protest art

Inspired by the various picket signs that surfaced in Atlanta, Georgia following the murder of George Floyd, Bogota-based Lorenzo Masnah began creating a series of images that has evolved into an expansive, expressive body of work. An exhibition featuring a a diverse selection of these singularly timely visuals is currently on view in the newly-launched Gallery Estrella in Charlston, South Carolina.

The tryptic featured above, “Rosa, We Didn’t,” was crafted with spray paint and markers on Batik fabric. Several more artworks presented in Paper Cuts — Masnah’s first solo exhibition in seven years — follow, along with images of the artist captured by Leigh-Ann Beverly at Mosquito Beach, a refuge for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era.

“My Execution,” Spray paint and markers on canvas

At Mosquito Beach

“No New Jails,” Spray paint and markers on canvas

At Mosquito Beach

“Silence Is Betrayal,” Spray paint and markers on canvas

“Georgia’s Blues,” Spray paint, acrylic and markers on canvas

Lorenzo Masnah at Mosquito Beach

Proceeds from “Paper Cuts” will benefit the community center in San Basilio de Palenque, the largely Afro-Colombian village, whose members are direct descendants of African enslaved people brought to Colombia by Europeans during the colonization of the Americas.

Located at 121 Spring Street in Charleston, SC, Gallery Estrella, is open Wednesday through Sunday.  Check here for hours, and find out about the gallery’s mission here.

Photos: 1, 2, 4, 6 & 7, courtesy the artist and Gallery Estrella; 3, 5 & 8, Leigh-Ann Beverly 

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The following guest post was written by Juyoun Han, an attorney at Eisenberg & Baum, LLP

According to the New York Times, Black Lives Matter protests may have been the largest movement in U.S. history, and the most vigilant of these protests remain on the walls, corners, and surfaces of streets that we walk by every day. In cities across the country — Seattle, Salt Lake City, Chicago, New York City — artists banded together to use their creativity as a powerful visual advocacy against racial injustice. World-renowned artist Banksy, for example, created a painting that depicts a candle at a memorial starting a small flame at the corner of a U.S. flag. Banksy expressed his support for the BLM movement in an Instagram post, saying “people of colour are being failed by the system.”

Unfortunately, these murals are short-lived, either because they are immediately tagged or destroyed by dissenters who blithely deny America’s problem of racism. Artists who had transformed boarded-up businesses into powerful BLM art witnessed their art getting thrown out by storeowners. Such defacement of protest art is unfortunately a recurring violation. In 2014, after the fatal shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO, a renowned Portland-based artist, Ashley Montague, painted a mural of late Brown entitled “Status Quo.” Unfortunately, the mural was tagged and painted over.

Now, here’s the good news: the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990 (“VARA Law”) may be the key to protecting and preserving these artworks. Under this law, the creators of 5Pointz recently cemented a victory after declination of review by the U.S. Supreme Court, obtaining a $6.75 million award against a luxury condo developer who destroyed what was previously considered to be “the world’s premier graffiti mecca.” The lawsuit sets a powerful precedent that may be relied upon to protect BLM murals.

Q&A about VARA Law for street artists:

My artwork was completely destroyed. Can it be protected under VARA?

Yes. VARA law protects artworks from being destroyed, but you will need to prove that the work gained “recognized stature.” This means that your work must have gained recognition by the art community and the public. There are many ways to meet this “recognized stature” standard. For example, you can show that your artwork garnered social media attention and other press coverage, that other members of the art community vouched for your work, or that your work had been featured in movies or videos.

My work is not destroyed, but some people tagged it and now it is a mockery. Does the law protect me?

Yes. VARA protects against modification, distortion, or mutilation of artworks that harms an artist’s reputation. For example, removing and making changes to sculptures made to be installed for a certain space, or partially painting over an original mural and allowing the public to see the distorted art form can harm the original artist’s esteem and reputation in the community. Even an emerging artist can show that the artist’s reputation has been harmed on a case-by-case basis. After all, part of the goal of VARA law is to protect works of lesser known artists as well as artists who have already gained fame

What if multiple artists collaborated on a single piece of artwork?

VARA may protect artwork even if it was created by multiple artists as a collaboration piece; not every artist involved needs to be famous. Even an artwork led by an artist joined by a community of teenage students can be protected under VARA.

If I am hired to install the art, can I still gain protection under VARA?

No. If you were hired to install a piece of art, then the “work-for-hire” exception applies and VARA will not protect your artwork.

What kind of protection would I gain under VARA?

If your artwork has already been destroyed, you can bring a legal action for compensation. If you have knowledge that your work may be destroyed in the future, you can prevent that from happening by requesting a legal injunction. You are also entitled to a 90-day notice before your work is removed.

What kinds of murals will VARA NOT protect?

If you signed a document or “waiver” of your VARA rights, then you cannot try to preserve your work. If you created an artwork on a property without permission or authorization from the property owner, this is a grey area—there is at least one legal case that says VARA law will not protect unauthorized artworks. However, if the artwork is removable (for example, on a board or a canvas) from the wall of the building, it might be protected even if not authorized.

If your artwork was not destroyed but modified due to normal wear and tear, or due to weather or climate change, it can be more difficult to ask for legal recovery. Also, the following forms of art are excluded from VARA protection: works made for hire, posters, maps, globes or charts, technical drawings, diagrams, models, applied art, motion pictures, books and other publications, electronic publications, merchandising items or advertising, promotional, descriptive, covering, packaging material or container; nor does VARA  cover any work not subject to general copyright protection.

Does it matter which state I live in?

No. VARA law is federal law, so it applies no matter which state you live in. However, there are state laws that are similar to VARA, which may give you additional legal protection.

What can artists do to protect their art?

Authorization – gaining authorization, preferably in writing, from the owner of the mural’s site to create your artwork will be advantageous in a legal action.

Recognition – the more the artist can show recognition (e.g. social media, press coverage, public and art community’s acclaim) the more effective it would be to prevent or recover compensation from those who destroyed the work.

Timely Response – if you are aware of threats to destroy or mutilate your artwork, respond in a timely manner. Contacting lawyers can help prevent the damage, facilitate negotiations, and if necessary, bring legal actions.

About the author: Juyoun Han, is a lawyer at Eisenberg & Baum LLP based in NYC. Juyoun’s practice includes Art Law, Artificial Intelligence Fairness & Data Privacy, and Disability Rights litigation. She was involved in the 5Pointz litigation and thanks her clients who have opened her eyes to
the world of art.

Note: The views expressed on this post are those of the individual author writing in her individual capacities only – not of any employers or affiliates.

Street art protest images featured here were selected and photographed by Lois Stavsky 

Ori Carino on the Lower East Side

Calicho Arevalo in Gowanus

july4art on the Bowery

Souls NYC in the Bronx, south of West Farms

5 & 6  Amir Diop in Soho and Noho

Unidentified artist in Gowanus

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Following the murder of George Floyd, the spirit of resistance that once characterized Lower Manhattan once again permeated its streets, as the boarded-up stores became canvases for politically driven murals.  Several of these artworks no longer on the streets are on view in a splendid exhibition — curated by Sono Kuwayama, Bob Holman and Howl! Happening — at Howl! on 6 East 1st Street. Others remain on the streets. The image featured above, Black Trans Lives Matter,  was fashioned with acrylic and house paint on plywood by Maya EdelmanScooter LaForge, and Sono Kuwayama.

Several more images follow — from both the Howl! exhibition and its neighboring blocks.

Multidisciplinary artist Lissa Baur, “Injustice Anywhere Is a Threat,” Acrylic on plywood, on view at Howl! 

Mrs. Skittles, Grace H. Gutekanst and Robert Blodgett, “Little Boy Blue,” Acrylic on plywood, on view at Howl! 

Colombian/American artist Felix Morelo,GOOD LUCK SPOT,” Acrylic on plywood, on view at Howl! 

Michael Walling and DLA, as seen on East 4th Street

Irena Kenny & Sono Kuwayama, as seen on East 4th Street

The noted painter Izhar Patkin, as seen on Cooper Square

The exhibition continues at Howl! through Sunday, August 23, from 11 AM–6 PM,  Thursday–Sunday.

Photos of images by Lois Stavsky

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Since George Floyd, an unarmed 46-year-old black man, was murdered in broad daylight on May 26 by police in Minneapolis, Minnesota, protests have risen up throughout the world. Here in NYC, our streets have teemed with images and signs, along with daily peaceful and powerful protests in all five boroughs. The image featured above in memory of George Floyd was fashioned by Sara Erenthal in her Prospect Lefferts Garden neighborhood. Several more images recently seen on NYC streets follow:

 Lmnopi, Black Lives Matter, on the Lower East Side

An unidentified school-age child getting the message out with chalk at Riverside Park on the Upper West Side

LinkNYC for #BlackOutTuesday on the Upper West Side

Stickers posted near Gracie Mansion on the Upper East Side

Sign fashioned by West Coast — based Kate DeCiccio, seen on First Avenue in the East Village 

Protestors in Union Square Park demand that “our lives be free of police violence”

And “Justice for Floyd” — in procession walking north from Washington Square Park

Photo credits: 1 Sara Erenthal; 2, 6-9 Ana Candelaria and 3-5 Lois Stavsky

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