 7 Tara Murray: 2, 4-6 Lois Stavsky

Hailed in a range of media from the Huffington Post to the New York Times, our Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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Writing onthe Walls is an ongoing project launched last year by N Carlos J – noted artist, community revitalizer and founder of Brooklyn Is the Future — for his father, a Brownsville native who had been diagnosed with cancer. This is Part II of our continuing documentation of it:

Danish artist Welin

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Brooklyn-based Ben Angotti

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French artist Zeso, close-up

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Chilean artist Teo Doro

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Long Island-based Phetus

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And you can find out here how you can help support this wonderfully transformative project.

Note: The first image is by Joel Bergner aka Joel Artista.

Photo credits: 1, 2, 4-6 Tara Murray; 3 Lois Stavsky

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This is the tenth in an occasional series of posts featuring the range of faces in different media that have surfaced in NYC public spaces:

New Zealand-based Owen Dippie in Bushwick, Brooklyn

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UK-based multimedia artist Ryan Gander on the High Line

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Alice Mizrachi, captured at work this past June in the East Village

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How & Nosm and Tristan Eaton in Williamsburg, Brooklyn

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German artist Hendrik Beikirch aka ECB in Bushwick, Brooklyn

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Bogota-based Australian artist Crisp in Brooklyn

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Chris Soria and Joel Bergner aka Joel Artista in Bushwick, Brooklyn

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Hong Kong-based Caratoes in Bushwick, Brooklyn

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Photo credits: 1, 4 & 5 Lois Stavsky; 2 & 8 Dani Reyes Mozeson; 3, 6 & 7 Tara Murray

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We recently spoke to Brooklyn-based artist Joel Bergner aka Joel Artista about his experiences this past spring working with Israeli and Palestinian youth.

What brought you to the Israel?

I ‘d worked with artist and arts educator Max Frieder last year in the Middle East in a program for Syrian refugees and, also, in Cuba. He invited me to partner with him on this trip — organized by his Artolution project with the support of private donors and the U.S. Embassy and Consulate — to Israel and Palestine.

What was the purpose of the trip?

The main purpose was to provide creative opportunities for Israeli and Palestinian youth, who rarely interact, to meet each other through our educational workshops and collaborate on public mural projects. Through this work, they formed relationships with each other and were able to begin positive dialogues. 

Israeli-and-Palestinian-youth-with-Joel-Bergner-paint-mural

Was your experience in this particular conflict-ridden landscape different from what you had anticipated? 

I had thought of the divide in this region as largely an Israeli-Palestinian one. But I came to realize that the situation is far more complex. There is a considerable divide between the religious and secular and divisions within certain communities themselves. I also wasn’t aware of the situation of the East Jerusalem Palestinians who do not have Israeli citizenship; in fact, they don’t have citizenship to any country in the world! Most can get Jordanian passports even though they are not Jordanian citizens, and it is these passports they use when they travel abroad. We worked with a Palestinian friend who was in this difficult and complex situation, and he brought us all around the West Bank and taught us a great deal. He was an inspiring guy for me because of his positive and tolerant perspective toward all the people of the region.

Did you feel personally affected by the conflict?

I was there on Jerusalem Day, when the Israelis — particularly those on the right — celebrate the reunification of Jerusalem and the establishment of Israeli control over the Old City. That was a particularly tense day, as there were protests and a highly charged and violent atmosphere in the area between the east and west sections of the city.

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What — would you say — was you greatest challenge? 

Getting the Israeli and Arab kids to interact with one another in a meaningful way and actually work together.

Were you able to overcome this challenge?

Yes. Most came to value the idea of working together for a common purpose. One of the groups came up with the image of a boat floating on a sea. Out of the boat grew a tree with branches that became human figures. They wanted to send a message that despite differences, they all have the same roots, and that they are all on the same boat together.

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In what ways was your experience in Israel different from other countries where you’ve worked with youth?

I’ve worked in many countries with youth from very difficult environments, including those who have experienced war and other forms of violence, but this was my first time purposefully bringing together two sides of a conflict in order to spark dialogue. These are young people who are taught to fear and hate the other side. But many told me individually that once they came face to face with each other and worked together, joked around and had conversations, it became impossible to see the other as an enemy. They realized that they had so much in common. It was incredible to see them bonding and becoming friends. One day we all broke into a spontaneous dance party! It was beautiful to see them just acting like normal teenagers together. While this will not solve all the complex problems in region, I hope that it will be a seed. 

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What was the final project?

The installation of a huge mural at the Hand in Hand School, which was then installed at the US Consulate in Jerusalem.  There it is visible to people from all backgrounds as they wait to apply for their visas.

Any thoughts about the future of this region?

After working with these kids, I do have some hope for these youth. One of their murals, in fact, told a story of the journey from conflict to peaceful coexistence. But I don’t see any easy resolution to the larger conflict.

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And what about you? Any further plans to work in this region?

Yes, we are planning future projects for communities in the Middle East. These will include the participation of local artists and educators, who will be trained to facilitate their own arts-based community programs. The plan is to turn this concept into a global organization that will focus on advocating for social change through public art. 

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky; all images courtesy of the artist

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"Joel Bergner"

We first met Joel Bergner aka Joel Artista two years ago when he was painting in Bushwick. We fell in love at once with his intensely vibrant images, reflecting a distinct global aesthetic. Since then, Joel — who refers to himself as a “nomadic artist, educator and advocate for social change” — has led community projects across the globe, including in the Za’atari Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. We recently had the chance to speak to him about his experience there.

Since we last saw you in NYC, you’ve worked with youth throughout the globe, including in a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan. What took you to this particular setting?

I like to work where I can do the most good.  I’m interested in using public art projects to engage young people in marginalized communities in exploring issues that are important to their lives — and in sharing their messages and visions with others. I had partnered with the organizations aptART and ACTED. And when a program funded by UNICEF offered me the opportunity to work with youngsters in the Za’atari refugee camp, I took it.

Joel Bergner

Can you tell us something about the circumstances of the folks in this refugee camp?

The 100,000 Syrians in Za’atari were among the millions escaping the government forces of Assad’s regime. When they fled their homes in Syria, they left everything behind. When they arrived in Jordan, the Jordanian government allowed them to take refuge. But it also put many in sprawling camps in remote, harsh deserts where their lives have been on hold ever since. While they are legally prohibited from working or doing business, the informal market is booming. It’s inspiring to witness just how resilient the people are.

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What is daily life like inside the camp? 

It is a tense atmosphere. Many of the folks have been traumatized — both emotionally and physically. Almost all have witnessed or experienced violence and the death of loved ones. One 11-year-old boy, for example, rolled back his long sleeve to show us his severely disfigured arm. He told us that government agents had electrocuted him because his father had been a soldier who had switched allegiances to the Free Syrian Army. In Za’atari, people are kept separate from Jordanian society. People are frustrated due to restrictions on their water, food and movement, and there are protests and violent incidents fairly often.

"Joel Bergner"

How did the youngsters respond to your workshops?

The kids loved it.  They loved mixing colors, learning artistic techniques, painting and simply creating. They painted public murals, their wheelbarrows and they made kites. They also learned about hygiene, water conservation, and conflict resolution, which are important issues in the camp. My co-workers were Syrian refugee educators and artists who led the workshops with me. The goals of this project are: to give voice to refugee children through the arts; to connect them to positive role models, and to engage them in educational and creative activities so that they can play a role in rebuilding their communities. The art features positive messages and uplifting imagery intended to liven up their environment. Also, the project provides opportunities to local artists and educators, as some of them have been hired for similar projects after this one ended.

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What — would you say — was the greatest challenge facing you?

Maintaining order. The kids, most of whom went to school in Syria, now roam the refugee camp with few rules or structured activities. They are very rough and frequently get into fights.  Yet, at the same time, they are also really sweet and friendly. So while working with them is challenging, it is also very enjoyable!

What were some of the highlights of your residency in Za’atari?

There were many. Among them: forming relationships with the Syrian refugee adult workers; getting to know the kids; learning basic Arabic and bringing color to a place so desperately in need of it.

Interview by Lois Stavsky with Dani Reyes Mozeson

All photos courtesy of Joel.

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This is the second in a series of posts featuring the range of creatures that share our streets with us:

Reka at the Bushwick Collective

"Reka"

Roa in Williamsburg 

"Roa"

Never in Bushwick

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Phlegm at the Bushwick Collective

"Phlegm"

Robert Plater in the East Village

"Robert Plater"

Joel Bergner and Wise2 in Bushwick

"Joel Bergner and Wise2"

Kingbee in the East Village

"KingBee"

Photos by Lois Stavsky

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Dozens of new artworks, representing a wide range of cultures, styles and approaches, have surfaced this summer at 5Pointz. Here are a few from NYC’s ever-evolving open-air gallery:

Veteran graff artists Bis and Vor 

Bis and Vor

London-based artist Christiaan Nagel installs his iconic mushroom with a little help from Meres

Christiaan Nagel

 Austrian artist Roofie

Roofie

Japanese artist Shiro with PartYes1 and Meres

Shiro, Part, Yes One and Meres

ND’A and Bishop

NDA and Bishop

The Mexican Har crew, close-up

Har graffiti

Har Crew, complete mural

Har Crew

French artist Zeso

Zeso

Brooklyn-based international muralist Joel Bergner

Joel Bergner

Barcelona-based artist Dase

Dase

Photos by Dani Mozeson, Tara Murray and Lois Stavsky

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Speaking with Joel Bergner

November 14, 2012

"Joel Bergner street art"

Nomadic artist and educator Joel Bergner aka joelB is best known for his expressive, brightly-hued murals that focus on issues of social justice. Currently based in Brooklyn, he has recently graced Bushwick with two huge vibrant murals.

When did you first begin creating art?

I was always into art as a kid, but I got more seriously into it when I was 16. I was going through hard times, and I was stressed out about a lot of things. Among them was becoming a father at such a young age and suddenly having so much adult responsibility. Art was an outlet for me. I used to stay up all night drawing and painting.

Have you a formal art education?

No, I took a few art classes in college, but I couldn’t get into creating art in an academic environment. Maybe I just didn’t have the right teachers. So I focused on developing my style on my own.

When did you first start hitting walls?

When I was a teen, I was a graffiti fan and dabbled a little in bombing and tagging, but I wasn’t so good at graf lettering…so I gravitated toward painting more figurative styles.

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What inspired you to create murals?

I lived for many years in Latino neighborhoods in Chicago and San Francisco, where murals are a popular form of expression — from classic Mexican murals to graffiti to various street art styles. I soaked it all in and got inspired by all these movements. I wanted to share my work with a much broader audience than is possible from the gallery scene, which caters to a small and often privileged group, so painting on the street was my natural direction. 

Where did your early murals surface?

The first one I did was actually indoors — in a cafe in Chicago. But in my early 20’s, I was living in the Mission District in San Francisco and I painted a series of pieces there on the street.

Had these murals any particular themes — as the ones we’ve seen here in Bushwick are rich with multi-cultural references?

I’ve always been interested in different cultures, exploring social issues and giving voice to marginalized communities, who participate in many of my public art projects and workshops in the US and abroad. I work with street children, incarcerated youth, the disabled and young people from shantytowns and slum areas through my Action Ashé! art and education project.

What do you suppose draws you to these issues?

Well, even when I was young, I always clicked with people who society doesn’t value. I took on jobs working with the mentally ill and the homeless and counseling troubled adolescents — not just because I wanted to be a “do-gooder,” but because I really enjoyed them and connected with them — and this has continued in my art and my community work as I’ve gotten older. I now spend part of every year living and working in the City of God (Cidade de Deus), a poor community in Rio de Janeiro where I run youth public art projects. These experiences open your eyes to so many injustices and allows you to see the value in places and people whose beauty is rarely recognized.

"Joel Berglin in Bushwick"

What is the intent of your art?

I think the best art moves people on many levels — emotionally, spiritually and intellectually. That’s my goal for my personal art. And for my collaborative pieces with street children and other groups, I have the added goal of giving them the opportunity to express their humanity to a society that usually ignores them.

In what other countries have you painted?

I’ve painted in Brazil, Cuba, Poland, Cape Verde (in West Africa), El Salvador and Peru.

Any favorites?

Probably Brazil and Cuba, where I’ve spent the most time. I strongly connect to the people and cultures.

How has your relationship been with graffiti artists and street artists – who share public spaces with you?

It’s been positive; there’s a sense of mutual respect. I think when people respect each other’s work, all those labels fall by the wayside—graffiti, street art, mural art, public art. At the end of the day, what matters is if a piece is good or not. I see my art as a combination of many styles and artistic traditions, so I don’t let myself be boxed in by choosing any specific one to define my work.

Joel Bergner

Have you any favorite artists who currently work in the public sphere?

Many…I like Os Gemeos, Saner, Sex aka El Niño de las Pinturas, JR, Swoon, Retna, Pose2 and How & Nosm and a million others.

What about traditional muralists? Any favorites?

I definitely like “Los Tres Grandes” from Mexico: Diego Rivera, David Alfaro Siqueiros, and Jose Clemente Orozco, as well as many who have followed in their footsteps like Juana Alicia and Susan Cervantes in California.

You mentioned before that you find the gallery world “elitist.” Would you be open to exhibiting your work in galleries?

I’d be open to it if it were the right situation where I had the freedom to take it in a unique and provocative direction. As I’ve gotten older, I realize that it doesn’t have to be elitist just because it’s indoors. But my main work will always be on the streets.

How do you feel about the role of the Internet in all this?

I love it. I get to see what other artists are doing and share my work with others who might not otherwise see it.

"Joel Bergner street art"

What’s next?

I’m heading to Mexico in a couple days for my next project, and then I’m off to Nairobi, Kenya for a project that we just finished raising money for on Kickstarter.

Could you tell us something about it?

The Kibera Walls for Peace project will use public art to encourage unity and cooperation among ethnic and political groups ahead of the presidential election scheduled for March, 2013. Kibera, one of Africa’s largest slums, was strongly affected by the violence and political turmoil that engulfed Kenya after the last election. Preventing a repeat of this crisis is the project’s main objective. I will be working with the community- based youth organization Kibera Hamlets and 30 local youth to study peace-building and public art, culminating in the creation of five public murals in high-profile locations around Kibera, all aimed at easing tensions between different ethnic and political groups and encouraging peace. We will be filming the experience for a documentary. I’m very interested in making documentaries of my projects, including one I organized in Rio de Janeiro called “Street Art with Street Kids.”

Wow! That sounds fabulous. Good luck!

Thanks!

Photos by Dani Mozeson, Sara Mozeson and Lois Stavsky

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