political art

keith-Haring-city-kids-mural-art copy

Coinciding with the Democratic National Convention, the non-profit Rock The Vote launched its Truth to Power campaign in Philadelphia earlier this week. Among its events was a three-day pop-up art exhibit featuring a varied range of socially and politically engaged works in different media. Among the artists who participated are many whose works have also surfaced in public spaces. Pictured above is Keith Haring with the City Kids Foundation. Here are several more:

Mear One, False Profits


Beau Stanton, Elemental Crisis 


Shepard Fairey aka Obey


Lmnopi, Tehrir


Mata Ruda, How Can I Write My Own Future with My Hands Bound?


Photo credits: 1-3, 5 & 6 Lois Stavsky; 4 Sara Ching Mozeson

Note: 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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A member of the Pyramid Lake Paiute Tribe, Colorado-based Gregg Deal is an accomplished muralist, painter and performance artist. I first encountered his artwork awhile back on the grounds of the EBC High School For Public Service in Bushwick, Brooklyn. This past weekend, I met him down in DC at the Smithsonian Arts & Industries Building, where he was one of 40 artists featured in CrossLines, presented by the Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center.

"Gregg Deal"

What spurred you to so fervently embrace your Native American identity?

I don’t know that I specifically embrace it. It is just one of my many identities. I am, foremost, a human being. I am also an artist, a husband and a father.


You are sitting here in a tipi. What does this particular setting represent?

This tipi represents Washington DC. It is where museums, politics, sports and commerce all contribute to a view of Native Americans.


What about the paintings inside this tipi? How did you decide which to include?

I had to include works that would be acceptable to the Smithsonian. They had to be safe. And so I chose identifiable stereotypes of Native Americans — the only image most others have of us.

And as today’s event progresses, you continue to cross out the mouths of your portraits with bold red lines.

Yes! That is because of voices our censored. We have not been permitted to speak for ourselves. I, myself, have been censored.


What about your interpreter? You often speak through an interpreter.

That is because our lives — our experiences, feelings and thoughts —  are almost always interpreted through others. Authentic indigenous voices have yet to be heard or recognized.


You are certainly creating awareness of that here.

Photo credits: 1, 2, 4 & 5 Lois Stavsky; 3 Sara C. Mozeson; interview by Lois Stavsky



Featuring dozens of national and local artists whose work is inspired by the political landscape, the Artists for Bernie Sanders national touring exhibit, The Art of a Political Revolution, continues through 7:00 PM this evening at 312 Bowery. While visiting yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to its principal curator, Tyler Gibney of HVW8 Gallery.


There is such a wonderful range of socially conscious art on exhibit here.  While some of the artworks directly reference Bernie Sanders, others touch on an array of social, political and economic issues. How did this all happen?

Bernie Sanders has always been a strong supporter of the arts. And soon after he appointed Luis Calderin — with whom I’ve worked in the past — as Director of Arts and Culture, Luis and I started working on launching this exhibit.

How were you able to engage such a diverse group of outstanding artists — many working in different media?

Both Luis and I had worked with many of the same artists when Obama was first running for President.  Several of these artists have also shown in my gallery. And in addition to the artists we both knew, many approached us — eager to participate.


So many artists — of all ages — are supportive of Bernie. Why do you suppose this is so?

Bernie can be counted on to advocate for funding of the arts in our cities, schools and public spaces. He clearly understands the importance of the arts and has a proven record of supporting the arts. Artists can also easily relate to his values. Bernie takes no corporate donations.

And how might you explain his appeal to so many young people?

Many young people are feeling the need for a political revolution in this country. They graduate school with thousands of dollars in debt.  They witness a gross inequality of income. They see homeless people living on the streets in the richest country in the world. And with Bernie these issues come into the open.


How did the opening of this exhibit here in NYC go?

It was amazing! We knew that Bernie’s wife and son would be here. But we didn’t quite expect him. He’d just been visiting the Vatican hours earlier! And so when he arrived, we were thrilled!

And are you satisfied with the response the exhibit is getting here in NYC!



The Art of A Political Revolution  —  produced by Bernie 2016, with support from HVW8 Gallery, Creative Cabal, The GoodLife! & Evolutionary Media Group — is open to the public today from 10:30am – 7pm.

Artist signings: Aaron Draplin from 11:00 AM – 1:00 PM; Jermaine Rogers from 1:00 – 3:00 PM and Claw Money from 3:00 – 5:00 PM

Photos by Lois Stavsky; interview conducted by Lois Stavsky with Houda Lazrak and edited by Lois Stavsky


1. Greg Auerbach

2. Brian Blue

3. Claw Money

4. Rostarr  & Patrick Martinez

5. Dan Buller


This is Part III in an ongoing series of posts featuring politically and socially conscious artworks that have surfaced on NYC streets:

Kingbee and Tito Na Rua take on gentrification in the Bronx


Hanksy‘s famed portrait of Donald Trump in Downtown Manhattan


Groundswell youth  — with lead artist Danielle McDonald and assistant artist Jazmine Hayes — in Bed-Stuy 


Hunt Rodrigues on the pavement in Bushwick

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Sophia Dawson  on Myrtle Avenue — with quote from Assata Shakur — for Black Artstory Month


Photo credits: 1 & 5 Lois Stavsky; 2, 3 & 4 Tara Murray

Note: Our highly acclaimed Street Art NYC App is now available for Android devices here.

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Since 2011, over 10 million Syrians have been uprooted from their homes. Another Day Losta mixed-media installation by Syrian UK-based artist Issam Kourbaj, offers a powerful look into the crisis crippling his homeland.


Inspired by the aerial imagery of the refugee camps in the Jordanian desert, the artist fashioned his installation — reflecting on the lives of refugees living in tents — from waste materials, such as medicine packaging and discarded books.


Each day of the installation, another match is lit and then blown out to mark one more day of Syria’s devastation.

Issam- Kourbaj-matches-installation

U.S. residents visiting the site are invited to compose and electronically submit a letter to their elected representatives encouraging them to support increasing the number of Syrian refugees admitted to the U.S.


On the grounds of Trinity Church — at the intersection of Broadway and Wall Street in Lower Manhattan — Another Day Lost can be viewed through January 5th.

Note: This post was written in collaboration with Kristin L. Wolfe.

Photo credits: 1, 3 & 4 Dani Reyes Mozeson; 2 & 5 Kristin L. Wolfe

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"Icy and Sot"

Led by Maziar Bahari — a former Newsweek journalist who was imprisoned in Iran for 118 days and became the subject of Jon Stewart’s film Rosewater — the #NotACrime campaign focuses on human rights abuses in Iran.  Members of the Baha’is, Iran’s largest religious minority, have been jailed solely for teaching and studying, as have journalists who expose the Iranian government’s policies. #NotACrime‘s current street art campaign, curated by Street Art Anarchy, has brought a series of new politically-engaged murals to New York and New Jersey. I recently had the opportunity to speak to the noted Brooklyn-based Iranian-American artist Nicky Nodjoumi, one of the campaign’s participants, who had been exiled from Iran in the aftermath of the Islamic revolution.

"Marina Zumi"

What moved you to participate in the #NotACrime Street Art Campaign?

I have been using art as a means to expose political crimes for a long time. It is part of my overall activities as an artist.


You are principally known for your exquisite politically-infused figurative paintings, but you also designed posters against the Shah back in the late 70’s.

Yes, while teaching at the Tehran University of Fine Arts, I became involved in the movement to oust the Shah. We never could have imagined that what would follow would be even worse than the Shah’s regime.


For the #NotACrime street art Campaign, you painted a pair of shackled hands. That image has also been surfacing on posters Downtown. Why that image?

It is a symbolic gesture in support of journalists in Iran. It is a general representation of the suppression of free expression.


Do you feel that all artists have a responsibility to raise issues that will facilitate change?

An artist who lives in the Middle East does. There one has to have a position and take a stand.


What is the foremost challenge facing artists and journalists in Iran today?

There is no freedom of expression. Human rights are abused. Everything must be done clandestinely. One faces the risks of imprisonment, torture and worse for any expression that challenges the government.


What do you see for the future? Are you at all optimistic? Will things get better in your native country?

Unfortunately, I don’t have any hope for the immediate future. Despite the election of a more moderate President, dissent is not tolerated, as the hardliners are the ones who are setting the present policies.


I suppose we all need to work together to create awareness.

Note: All murals in the #NotACrime street art campaign were curated by Street Art Anarchy. What follows are the ones featured above:

1. New York-based Iranian artists Icy and Sot819 Broadway and Ellery St in Bushwick

2. Argentinian artist Marina Zumi, Frederick Douglass Blvd and 126th St in Harlem

3. American artist David Torres aka Rabi, part of the art duo Cyrcle, 126th St in Harlem’s Nelson Mandela Memorial Garden 

4. New York-based Iranian artist Nicky Nodjoumi, 11-22 Welling Court in Astoria

5. Italian artist Jacopo Ceccarelli aka 2501, 24th St and Lex Avenue in Manhattan

6. Brazilian artist Alexandre KetoFrederick Douglass Blvd and 126th St in Harlem

7. South African artist Faith47, Colombia and Woodhull Streets in Red Hook

8. New York-based Jennifer Caviola aka Cake, 612 Communipaw, Jersey City

not a crime

Interview with Nicky Nodjoumi by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1, 4, 6 & 7 Tara Murray; 2, 3 & 5 Dani Reyes Mozeson and 8 courtesy of #NotACrime

Check here to find out how you can participate in the campaign.


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A few years back, several wheatpastes – many of children — surfaced on the walls of NYC’s marginal neighborhoods. The works of Baltimore-based artist and activist Nether, they seamlessly reflected the folks with whom they shared the streets. In his native Baltimore, Nether has been actively involved in several community-oriented projects, including Baltimore Slumlord Watch drawing attention to neglected properties and the issue of vacant housing. And in 2013, as founder and president of the non-profit, Wall Hunters, INC, he facilitated the installation of 17 murals on abandoned properties in Baltimore.  More recently,  Nether‘s focus has been on the death of Freddy Gray at the hands of his city’s police and Baltimore’s broken justice system. While visiting Baltimore earlier this month, I had the opportunity to speak to Nether and visit some of his recent murals.

When I last visited Baltimore, you were involved in the Wall Hunters: Slumlord Project.  Its intention was to expose landlords who had neglected properties. Have you seen any outcomes from this project?

Definitely! Since the project began, there’s been dialogue on the issue and focus from the social justice community. It’s hard to know if we were directly responsible, but several buildings that we targeted have been demolished. The first one happened only a month after Stefan Ways painted his piece on it.


How has the local art scene changed in these past few years?

It really has.  There seem to be many more projects coming from a variety of directions and approaches.  Also, recently there has been a lot of reflection in the art scene on the many barriers in the city that separate people. Hopefully, this will create pressure on curators, venues, gallery owners, and arts businesses to diversify their crowds, artists and outreach. There has, also, been a focus on social justice through street art this summer. I have been involved in organizing murals in Sandtown. BOPA has been running this amazing ART@WORK program — in partnership with Jubilee  —  teaching and employing kids in Sandtown to paint murals with professionals such as Ernest Shaw.  Also, a group of Morgan students organized an installation on Greenmount Avenue adjacent to a wall by Pablo Machioli and Gaia.  Other active projects include: Richard Best’s Section 1 Project and the Shift Project in Highlandtown.


The memorial mural that you painted in tribute to Freddy Gray has garnered quite a bit of media attention.  At what point did you begin painting the mural?

The planning began after his death around the time of the first protest, and I began painting the mural the day the curfew ended.

What was the mood like the evening of his death?

People were respectful and united.  So much solidarity that evening. The people were taking their pain and turning it into an incredibly positive movement.


How do folks in Sandtown respond to your presence in their neighborhood?

Generally, people are surprised, yet welcoming.  People constantly speak to me, and I always welcome that.  I essentially sit on a ladder all day and receive stories.  My feeling is that I’m a guest in their neighborhood, and I need the people’s blessings to paint.  Also, I’m very up-front about my personal background and what part of the city I’m from. I do get occasional comments that are meant to offend me, but street art in Baltimore has the potential to break down the social boundaries created by decades and decades of discrimination.  A mutual feeling of Bmore Love among Baltimoreans is one of those forces that is so strong that, I believe, it can get over any hurdle that is thrown in front of it.  When I go to a place like Sandtown, it is to create a dialogue and deal with hard topics that I have to be comfortable talking about. What I do isn’t easy; it deals with very difficult issues.  Many of the conversations that I have had with people have heavily influenced my artwork. I try to plan murals that are able to adapt and change through dialogue and the creative process.


What did bring you to Sandtown at such a difficult time?

Having previously done many paste-ups and murals in Sandtown, loving Baltimore, and the fact that state violence had been the focus of my work for a while now.

And how has the response to the final mural been?

Folks have been extremely appreciative and supportive.  The mural has attracted media, often giving residents the chance to speak out about those issues that are so important to the entire city.  The more murals that go up from all the projects going on in Sandtown, the more this will happen. The idea is to promote a message that is amplified so loudly that it can no longer be ignored.


What’s ahead?

More murals in Baltimore that will act to aid the movement and call out the issues that have plagued Baltimore’s neglected neighborhoods for generations.

Note: Photos 2 and 3 are of murals done in collaboration with Stefan Ways.

Interview by Lois Stavsky; photo 4 by Lois Stavsky; all others courtesy of the artist.

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Busy last week in the lovely backyard garden of SoHo’s Henley Vaporium were Gilf! and LMNOPi — two Brooklyn-based activist artists — collaborating on a mural in tribute to Kalief Browder.  When we stopped by, I had the chance to speak to Gilf!

It’s wonderful to see the two of you working together. How did this collaboration come to be?

When Kimyon Huggins, the curator of the Secret Garden Series, hit me up to paint a mural, I immediately thought of LMNOPi.


Yes, it seems like such a natural collaboration. How did you decide on the subject of this mural?

My work has recently focused on the kinds of issues and injustices related to the case of Kalief Browder‬. And since LMNOPi is such a wonderful portrait painter with a strong social and political consciousness,  I thought we would work well together.

What — would you say — is the intent of your art?

The only reason I make art is to change the world.

gilf-lmnopi-Kalief Browder-mural-Henley-NYC

And what is it about Kalief Browder‘s story that has triggered your work?

What happened to Kalief is, sadly, not unique.  And it is outrageous. Yet, many people aren’t aware of these kinds of widespread injustices.  Kalief was incarcerated at ‪Rikers‬ Island at age 16 for three years for a crime he never committed. Two of those three years were spent in solitary confinement. Eventually his case was dismissed. This past June, Kalief Browder committed suicide by hanging himself.

What would you like people who see the mural that you have fashioned with LMNOPi walk away with?

I would like them to question what happened and demand justice.

LMNOP! and gilf

Yes, what happened to Kalief is such a blatant, horrific injustice. We certainly need to raise awareness of the need for radical change within our prison system.

Note:  The mural will be unveiled this Saturday, July 11, at Henley Vaporium‘s backyard garden at 23 Cleveland Place, between Spring and Kenmare Streets, in Soho. The event is free and open to the public — with a BBQ and DJs — from 2-10pm. There will be a Q+A with the artists and curator at 7:30 pm.

Interview with Gilf! conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky.

Photos: 1 & 3 Dani Reyes Mozeson; 2 & 4 Tara Murray 

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