Street art and graffiti – Before and After
Following BLU’s decision to erase his murals in Berlin, we have decided to write about a subject that has deeply concerned us in the past years, related to how the social environment, political and corporate interests may intervene in the street art and graffiti scene, and how public space is not for everyone to share or speak out. We talk about cases of misunderstanding the message of an artwork, of imposed changes to street art pieces, of partially or fully censored murals, reproduced pieces without the artist’s consent or fashion collections that put graffiti on the catwalk, without copyright.
Some of you may already be aware of BLU’s decision to erase two murals painted in 2007 and 2008 at Cuvrystraße in Berlin. According to the statement on the artist’s website: “In 2014, after witnessing the changes happening in the surrounding area during the last years, we felt it was time to erase both walls.”
In October 2014, Artnet was writing about the murals facing the threat of destruction: “According to the Local, the real-estate investor Artur Süsskind and architectural firm Langhof plan to tear down the buildings and replace them with 250 apartments, a kindergarten, a supermarket, and an open air terrace facing the Spree River.” At the same time, following a petition calling for the artworks to be protected under Germany’s monument protection statute, “a spokeswoman from the senate department of urban development, Petra Rohland, told Der Tagesspiegel that monument protection can only be granted if the buildings and artworks are of historical, urban, or cultural significance. She added that the most recent sites granted monument status are from the 1970s.” (read more on Artnet)
BLU / Photos © Street Art Berlin / Read report
We’ve seen a lot of speculation on the internet and of opinions that comment related to the painting over process, however, we respect the artist’s decision and his extraordinary pieces that he has offered to the world’s streets and people in the past years.
This is a case where the artist felt the need to change his own work and we believe he had every right to do this, but unfortunately, there are cases when artists are censored, murals painted over by local authorities or as a result of the community’s reaction. We will continue with a few examples.
In September 2014, BLU painted a mural for Progetto San Basilio to commemorate the 40 year anniversary of the death of Fabrizio Ceruso, who “died after being shot in the chest during the protests that erupted after the government tried to evict some of the houses occupied by 150 families in the area.” (via Arrested Motion)
According to news on the website of the project, the mural was completed on September 13th, and on the night of the 16th, after the media broke the case, a truck escorted by police removed part of the mural, and in the following days police closely prevented any new interventions on the mural. But how could have the mural told the story “politically correct”?
Photo via the artist
Detail of the mural via the project’s website
Detail of the mural via Street Art News
Censored mural / Photo via the project’s website
This is not the first time BLU’s murals get censored. Let us remember his mural painted for MOCA in 2010, which lasted only 24 hours. Jeffrey Deitch, the newly appointed Director of MOCA at that time, found the piece offensive. After 6 days of painting, BLU was told that the piece would be erased, but he would be left the freedom to finish it. An offer to paint another piece was also made, as Deitch would have preferred a piece that ‘invites people to come in the museum’. For more info, read BLU’s email to Hyperallergic, a recap of what happened between December 9th, 2010 and April 16th, 2011, an interesting article on JustSeeds, and an overview of the media coverage here.
BLU’s mural for MOCA / via the artist
MOCA censorship / Photo via JustSeeds
In April 2014, INTI painted a new piece in Quintanar de la Orden, Spain, part of the project ‘MultiViral’, an initiative of Calle13, an urban alternative band founded in Puerto Rico in 2005 by René Pérez Joglar (“Residente”) and Eduardo Cabra Martínez (“Visitante”). The project involved artists such as EVER, Fintan Magee, Decertor and others.
However, according to an update on May 8th, on Street Art News, INTI’s mural was partly censored. The mayor and councillors of the town hall rejected the mural when INTI wrote the words 15M on the scarf of his Quixote, that they have related to the FARC guerrilla of Colombia and other violent collectives worldwide: “After a complicated negotiation, finally they accepted to cover the letters with some painting, because otherwise they told that the wall would be painted on white so the mural would be deleted forever. Now they’re not respecting this agreement and they still keep on the idea of erasing INTI’s artwork.” (Santiago González, organizer)
ICY AND SOT & SONNI
In May 2014, Icy and Sot painted a wall together with Sonni in NYC, entitled ‘Gulliver’, showing a soldier being captured by dwarfs. Within an hour after the mural was completed, the owners buffed it (more info). They created a new piece replacing the soldier with the buff man.
Photos via Icy and Sot
In 2013, Aec (of Interesni Kazki) painted a mural in Las Vegas, a piece for Rise Above Festival, however, it was painted over because it did not reflect the spirit of downtown, according to Jennifer Cornthwaite, quoted in the story on Las Vegas Sun.
Photos via Interesni Kazki
In 2013, MTO launched the ‘FL: unpremeditated movie’ documentary film about his murals painted for Sarasota Chalk Festival. The ‘Fast Life’ mural was associated with gang criminality and removed, people failing to understand the ‘Fast Life/ Fat Life/ Fat Lie’ message of the piece.
MTO – ‘Fast Life’ / Photo via the artist’s Instagram
“The graffiti movement created within the hip-hop culture is indeed illegal but different levels of criminality need to be distinguished. Graffiti is not a synonym for gang criminality. In the same way tattoos are not a synonym for jail. I believe that this natural assimilation of “hip-hop = crime” and “tattoo = prisoner”, has to be questioned as it is the basis of the painting interpretation and somehow also the roots of the whole story.” (MTO / source)
As an answer to his removed mural, MTO created a dual personality character ‘Robin/Hood’.
“Robin is a doctor and gives the vision of the good and the politically correct, the ‘good black’ — good in every sense and reassuring for the conservatives. He is undoubtedly integrated and socially notable because of his professional rank. He signifies us that this city is sick. Sick because of its navel-gazing, its excess of money, its chloroformed moral, its avidity, its political correctness, its latent racism, its anti-youthism. Its desire that nothing never moves. Its relational superficiality, which is only based on the appearances.”, while Hood represents “everything which is detested and rejected” (MTO / source)
MTO – ‘Doctor Robin’ (photo © MTO) / via Brooklyn Street Art
MTO – ‘Mister Hood’ (photo © MTO) / via Brooklyn Street Art
View the full movie © MTO:
Commercial use of street art
Another aspect that concerns us is how graffiti and street art are used for commercial purposes, without the artist’s consent. In August 2014, Hyperallergic wrote about the lawsuit against Terry Gilliam, over the use of the mural ‘Castillo’, painted in Buenos Aires by Franco Fasoli JAZ, EVER and Other, in his film ‘The Zero Theorem’.
“In Gilliam’s forthcoming The Zero Theorem, the protagonist, a reclusive computer genius named Qohen Leth, lives and works in a burnt-out chapel. The facade of the chapel features what the plaintiffs call “a colorful mural that is a blatant misappropriation” of “Castillo”. The film’s offending mural features re-creations of all three elements of the original, although broken up and rearranged.” (via Hyperallergic)
‘Castillo’ mural / via Hyperallergic
Also in August 2014, artist Maya Hayuk sued Sara Bareilles, her record labels Epic Records and Sony Music, the luxury brand Coach, and others for using her Lower East Side mural ‘Chem Trails NYC’ (2014) as the backdrop for advertisements and promotional materials without her permission, Artnet reports.
Another story in August 2014 covered a copyright infringement lawsuit against Robert Cavalli, by Revok, Reyes and Steel (MSK crew), for his ‘Graffiti Girls’ collection.
Photos © MSK / Roberto Cavalli / via Brooklyn Street Art
These are just a few examples of actions and situations highlighting the lack of understanding, respect and freedom that these artists are sometimes shown by local authorities, institutions, brands. Unfortunately, this applies beyond street art, and censorship is still constantly manifesting in the art world, while corporations are joining the ‘cool’ trend, using art for their marketing campaigns. Except few cases, visual artists usually benefit the least or are not even included in the discussion. We hope that the following period will bring important changes in this regard.