Interviews

Two brilliantly conceived and beautifully executed murals – one by Sonny Sundancer and the other by ASVP – surfaced last month on the exterior walls of IS 318 in East Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Sonny’s mural– at the corner of Lorimer Street and Throop Avenue – depicts a Yawanawa girl from Acre, Brazil, along with a jaguar, representative of a species that is sacred to the indigenous peoples and at risk of extinction. ASVP‘s black and white tower mural — painted on the opposite wall — features an elephant, bear, tiger and more, all interdependent and threatened or endangered in some capacity.

While visiting the school last week for the murals’ dedication and ribbon cutting, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Greenpoint Innovations founder Stephen Donofrio, who had organized the The Point NYC project.

These hugely impressive murals are one component of The Point NYC initiative. Just what is The Point NY?

It is a collaborative venture — among Comics Uniting Nations, Greenpoint Innovations, Hypokrit Theatre Company, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater and UNICEF — that brings together artists, producers, educators and local environmentalists for a series of artistic productions and events. Among these are: a comic book, public murals, a theatrical experience, open dialogue and an educational toolkit.

What is its ultimate mission?

Its mission is to respond to the human impact of climate change and to exercise the power we all have, particularly the youth, to take action for a better future.

And what inspired the direction that this project has taken?

It was inspired by a comic book story —Tre, by Sathviga ‘Sona’ Sridhar — about a climate change superhero. Sona had become passionate about climate change when her town in Chennai, India was flooded and when she heard about the Climate Comic Contest by UNICEF and Comics Uniting Nations, she decided to submit her art.

How did you connect with Sonny Sundancer and ASVP? Their murals are perfect for this project, as they are exquisite and brilliantly reflect environmental issues.

Karin du Maire introduced me to Sonny, and I met ASVP at the Moniker Art Fair in Greenpoint this past spring. Both Sonny and ASVP were ideal to work with, as they are not only wonderful artists, but caring people.

Were you presented with any particular challenges in seeing the project through?

Coordinating with the Department of Education was somewhat of a task. And then discovering that a segment of the wall that Sonny had completed had been coated to protect it from any lasting paint was another challenge. But – with considerable effort — we overcame them both!

How have the members of the local community responded to these two murals?

The response has been overwhelmingly positive. They love them.

And thank you for initiating this project!

Photo credits: 1 & 2 Lois Stavsky; 3 Karin du Maire aka Street Art Nomad; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; 

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A master of style and ingenuity, the wonderfully talented and resourceful Sade TCM has been making his mark in the writing culture and beyond for over three decades. Recently, we had the opportunity to visit and interview the Mount Vernon-based modern legend.

When did you first get up?

I was in 7th grade when I hit the doors of Clark Junior High School in the South Bronx. I was hanging out in school with Rush M.P.C. who was tagging at the time with fat black markers. He suggested I try it. I did!

What inspired you to keep at it?

Graffiti was all around me. On ceilings. In hallways. Daze and Crash were doing gates that I passed every day while walking around my neighborhood.

And what about trains? When did you first hit the trains?

I was in 10th grade. It was the winter of 1982.

Have you any early graffiti-related memories that stand out?

There are many, but the one that stands out is the day I arrived. The previous evening, I was over at the Esplanade lay-up in the Bronx at the Morris Park/Esplanade stop. I had written SADEISM across three quarters of a  blue and silver car — a beige interior, cherry red outline, sky blue flame cloud with a regal blue outline and white highlights. The next day — as I was sitting on the Writers Bench at 149th Street and the Grand Concourse, along with Dez, G-man PGA, Sob and Cose — the train rolled by and and stopped directly in front of us. What a thrill that was! I knew then that I had arrived!

Did you generally hit the trains alone? 

I was often with my partner, Dune.

What was the riskiest thing you had done back in the day? And why were you willing to take those risks?

Running around in subways tunnels with live third rails and riding on tops of trains when they’re moving –- train surfing — were all risky. Why did I take those risks?  Youthful ignorance of consequences.

How did your family feel about what you were doing?

They mostly didn’t know about it. But my mother definitely didn’t like it. She thought it was stupid, and she warned me that if I got arrested, she wouldn’t be coming to pick me up.

Would you rather paint legally or illegally?

Back then, it was all illegal. But these days I’d rather paint legally. I like the leisure of legal.

You are a master of styles — over 1,000, in fact!. Is there anyone in particular with whom you’d like to paint with or battle?

Yes! I’d like to paint with Baby 168. And I’d like to battle Skeme, because he called me a toy!

How do you feel about the movement of street art and graffiti into galleries? Have you shown in galleries?

It’s a natural evolution. It legitimizes the value of the art. I’ve shown at Wall Works, at More Points and at the galleries of Westchester Community College and SUNY/Purchase University.

What is the main source of your income?

It has always been related to art. After I graduated from high school, I started my own business painting murals. But then after I was involved in a serious accident in 2000, I  switched to graphic design.

Have you a formal art education?

I earned an associates degree in visual arts from Westchester Community College and a BFA from SUNY/Purchase University. But when it came to graffiti, my primary educators were those writers I admired. I’d watch their work on lines as I was coming up.

Was your formal education worthwhile?

Carla Rae Johnson challenged me to use a pencil when I was a student at Westchester Community College. And at Purchase, I learned the most from my anthropology teacher regarding understanding cultures. A formal education did open my mind to broader possibilities.

Do you work with a sketch-in-hand? Or do you just let it flow?

95% of the time I work from a sketch.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

Am I satisfied with it? Yes! Am I happy with it? No!

What is your ideal work environment?

My living room and my courtyard, here in Mount Vernon.

What inspires you these days? I’m a visual junkie. Sometimes sculpture. It could be anything! I draw every single day, and I always attempt to do something I haven’t done before.

How has your art evolved through the years?

It’s evolved in both subject matter and technique. I now draw beyond graffiti letters, and draw with pencils, crayons, and charcoal brushes.

Who are some of your favorite artists?

Edgar Degas, I like the way he captured light…Roy Lichtenstein and Frank Frazetta. Among graffiti writers: Crash, Daze, Baby 168, Dondi, Tac, Spade, Dez, Part and Kel.

What are some of your other interests?

Writing and cooking. I used to be into motorcycle drag racing.

Have you any thoughts about the graffiti/street art divide?

I feel that the divide exists because of titles. Graffiti writers and street artists can inspire one another. An evolution took place. Many of the early street artists like Keith Haring, Hektad, A. Charles and Richard Hambleton bombed the streets in the spirit of graffiti. Problems arise when street artists scoff at graffiti. Graffiti has not yet gotten the legitimacy it deserves.

What about the role of social media in all of this? How do you feel about that?

It’s a double-edged sword. It’s great for gaining more documentation, knowledge  and exposure. But as the evolution of styles continues to grow at an alarming rate, the Internet has also ushered in an age of mediocrity.

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

A documentarian of the imagination, and the imagination is unlimited.

You recently curated an amazing event in the South Bronx celebrating the launch of the art collective, Ngozy. You were its principal founder.  What prompted you to launch it?

As an artist growing up in NYC, I know firsthand the struggles that artists face — particularly graffiti artists. Our culture is not given the value — nor the serious documentation — that it merits. We know that we have to start somewhere, and collectively we are stronger. Conversations with Ngozy partners John”Crash” Matos and Robert Kantor led to the birth of Ngozy

What is Ngozy‘s mission?

Among its many missions is to reach and educate the broad community about our culture.  We aim to facilitate the artists’ ability to sell and promote their art, as we make the art experience financially accessible to a wide public.

How can folks find out what artworks are available through Ngozy?

They can visit our site or download our free app for iOS or Android.

And what about artists? How can they become involved?

Anyone can register, set up an account, and submit work on the site or on the app. Blog posts and notices of events are also welcome!

I’ve recently registered, and it looks wonderful! I was delighted to discover the works of some of my favorite artists on the Ngozy site. What are some of the challenges you face in promoting the Ngozy collective?

The legitimacy of our art form remains a challenge. We need to shift the understanding of our culture on all levels. Getting exposure is essential, so that we can introduce Ngozy to new people. And we need sponsorship to accomplish our goals.

What’s ahead for Ngozy?

We are working on an all female live-painting event for October 27th, and we are currently seeking sponsorship. Among the many artists scheduled to participate are: Lady Pink, Shiro, Erotica and Steph Burr. Specific details and information will soon follow.

Note: Sade can be contacted at gfantauzzi22@gmail.com.

Interview conducted by Lois Stavsky with Tara Murray and edited by Lois Stavsky; all photos courtesy of Sade.

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Intent on empowering women and raising awareness on social justice, diversity and gender equality, Daniela ZOE Croci has been busy!  I recently had the opportunity to catch up with her and find out a bit more about Women to the Front, a project she has launched.– its  mission and its needs.

Can you tell us something about Women to the Front? You were its principal founder. What spurred you to launch it?  What is its mission?

Its mission is to equalize the gender balance in the arts. During the years that I was active at Exit Room — curating exhibits, arranging performances, organizing presentations and reaching out to the media — I felt that most of the males I came in contact with were dismissive of me. They largely avoided me, and I sensed that they did not take me seriously. In addition, about 80% of the artists who exhibited were male. It was time for a change!

Women to the Front was founded to provide opportunities for women to get together, inspire one another and to collaborate. At our events, you can expect to meet deejays, filmmakers, visual artists, performers and vendors – all females. Panel discussions on a range of relevant topics also take place. We are all about diversity and inclusion. Our mission is to inspire women to just “do it!”

When did Women to the Front hold its first event? 

Its premier event was held at Superchief Gallery here in Brooklyn in November, 2017. I’ve since partnered with Terry Lovette, a singer, performer, dancer and graphic designer. And we are now working on Women to the Front‘s third edition.

How do you decide which women to showcase in your events?

Diversity is essential. The majority of women we showcase are women of color, Latinas and Natives. I reach out to females who create meaningful art, often in relation to trauma and patriarchy. Essential, too, is the individual’s engagement with issues of social justice.

How do you go about finding these women?

Since I moved here. I’ve developed strong connections with many diverse communities through my involvement with hip-hop and dance.

What are some of the challenges you face in seeing your mission through?

One of the biggest challenges is getting folks to know about us. So much is going on, and the amount of information we receive via social media can be overwhelming. Raising funds is another huge challenge. We need money to pay artists, performers, panel discussion participants and more. We would also need sponsorship to enable us to produce videos and publicize what we are doing. We’ve set up a Go Fund Me to help make this happen.

What’s ahead?

A huge event, our third edition of Women to the Front, will take place on Thursday, November 15th at Superchief Gallery. And on October 11th, and a small pre-event will be held at the New Women Space, a community organizing space near the Graham Avenue stop on the L train. We are also working on setting up a Women to the Front Instagram feed and a Facebook account.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photo credits: 1 Erika Dickstein, 2 & 3  Zack Nesmith and flyer image-painting Jasmin Charles

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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While visiting PS9’s STEAM Mural Project in Prospect Heights last month, I came upon a delightfully playful mural gracing the outside of the school building. STEAM Mural Project curator Jeff Beler told me a bit about the intriguing visionary artist behind it — Cuban native Myztico Campo. I was delighted to, soon afterwards, have the opportunity to interview the Brooklyn-based, self-taught shamanic artist.

When did you first begin to make art?

My earliest memory is of melting crayons on the radiator, so that I could watch the colors drip. When I was about five or six, I started to draw.

What inspired you at the time?

I used to watch my father draw caricatures. I was fascinated.

Are there any other early art-related memories that stand out?

Growing up in Hells Kitchen, I attended Catholic school for twelve years. When I was 7 years old, I drew an image of Tyrannosaurus rex dinosaurs eating nuns. My classmates loved it. But the nuns didn’t; they were horrified. They responded to it by slapping me across my knuckles.

How did your family respond to your early art-making?

Both my parents were encouraging. They loved what I did.

What about your particular visionary aesthetic? When and how did that evolve?

When I was sixteen, I started to explore psychedelics — such as mescaline and peyote — and I began to have visions. I started then to create art that reflected an alternate consciousness. I felt as though I was connecting to the Godhead of infinite love.

Are there any specific cultures that have inspired or influenced your visionary aesthetic?

Among those that have influenced me are indigenous cultures… aboriginal, prehistoric and African.

Are there artists out there who particularly inspire you? Who impact your visionary aesthetic — or whose aesthetic you relate to?

Yes! Among them are: Alex Grey, Amanda Sage, Olga Klimova, Android Jones and Juan Carlos Taminichi

What about other artists? Who are some of your favorite artists?

They include: the visionary artist and poet William Blake; the Dutch painter Hieronymus Bosch; the Spanish surrealist Salvador Dali and the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

Do you have a formal art education?

No. I never went to art school.

Your artwork can be amazingly detailed. Approximately how long does it take you to complete a piece?

Anywhere between 40-60 hours.

Are you generally satisfied with your final piece?

There is always room for improvement; I sometimes go back to a “finished” piece and tweak it.

What percentage of your time is devoted to art?

I’d say somewhere between 5-7 hours a day are devoted to visual art.

How has your art evolved through the years? 

Originally creating art was a hobby; I didn’t take it seriously. But as I grew, I began to see myself as a vessel for the art to express itself. And it became very important to me. I’ve, also,  expanded my range of media to include sculpture, 3-D art and digital art.

Have you shown your work in galleries?

Mostly in alternative venues. My work has been exhibited abroad in England, Spain, Peru, and here in the US in New Orleans and in New York.

You do quite a bit of live painting. What is that like?

I see it as sacred form of communication with the people who are around me.

I discovered your particular aesthetic while visiting the STEAM Mural Project  at PS 9 in Prospect Heights. When did you first paint in a public space?

The first public mural that I painted was in 2005 in East Yorkshire, England.

And since then?

Among the places I’ve painted outdoor murals are North Bergen, New Jersey and Tarapoto, Peru. And last year, I painted New York’s first black light street art at Underhill Walls here in Brooklyn.

What are some of your other interests?

I also produce films, direct music videos, compose and play music and write poetry.

That’s quite impressive! What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

To heal and to raise consciousness. I see myself as a conduit to a higher consciousness.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos of Myztico Campo‘s artwork — as seen in his Brooklyn studio/living space — and of his PS 9 mural by Lois Stavsky 

Directed by Myztico Campo, the featured video stars Dakota Day, co-founder and lead vocalist for the psychedelic soul band Brooklyn Bonez, performing Buddy Guy’s “Skin Deep.”

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An exuberant celebration of “invention, creativity, curiosity and hands-on learning,” the 9th Annual World Maker Faire New York took place this past weekend on the grounds of the New York Hall of Science in Flushing, Queens. Among this year’s exhibitors was Ad Hoc Art, presenting live truck painting, along with live T-shirt screen printing. While there, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to Ad Hoc Art owner and co-founder Garrison Buxton (pictured below with Maker Faire director Sabrina Merlo).

What an extraordinary event this is! So much is going on here — from inventive exhibits to immersive workshops to interactive hands-on learning. Can you tell us something about Maker Faire? Its mission?

Among its missions is to celebrate creativity, while inspiring inquisitive dreamers to realize and share their dreams in any number of fields — be they art, science, technology…

How did you become engaged with Maker Faire? What spurred you to participate in this year’s festival?

Geoff Taylor — whose brother I had previously worked with — approached me about participating in this year’s World Maker Faire New York. And since I love its approach to the concepts of both community-engagement and collaborative art-making, we’re here!

These trucks look great, and the kids who come by are fascinated by them. Why did you choose to use trucks as the canvas for this live art-making project? 

I love their mobility, as so many people will have the opportunity to see them. And the art is likely to last.

How did you select which artists to include?

I wanted a balance of men and women, and they are all artists I’ve worked with in previous projects through Ad Hoc Art, including the Welling Court Mural Project.

How have folks responded to what you have brought to World Maker Faire New York?

The response has been overwhelmingly enthusiastic! And we’ve been awarded two blue ribbons from the festival’s organizers!

That’s great! I’m so looking forward to next year’s World Maker Faire New York!

Images:

  1. Gera Luz (standing) in collaboration with Werc
  2. Garrison Buxton with Sabrina Merlo
  3. Outer Source at work
  4. Jenna Morello
  5. Cern posing in front of huge segment of his truck mural
  6. Screen-printing by Peter J. McGouran

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos by 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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A member of Avant, the first artist group in NYC to use the street as an exhibition space for works that were created in the studio on paper, Christopher Hart Chambers, along with David Fried, will be exhibiting a selection of his artworks for ten days beginning this Friday at 17 Frost Gallery

StreetArtNYC contributor Lenny Collado aka BK Lenny recently had the opportunity to interview the legendary artist.

When did you first start drawing?

From the moment I could hold a crayon in my hand. I was about one or two.

What are some of your earliest art memories?

I remember when I was in the 4th grade, we were asked to draw a figure of a tree. I drew the tree. We were told not to color it. I colored it anyway – only to be told that I’d ruined it. I could never follow assignments; I always did my own thing. I also have memories of copying from baseball cards, making pencil sketches of baseball players. I remember, too, going to a museum and seeing all these grey wooden boxes with soda cans and wrappers. I had a piece of garbage with me, and I threw it in. Suddenly, all the guards raced at me. I didn’t get it. I was 11 at the time.

What about cultural influences? Any particular ones?

Jimi Hendrix — his music and visual projections. I give him major props because Hendrix rode a wave, divorcing himself from being a creator. When he was on, he was not really there. When the magic happens, the ego isn’t really there. The art takes on a life of its own.

What did your family think about what you were doing? Were they supportive?

My mother used to ask me, “Have you considered having a career?” I‘d say, “I have a career!” She never understood, and she never hung any one of my pieces. She didn’t like my stuff. My father, however, had pieces hanging from the floor to the ceiling.

How important is the viewer’s response to your work?

I like people. But I don’t think their opinion would actively make me change a piece. While creating, I really don’t want to hear what others think. Afterwards, I’ll listen.

Are you generally satisfied with your art work?

I never ditch a piece; I put it aside and keep at it. When they’re good, it’s like, I didn’t do it. I’m a conduit. I’m like, “Wow, where did that come from?”

Have you a favorite medium?

Automotive paints.

How long do you generally spend on a piece?

Impossible to answer. Several years. I don’t think I’ve ever effectively finished something in less than thirty seconds. My posters take about four days and I do 20 at a time.

What percentage of your time is dedicated to your art?

All of it! Even if I’m watching TV or sipping iced tea, it’s all part of it.

Do you have a favorite place to work?

I’ve always liked my studio. I’ve always lived in my studio.

How has your art evolved throughout the years?

It was simplistic at first. I’ve gotten better. When graffiti first hit, I guess I was still holding back. But then I started to feel like a fool. So, I said, “Just go for what you want now. Just do it!” That was about ’77. And since, I’ve explored several different mediums.

You were one of the earliest folks to impact the street art scene. Can you tell us something about that?

We were all about going on a campaign and using the street as an alternative space. We were in revolt against the galleries and the commodification of art. That was Avant. There was a strategy to the whole thing. When the street kids were going to the galleries, we were bringing the studio to the street. We were like a rock band, hitting as many venues as we could. We used paste-ups and paint to put up art on the street. The late painter and poet Rene Ricard called us “the enemy,” because of what we represented. We were on a mission.

Who were Avant’s inspirations back them?

We were largely inspired by Al Diaz and Jean-Michel Basquiat. SAMO© was a phenomenon, as it captured people throughout the city.

What is your main source of income these days?

Selling art, selling stories, and writing about other artists.

What do you see as the role of the artist in society?

He’s a priest or a cobbler with a compulsion, feathering the nest.

You’ve exhibited in dozens of venues from alternative sites to museums.

Yes! Among them were 51X Gallery, MoMA PS1, A.S.A.G.E. Gallery, Nassau County Museum of Art and Causey Contemporary. And my next exhibit opens this Friday, September 21 at 17 Frost Gallery, where I will be showing along with David Fried. in an exhibit presented by d.w. krsna.

Good luck! We are looking forward to that!

Interview by Lenny Collado; all photos, courtesy of the artist, selected by Tara Murray; and special thanks to 17 Frost Creative Director Javier Hernandez-Miyares

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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I stopped by HG Contemporary‘s impressive new gallery space in Williamsburg, Brooklyn yesterday as several artists were busy at work preparing for tonight’s official launch.

After checking it out, I had the opportunity to speak with Sean Sullivan who, along with Harris Lobel, has curated the gallery’s opening exhibit:

This space is ideal, and the artwork looks wonderful! How did the opportunity come your way to curate this exhibit for HG Contemporary‘s grand opening here in Williamsburg?

Last month, Philippe Hoerle-Guggenheim, the founder of HG Contemporary in Chelsea, approached me and asked me if I would be interested in curating an exhibit along the lines of First City, the one I’d curated awhile back in Long Island.  I saw it as a great opportunity to give artists I admire a chance to exhibit alongside the fine artists who generally show at HG Contemporary.

How did you decide which artists to include?

That was difficult, as I would have liked to include many more. I chose artists with whom I’ve successfully worked with in the past, along with five others whose artwork I’ve admired, but with whom I’ve never worked. The final selection was a joint decision between me and Harris Lobel, who was involved in curating, along with me, the First City project. We were interested in showcasing the works of artists whom we believe deserve wide exposure.

I’m familiar with several of the artists — especially those whose work I’ve seen on the streets. Several, though, are new to me. Who are the artists that you both agreed to include in this grand opening?

Our final selection included: Albertus JosephZimer, Gumshoe, Jenna Krypell, Jason AckermanFridge, Jenna Morello, OG Millie and Reso 914.

There’s quite a diverse range of styles here. Had you a specific theme in mind?

We were interested in representing the various elements associated with street art and graffiti.  And so we sought a mix of images, words, letter technique, characters, color and flow.

What were some of the challenges you faced in seeing this through?

As an artist who doesn’t like taking directions, I wasn’t all that comfortable giving directions to others. But it was something that I had to do. And it was difficult asking artists to put a halt to all that they were doing for two to three day, so that they could devote themselves for hours on end to this project.

I’m certain that many artists who worked with you in the past were disappointed that they weren’t included in such a significant exhibit.

Definitely! I was getting too many nasty direct messages. Dealing with that was another huge challenge. Of course, I would have loved to include more artists, and I do hope to include many others in future exhibits that I look forward to curating in this space.

In addition to the works painted directly onto the walls here, what else can visitors to the gallery expect to see?

All of the artists who are partipating will also exhibit works on canvas that are for sale. And in addition to the artists that Harris and I have brought in, HG Contemporary will be presenting a special installation by Franz Klainsek and works by Tim Bengel and Carl McCrow.

And how can folks who can’t make it to the official grand opening see the exhibit?

The gallery is conveniently located at 66 North 3rd Street off Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn .All are invited to visit the gallery during its regular opening hours.

Images

  1. Albertus Joseph
  2. Layer Cake
  3. Zimer
  4. Gumshoe
  5. Jenna Krypell
  6. Jason Ackerman & Fridge
  7. Jenna Morello
  8. OG Milli
  9. Reso 914

Interview and photos by 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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Ever on a mission, East London-based artist Annie Nicholson aka Fandangoe Kid has been busy here in New York City. Last week, I had the opportunity to meet up with her in Red Hook, Brooklyn at the site of her De-Construkt residency.

When did you first become interested in sharing your messages in public spaces?

Back in 2005 — when I was studying film and visual arts in Paris — I began leaving text messages on friends’ doorsteps. My artwork has always been narrative-driven.

Your current projects generally reference your family members. Can you tell us something about that? 

In 2011, my mother and sister were killed in a crash. Their bodies landed in the East River. Nothing has been the same since. For several years I was totally derailed. Sharing my thoughts in the public sphere and working with young people have kept me alive. My public messages are, also, my means to remove the stigma that exists around loss and mental health.

How have folks responded to seeing your text messages reflecting your very private — often deeply painful — reflections on your losses?

Many have approached me and shared with me stories of their own losses and vulnerabilities. It is part of their healing process, as well as mine.

And working with youth is wonderfully therapeutic — as I know! How did you connect with the young people with whom you work?

I’ve actually worked in art education for over 10 years — from the Tate Modern to the British Film Institute. And then four years ago, I began working with traumatised young people in a program I’d launched at the Hackney New School using the arts as a means to understand and share their stories more effectively.

Are there any particular artists who inspired or influenced your particular text-driven aesthetic?

Steve Powers — certainly! He is one of my favorite artists working in this genre and a huge inspiration. Others include: Jenny Holzer, Barbara Krueger and Camille Walala.

What brought you here to New York City?

For six years — since the loss of of my sister and mother here in New York City — this city has been hanging over me. I felt the need to spend some time here. And Laura Arena, who offers residencies in Red Hook to artists from all over the world, has given me the opportunity to do so.

Why the streets? Why do you primarily utilize the streets to transmit your messages?

I like the visibility that the streets offer. My messages are easily accessed on the streets, especially by young people.

What’s ahead?

I will be returning to NYC in the fall with plans to install large-scale works in more permanent public sites to create a platform for dialog.

Good luck with it all!

Photo credits: 1, 3 & 6 courtesy of the artist; 2, 4 & 5 Lois Stavsky; interview conducted and edited by 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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Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to meet up with Poornima Sukumar. A muralist and community artist based in India, she is the founder and director of  the Aravani Art Project, a collective that creates spaces for people from the transgender community to connect with other communities and cultures in their local neighborhoods. In July 2016, Poornima was invited to present the Aravani Art Project at the Global Youth Forum, and she was hosted by the World Bank as a panellist for the LGBTQIA+ discussion in Washington DC. She is also a TEDx speaker.

What is the mission of the Aravani Art Project? Can you tell us a bit about it?

It aims to create a collective space for people from the transgender community by engaging them in public art and other interventions. We are interested in providing opportunities for members of the transgender community to collaborate with artists, photographers, filmmakers and general members of society to voice issues and engage in dialogues. We want to help society see people from the transgender community in a new light. We also make an effort to become invested in their personal lives. We look out for them just as we would look out for our own friends. The projects are completely built on trust and friendship, and friends always look out for each other! We are intent, in fact, on providing members of the transgender community with access to health care, as well as the skills they need to procure jobs.

When was it started? And why?

It began in January, 2016. After 3 ½ years of working on a film about the transgender community in India and making close friends among members of that community, I wanted to remain involved.  I was concerned about the violence and the prejudice that so many of them encounter. I felt the need to bridge the gap between  members of the their community and society, at large.

Who are some of the other folks who have worked with you in implementing your mission?

Among them are: Sadhna Prasad, who serves as the project’s art director; trans leaders Shanthi Sonu and Priyanka Divaakar and trans artists Chandri and Purushi.

About how many people has the Aravani Art Project engaged so far?

Since the project began in 2016, we’ve engaged over 1,000 folks in 25 projects.

How have you made these opportunities for collaboration and exchange happen? That’s quite an impressive number of projects.

As a muralist and illustrator, I know many artists. We’ve also received commisions. This past year, Facebook, in fact, invited us to their office in San Francisco.

How has the general community responded to the Aravani Art Project?

Very beautifully – folks open up to us slowly, and, organically, folks want to connect.

And what about the name Aravani? What is its significance?

The term Aravani means a person who worships Lord Aravan, the patron God of the transgenders.

What’s ahead?

We are looking to forge more collaborations internationally and reach out to more communities whose voices remain unheard. We are planning two projects abroad and five in India. We are always seeking visibility.

How can folks become engaged in your projects?

We are eager to engage all folks — straight, gay, transgender — in implementing our projects. And if you are interested in becoming involved, you can write to us here.

That sounds great! And we look forward to seeing you back in NYC with the Aravani Art Project!

Interview by Lois Stavsky with Bonnie Astor; all photos courtesy the Aravani Art Project

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

Earlier this year on a frisky afternoon, I met up with Noémi Nádudvari at a lively café in the 7th district of Budapest. A Budapest native and street art lover, Noémi, with the help of several like-minded individuals now known as the Colorful City Group, founded the Színes Város Festival (Color City Festival), the premiere large-scale public wall painting project in the country. Inspired by Hungarian painter Victor Vasarely’s vision that colors should play a vital role in city planning to make the world a more livable place, Noémi and her team have added over 70 murals to the facades of the Budapest City Center. I asked her a few questions about this project before she took me on a walking tour of the neighborhood.

It is a pleasure to meet you, Noémi. If I understand correctly, you work here at Café Dobrumba?

I do! I am the manager of Café Dobrumba. My team and I collaborate to create a rotating menu inspired from our travels abroad. Sadly, these are my last few weeks working here. I will be focusing my time and energy on the Színes Város Festival. It is impossible to have a full time job and, also, curate an expanding street art festival!

Yes, the Color City Festival! Tell us about this great initiative and how it all started.

The start of the festival was in 2014 with myself, my collaborator, Peter, and a super small group of people who were on board with the idea of creating an arts and culture initiative with murals by street artists at its center. We are now in our fifth edition. It is a little hard to believe sometimes. If six years ago someone had told me that I would be the curator of a city-wide street art festival, I would have laughed in their face! Today we produce around 8-10 murals each year, trying to find new wall spaces every cycle.

It sounds like you’ve come a long way. Was this festival your first experience curating? 

It was my first time curating a large-scale event. I studied aesthetics, philosophy of art and Latin in college, and then I worked in contemporary art galleries, auction houses, and was involved in the organization of festivals promoting young designers in Budapest. In 2011, I organized Urban Tactics, a one-day live painting event. It was the first-ever legal live painting in a public space in Hungary. We set up a series of panels on the street and presented an exhibition of work by six graffiti artists. That was my first real curating experience. At the time, we were struggling with money and permissions and did not think that something bigger would be possible.

Can you elaborate on the particular model of the festival in regards to the rotating themes and sponsors?

Because street art is so new in Hungary, we decided to collaborate with the city council and government to launch the project, along with sponsors who are keen on increasing the appreciation of street art in Budapest. Each year, we invite a sponsor to select a theme for the festival. It forces us to work within a certain framework. I then create a brief and reach out to local and international artists who may be interested in producing work around the topic. The mural painting then happens.

Can you tell us a bit about the topics that have been the focus of the festival?

In 2014, the topic was Let’s Start to Talk; in 2015, Hungaricum — a phenomenon that is unique to Hungary and represents great value for Hungarians; in 2016, Water and City / River and the City, focused on the Danube River which separates the city into the Buda and Pest sides; and in 2017, the theme was The Gastronomy of Art – The Art of Gastronomy.

Where are the murals located?

Mostly around here, the 7th District, but we started to do some walls in the Buda side of the city as well. Ruben Sanchez finished a piece there this past winter. The challenge on the Buda side is that we have to create murals that are more classical — in the vein of a 19th century-style aesthetic — to fit the context of traditional Hungarian architecture.

How have neighborhood residents reacted to the festival?

Good, actually. At first, there was some suspicion. But now, a few years later, we get more favorable reactions. Older generations have actually embraced it the most. They come with their grandkids to watch the artists paint, and a few have told us “We’d love to have this everywhere.”

What — would you say — were, or are, your biggest challenges?

Putting the festival together is pretty challenging, but as a curator/organizer, I would say the most difficult part is obtaining painting permissions. The city of Budapest does not easily give them. It’s a long process. We have to ask five different entities for permission before we can even begin painting.

It’s also difficult to find available walls. We’ve come up with a couple of strategies. The first is that we offer to renovate the building façade. It improves the state of the building and benefits the residents. Residents are then a lot more willing to give permission for a mural. As you can imagine, though, it then becomes very expensive for us. The second strategy is finding walls in parking lots. Since the walls are not immediately on the street, the permissions are easier to get. But, this means the mural will be erased when the parking lots are transformed into real estate developments. It could happen after one year or a few years, but in the meantime, the murals are there. Sadly, construction has started in a parking lot where we have some of our favorite walls by two members of Berlin’s The Weird Crew, HRVB and Vidam, who is half Hungarian.

The other challenge is dealing with sponsors who wanted to control the art aspect of the festival. I always insist that we need artistic freedom as soon as we start working with a sponsor. Each year this gets easier as sponsors develop a better understanding of street art and the goal of Színes Város.

How has the festival evolved?

Better artists, better walls. And more artists from abroad. Foreign artists love Budapest! Which is great because we really need a new image of the city… We want to invite international artists to show more street art styles to Hungarian audiences, as well. We were very happy to have artists like Adno, Dan Ferrer, SPOK ÉS KORSE, BreakOne, Ruben Sanchez and others painting walls in Budapest.

What is your main goal with Színes Város ?

At first, the goal was to expose Hungarians to street art and get them to understand what it is; I wanted to educate the public about this art form. Now that this goal has somewhat been met and people are starting to appreciate art that is less mainstream, I am trying to push the limit and include more adventurous, interesting, challenging pieces every year.

I always say in the press conferences that one of the main goals of the festival is to show the great variety of styles that exist. People should be more open and even excited about styles that are new to then, because there isn’t one common taste. No one has to like all the murals. but everyone will have their favourites. For me that’s an important message. You don’t have to love all of them, but try to understand them; try to speak about them; explain why you like a mural or not. Diversity is so important. It is even more important nowadays when the world is moving in a direction that doesn’t encourage inclusiveness…Trump being a prime example of that.

Do you feature other types of installations besides murals?

Not at the moment. There was a boom in the early 2000 of small street art pieces. Artists were trying to do small works. But there were too many risks involved because, unfortunately, you could go to prison if you get caught just doing a paste up. Graffiti and street artists mostly tried to paint outside the city, finding hidden lonely places where they can work easily without anyone bothering them. So that is why we are missing small pieces in the city. In cities like Berlin and London, you feel like something more is going on aside from the murals – you get that feeling because of the paste ups, stickers, stencils etc. That is a project for the future, focusing on smaller works as well.

Any other future projects or plans?

For the festival’s fifth year, I want to publish a catalog with images of all the walls. Maybe an exhibition, as well. In the longer term, I want to start an artist exchange program to allow Hungarian artists to go abroad, gain recognition in the international scene and collaborate with other artists. Fat Heat paints everywhere in Europe and Russia, which is great, but I would like to see more Hungarian artists represented around the world.

Sounds exciting! We wish you the best for what’s next!

Images

1 Lisbon-based AkaCorleone

2 Budapest-based Márton Hegedűs

3 Spanish artist Dan Ferrer

4 Portuguese artist BreakOne

5  Russian artist Adno (right) and collaborative mural by Spain’s Spok Brillor  and French artist KORSE 

6 Vidam (left) and  HRVB

7 Hungarian artist Péter Szabó-Lencz aka Petyka

8 Budapest-based TransOne and Fat Heat

All photos and interview by Houda Lazrak

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