political art

Working with paintbrush in hand, award-winning Manhattan-based artist Miguel Diego Colón recently brought his skills and vision to First Street Green Art Park. After he had finished his mural, I posed a few questions to him:

Although your artwork surfaced publicly this past year on a huge billboard near the Kings Plaza Shopping Center, this was the first time you actually painted in public. What was that experience like?

It was amazing! I loved interacting with passersby who stopped to watch me. I loved hearing people’s interpretations of what I was doing. And I felt flattered when people took photos of the mural and of me while I was painting.

All of your images reference some kind of economic or social injustice. How did you decide which images to incorporate into your mural?

I researched online the term “social justice.” I then visually interpreted particular issues that stood out…that particularly mattered to me.

And so the overall theme of your mural is social justice — or the lack of it.

Yes. I am concerned with oppression of all kinds…what it means to have one’s rights taken away.

Is there any particular segment of the mural that you especially like? 

One of my favorite segments is the image of the couple embracing during the collapse of a sweatshop. I like the way it represents connection — the way people can connect, especially during trying times.

What’s ahead?

I’m currently applying for a number of grants. And I would love, of course, more opportunities to paint in public spaces. I’m also working in my Fountain House Gallery studio on a painting modeled on my First Street Green Art Park mural, “Liberty’s Last Embrace.”

It sounds great! Good luck with it all! And, thank you, Jonathan Neville and First Street Green Art Park.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky. Photos by Lois Stavsky

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Just a few blocks from the Kings Plaza Shopping Center in Flatbush, Brooklyn, a huge, beautifully-crafted, provocative billboard greets passersby. I’d met the artist, Miguel Diego Colón, several months ago in the studio he shares with other Fountain House artists in the Silks Building in Long Island City. At the time he was working on the images he’d planned to incorporate into this project. I recently had the opportunity to catch up with him and find out more about this ambitious venture:

What an impressive, powerful mural “Stand Up” is!  Can you tell us something about its theme? Its intent?

I was interested in creating a public mural that reflects the many forms of oppression that I have faced and have observed in my community here in New York City. Among these are: the destructive forces of racism, sexism, inequality, and the stigma against those struggling with mental illness. It is my way of providing solidarity with others who are oppressed.

Did any specfic recent events or incidents spur you to focus on these themes of inequality and resistance?

I had heard about a photographer who had been slammed to the ground at a Trump rally. And that had me thinking about all the bullying that has been taking place at various Trump rallies and the importance of  “standing up.”

How were you able to access such a huge, visible space?

Betty Eastland, a peer-specialist and artist, working at Fountain House Studio had sent me a link to 14×48, a non-profit project that repurposes vacant billboards as public art spaces. 14×48‘s mission is to create opportunities for artists to engage with public art. I sent 14×48 a sketch, along with a proposal, and examples of other paintings on the theme of social justice. I was amazed when I found out that I had been selected.

How long did you work on “Stand Up?”

About five months. Once I was ready to paint, I constructed stretcher bars. I then started with graissaile before adding paint.

This was your first public mural. How have folks responded to it?

Everyone has been so supportive. The response has been overwhelmingly positive.

What’s next?

 I would love to create more work in public spaces. I think of it as an audition to do more public works. And I’d love to bring my vision to Manhattan. Times Square would be ideal!

Yup! That would be great! And congratulations on “Stand Up.”

Photo credits: 1, 3 & 4 Courtesy of the artist; 2, 5 & 6 Lois Stavsky

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Note: To find out more about Miguel–his educational background, influences, personal circumstances — you can read an extended interview here.

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In what is certain to be the Living Installation show of the year, Jadda Cat becomes our country’s first female President replacing our current toxic one. With scored music created by the inimitable Michael Alan Alien, the talented Jadda will morph into various living sculptures — using every material she can find — as she shares her wisdom with us. All will be on view both in Michael’s Bushwick studio and online tomorrow — Saturday evening — from 8pm to midnight. Ticket information is available here.

Scenes from recent Living Installations

And a sample of Michael’s ingeniously conceived and executed visionary artwork

All images courtesy Michael Alan

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In the first of a series of “happenings,” native New Yorker actor/creator Maia Lorian and Brooklyn-based guerilla street artist Abe Lincoln, Jr. recently hosted an Open House outside Trump Tower. To help “the president” pay his huge legal fees, the duo offered passersby an opportunity to savor, purchase and bask in “Luxury Living For The Morally Bankrupt.”  Perks include: secret service at one’s fingertips; one’s very own personalized FBI file and frequent dumpster fires. What follows are a few more scenes I captured during  “A Presidential Parody’s” thoroughly convincing live ad campaign:

First stop, outside Chanel

Engaging one of many opinionated passersby

With Trump Tower security guard quietly observing it all

For more information about “A Presidential Parody” as performance art, you can contact the wonderfully talented duo at apresidentialparody@gmail.com

Photos by Lois Stavsky

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If you missed Shepard Fairey’s massive, hugely significant, exhibition Damaged in late 2017, it is still possible to experience it. West Coast-based VRt Ventures – in its mission to make provocative exhibitions accessible to all – has created the experience for us in virtual reality with a mobile app that enables us to move around the entire gallery, tap on all artworks and listen to two hours of outstanding narration by the artist.

Experiencing Damaged now couldn’t be more timely, as Shepard Fairey focuses on those Americans most affected by current policies and social issues in our increasingly troubling political climate. Among the issues tacked are: xenophobia, racial bias, Wall Street corruption, economic inequality and sexism.

“I definitely think that art can be part of the solution because it can inspire people to look at an issue they might otherwise ignore or reject,” commented the artist.  Damaged is an honest diagnosis, but diagnosis is the first step to recognizing and solving problems.

Officially launched earlier this week in collaboration with Juxtapoz, the app that will make it possible for you to experience Damaged can be downloaded for $4.99 via the iOS App Store and the Google Play store for Android, and on Oculus, HTC and Steam. You can also check it out at the Damaged pop-up open to the public through Sunday, October 21, at 136 Bowery.

Images: 1 & 4 Lois Stavsky; 2 & 3 courtesy VRt Ventures 

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With a BFA in Photography and Sculpture from the Massachusetts College of Art, multidisciplinary artist Alessandra Mondolfi describes herself as a “Jill of all Trades.”  A recipient of multiple grants and awards, including a Fulbright Grant to Barcelona, Spain, she has exhibited throughout the globe with works ranging from altered photographs to elaborate large scale multimedia installations. These days, Alessandra Mondolfi  perceives herself  primarily as an artist/activist, whose political artworks surface on the streets of Miami and beyond. I recently had the opportunity to speak to her.

When did you begin to direct your creative talents to the political sphere?

It happened right after the 2017 Women’s March. That was a huge turning point. I took to the streets then using art props as tools of protest. I haven’t stopped, and I’m not stopping. I’m a proud member of the middle-age resistance.

What prompted you to do so? To become so active?

The 2016 Presidential election. It’s a gut reaction to our current state of affairs. These times call for drastic action. Having come of age in Venezuela, I saw first-hand attacks on democracy and on people’s basic values as Chavez ran on a populist front — socialist, but populist. No one took him seriously. They thought of him as a joke. They didn’t think he could win. And when he did, he  destroyed his country. The similarities between him and Trump are staggering. My strongest weapon against this kind of  fascism is my creativity.

How has your in involvement in this movement impacted you?

It’s been therapeutic. Creating art is a way for us to release our anxieties and give us a sense of purpose, especially in times like these.

And what about others? How has your work impacted others? What kinds of responses has it elicited?

The props that I’ve used at various protests have been shown around the world in a range of media — in print, online and on television. I feel as though I am creating the visual message of the resistance for the media to transmit. Much of what I’ve created has gone viral.  Getty and AP images have surfaced in newspapers throughout the world, including Turkey, Bulgaria and India.

What’s ahead?

I’m now working on new props for the March 24th, March for Our Lives in Parkland. These will be followed by wheatpastes that I will post wherever I can.

I’m so glad you’re doing this! Thank you!

Photos: 1 & 3 Lois Stavsky; 2, 4 & 5 courtesy the artist; Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky

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Located just steps away from Israel’s controversial “Separation Wall,”  Banksy‘s Walled Off Hotel claims to offer the “worst view of any hotel in the world.”  That may well be, as the mammoth wall, even when covered with art, remains ugly and a sore reminder of the imbalance of power in the region.  But the hotel’s interior is a visual delight. Splendidly curated, it is also a fascinating foray into the roots of this 100-year, seemingly endless, conflict.

What follows  are several images captured from the hotel’s meticulously maintained lobby — or piano bar :

A variation of Banksy‘s iconic flower thrower

Banksy‘s take on the Biblical verse, “The lion shall lie down with the lamb”

A statue warding off tear gas

The following documentation of the struggle is among the exhibits on view off the lobby

And alongside the hotel, a friendly Wall-Mart, where graffiti supplies, stencils and a motley array of items can be purchased:

Curious as to what local residents think about it all, I spoke to 30-year old Naji, who grew up in a nearby refugee camp. He had the following to say: When Banksy first came here over ten years ago, I welcomed him  Some people here didn’t. They felt any attempt to “beautify” the wall trivializes its impact on our lives. Tourists come and go, but we have to look at it forever. But I, myself, feel grateful to Banksy, because he has brought attention to our cause. When people visit the wall to photograph it, they see how high it is, and they can get a sense of what our lives are like living under martial law. And my advice to the artists who come to paint here is: Get to know us first. You need to connect to us, as we feel disconnected from you. As far as The Walled Off Hotel, I’m of two minds. On one hand, it doesn’t represent my culture. But I like that it attracts visitors from all over the world and and that Banksy continues to employ many Palestinians.

The museum and art gallery are open to non-residents every day from 11am – 7:30pm.

Note: The second floor of The Walled Off Hotel is home to a gorgeous exhibit, curated by Dr.Housni Alkhateeb Shehada. of works in a range of media and styles fashioned by contemporary  Palestinian artists.

Photos by Lois Stavsky

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This is the fourth in a series of politically and socially conscious images that have surfaced on NYC streets:

Chilean artist Otto Schade takes on gun violence in Chinatown — with East Village Walls

Shepard Fairey aka Obey Giant on the High Line

Colombian artist Praxis on the Lower East Side

Brooklyn-based Adam Fu and Dirty Bandits in Bushwick

Myth NY takes on Thanksgiving in Bushwick

Photo credits: 1 & 2 Tara Murray; 3-5 Lois Stavsky

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

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The following guest post is by Houda Lazrak

While in Mexico City shortly before the devastating earthquake, Roberto ShimizuCreative Director of The Antique Toy Museum of Mexico (MUJAM) and co-organizer of Mexico City’s street art festival All City Canvas, introduced me to over a dozen murals — mainly in the neighborhoods of Roma Norte, Doctores and downtown. Featured above is by Mexico City – based Curiot who — upon returning to Mexico City after living in the US —  painted a center for youth who struggle with difficulties within the traditional school system. What follows is a sampling of several more murals, organized by Roberto Shimizu, that I saw:

Arty & Chikle, the first gay street art couple to come out in Mexico City

Valencia-based Escif — at the Plaza de las Tres Culturas, where the Tlatelolco massacre occurred on October 2, 1968. Students met in this plaza for a peaceful demonstration and reportedly hundreds of them were shot and killed when the military opened fired on them. The image depicts former Interior Secretary Luis Echeverría requesting President Gustavo Díaz Ordaz to order the shooting. Decades later, Echeverría was put on trial for the massacre.

UK-based D*Face

Mexico City-based Edgar Flores aka Saner

Mexico City-based Hilda Palafox aka Poni

LA-based El Mac on his mural: The image I painted is based on photos I took of a social activist and poet named María Guardado, who was tortured and left for dead in 1980 by government forces during the civil war in El Salvador. She was one of thousands of civilian victims of that war, during which the US-backed Salvadoran government employed death squads to kill and terrorize everyone from poor farmers to nuns to students. Maria survived and fled the country for Los Angeles, where today she is still a passionate fighter for social justice.

All photos by Houda Lazrak

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

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Cairo-based artist Mohamed Radwan aka Sober recently completed a mural dedicated to female empowerment at Sahel’s Sea Hub compound on Egypt’s north coast. A brief interview with the artist follows:

When did you first paint in the public sphere? And what motivated you to do so?

During the Egyptian revolution and particularly starting 2012, I was motivated by opposition to the political status quo.  I started painting on the streets as a form of political expression of this opposition and solidarity with certain revolutionary figures and ideals.

Why did you choose to create a mural on the theme of “Women Empowerment?”

I believe that graffiti must serve a social purpose or advance a cause. For this particular mural — because of its location and high visibility — I felt that it was important to choose a topic that wouldn’t be divisive and would, also, get the huge exposure it deserves. In my mind, there was no topic more in need of  attention in the Egyptian community, in particular –and globally, as well — as women’s rights and  empowerment.

And why did you decide to feature Wonder Woman so prominently in your mural?

Because Wonder Woman has evolved into a symbol of women empowerment globally. She even had a brief run as a United Nations honorary ambassador. And with the release of the Wonder Woman movie this summer, she has achieved iconic status.

What were some of the challenges faced in creating this particular mural?

The first challenge was the size of it. The wall is 70m long and 5m high. I had never worked on such a large scale before. And that was a huge challenge to me. The second challenge was the very limited time for implementation. We had seven days to complete the mural — which meant spraying 10 meters a day. This, coupled with the hardships of the coastal weather in Egypt — which is extremely hot in the morning and very windy and humid at night — made it very hard for us artists to work continuously for seven days. And not only that, but the humidity and wind were also affecting the stencils on site. Thankfully, I was blessed with a crew of highly professional and highly committed artists and volunteers, who were intent on making this happen.

Have any objections arisen among the religiously and politically conservative elements in Egypt to your subject matter or portrayal of women in an outdoor setting?

Not at all. Women are commonly portrayed in public settings in Egypt — in commercials, billboards and such. It’s nudity that normally causes objections, and I don’t have that in this mural.

How has the local media responded to your mural?

So far the mural was well-received by both formal and social media. But we are seeking more exposure for the mural and contacting numerous media outlets.

All photos courtesy the artist; interview by Lois Stavsky

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