Interviews

The following guest poet is by Lower East Side-based photographer Ana Candelaria

It was love at first wheat paste. After several months of photographing Connecticut-born Sara Lynne Leo‘s work on NYC streets, I had the opportunity to meet her at COLLAGE NYC LIVE Art & Networking Event at the Delancey. More recently, I was able to find out a bit about her:

How old were you when you discovered your love for art?

I knew at four or five years that I love making art. My mother was an art teacher, and she always encouraged me.

Have you had any formal art training?

Yes, I studied at the School of the Museum of Fine Arts at Tufts University and at Emerson College. When I began studying art, I wanted to become a fine art oil painter in the style of the Italian classical masters. But  later on, I decided to move on to something more commercial that would, also, allow me to express myself on a personal level. I then studied animation.

Who are some of the artists who inspire you?

The British painter Francis Bacon. He’s super creepy and dark. I also like Kiki Smith‘s edginess.

Why did you decide to hit the streets?

I wanted to share ordinary stories that people could relate to. My character is an everyday person with everyday problems — who lives in the city.  It is a blend of illustrative style and cartoon.

How old is this character? When did you first create him?

My character is four to five months old.

Where can we find your character? I’ve seen it primarily on the Lower East Side and in Williamsburg.

My character has also made its way to the Bronx, but can be found mainly in Manhattan and Brooklyn.

I discovered some of your political work on your website. Why don’t we see more of your political work on the streets?

Good question! I ask myself the same exact thing. I guess it feels different to make a political statement vs. something more personal. I’m more inrerested in personal expression in public space at this point.

What kind of response have you received from the work you have shared on the streets?

Lots of positive responses.

How do you feel about the movement of street art to galleries?

I feel disillusioned that so many galleries ask us to “pay to play.” I don’t like when it’s so commercialized. It’s frustrating that it’s become so monetized.

What’s ahead?

I’d like to integrate animation into my character and bring him to life on the streets.

I would love to see that!

Interview and photos by Ana Candelaria

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On view through July 12 at South Bronx gallery WALLWORKS NEW YORK is Memorias en Arte. Curated by South Bronx photographer Gloria Zapata, it features photos captured by Gloria while visiting her homeland, Honduras, along with renderings of them by a range of NYC artists.

Images of memories  from her childhood capture the essence of her native country, while the accompanying artworks further explore the notion of “home.” After visiting the brilliantly conceived and handsomely curated exhibition yesterday, I had the opportunity to speak to Gloria.

I love your passion for photography, along with your devotion to documentation. Can you tell us something about its beginnings?

I first studied photography while I was a student at Washington Irving High School. That was back in the nineties. While studying Multimedia Video Arts at the Borough of Manhattan Community College a bit later, I started writing scripts and producing films. I  wanted to be next Stephen Speilberg! After graduating from BMCC, I wrote and directed an award-winning short film “A Mirror of Me,” but I soon discovered that pursuing that passion would require funds and an investment of time that I didn’t have. Then for my 27th birthday, my mother bought me a professional camera. That was a turning point! Currently, while pursuing my passion, I am studying Art and Photography at Lehman College.

Do you remember what you first documented once you had that camera that your mother had bought you?

Early on it was nature and architecture. I especially liked photographing landscapes.

And what about street art and graffiti? When did you first start photographing the walls in your neighborhood?

I’d always loved murals. For years I’d seen works on the street by Tats Cru and Crash, but I had no idea who these artists were. Then one day — about five years ago — I met Crash when he was painting on the streets, and he invited me to WALLWORKS NEW YORK. Nothing’s been quite the same since!

And how did you meet all the street artists and graffiti writers — among the other artists —  whom you included in your show? I assume you met many here at WALLWORKS NEW YORK?

Yes! And I met several while I was volunteering as a teaching assistant with ICP (The International Center of Photography) at the Point.

I love the conversation between your photos and the artists’ interpretations of them. How did you decide which artists to include in Memorias en Arte? Its concept is brilliant.

I included artists whose works speak to me and who responded enthusiastically to my concepts of “home” and “memories.” A few of the artists I approached had too many other commitments at the time to participate in Memorias en Arte, but I hope to collaborate with them in the future — perhaps in an expanded version of the project.

What were some of the challenges you faced in seeing such an ambitious project through?

Following through with the artists to make sure that their pieces would be completed in time and sufficiently believing in my vision to see it though. But working with WALLWORKS NEW YORK has made any challenges so much easier to overcome.

How have folks reacted to this show?

The response has been great. And people tell me all the time how much they love the exhibition’s concept.

I first saw your work several months ago on exhibit at the Point’s Riverside Campus for Arts and the Environment. Where else have you exhibited? What were some some of the key shows?

I participated last summer in Through A Feminine Lens, a group show — curated by Juanita Lanzo and Kimberly Vaquedano-Rose — that featured photography and mixed media works exploring motherhood, immigrant perspectives, equity and race at the Longwood Art Gallery at Hostos Community College. Earlier, I showed in a group exposition, Exposure, here at WALLWORKS NEW YORK.  And in 2017, I participated in The Next Generation of Bronx Photographers at the Andrew Freedman Home.

Have you any particular favorite subjects as of late?

Yes, I’ve been focusing on portraits – especially of dancers — and sunsets.

Wow! You certainly have a wide range of interests! Have you any favorite photographers? Photographers who have inspired you?

Yes! Among them are: Martha Cooper, Joe Conzo and Ricky Flores. I love their commitment to community. I love Martha’s photography —  from the images she started shooting in the 80’s through those she currently captures  — and I love her story, along with the stories her photos tell. I was so happy to have an opportunity to work with her. In terms of photographers who capture dancers, my favorite is Andrea Mohin, a staff photographer for the New York Times, whom I’ve also had the chance to meet and work with.

How can folks see your current exhibit, Memorias en Arte?

It will be on view through next Friday, July 12, at WALLWORKS NEW YORK, 39 Bruckner Blvd. in the South Bronx. Gallery hours are Tuesday through Friday 11am – 5pm and weekends by appointment.

Featured images:

1 Zimad and Gloria Zapata

2 Photo of Gloria Zapata

3  Gloria Zapata and Lady jDay

4 NicerGloria Zapata and BG183

5 YesOne and Gloria Zapata

Eric Orr and Gloria Zapata

7 Installation close-up, Gloria Zapata

Photos by Lois Stavsky; interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

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I came upon Ramón Amorós‘s delightfully playful aesthetic while street art-hunting in Madrid’s Malasaña neighborhood. I recently had the opportunity to pose some questions to the gifted Madrid-based Argentine artist who will be visiting the US this week.

You are primarily an illustrator. What stirred you to take your characters to the streets?

I’ve been drawing all my life. While studying for my Fine Arts degree, I took a class in wall painting. That was the first time I had a chance to see one of my characters on a large scale. A bit later, while taking an illustration course, I became friends with a couple of guys — including Sr Val and PoyoFrito — who were into graffiti, and I began to be much more aware of walls as an interesting artistic format. So it all began out of the simple desire to see my drawings on a bigger scale. I also really enjoy the dialogue that the public space allows between my work and the people around it.

Your characters are wildly imaginative. Can you tell us something about them? What inspires them? Where do your ideas come from?

Well, the aspect of drawing I most enjoy is making things up…creating stuff that doesn’t or can’t exist. To me that is the most fascinating quality of representation. I have always been keen on characters of all kinds…monsters, creatures, animals. Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been interested in animals; my mom used to get me all kinds of books about them — the weirder, the better. Later on, I began mixing different animal parts together to create my own. I enjoy studying features — eyes, noses, mouths — separately to see how I can combine them together to make them look funny or weird.

How have folks responded to seeing your characters in public spaces?

Surprisingly well! Painting in public spaces allows a closeness with viewers that few art forms permit. It brings people closer  — to praise the artwork or even to complain about it. It starts a conversation. I have always had good experiences. I love children’s reactions to my paintings, but what most surprises me is when older folks approach me and say how much they enjoy my work. This is something that I would have never thought possible, as I think of my style as one that appeals to young people. It’s fantastic that public space enables these kinds of conversations to happen!

I came upon your work in Madrid. Have you painted in other cities? 

I usually enjoy painting when I travel. I left a couple of small pieces in Brazil, Senegal and  — more recently — in Israel. I like the idea of leaving a mark in places I enjoy, and I also love the exchange between art, hospitality and the human connection that can come out of it.

When you paint outside, do you work from a sketch? 

Yeah. I usually want to know what the final result will look like. But I also enjoy some space for improvisation to keep things fresh. I usually add a lot of shading and details through lines or dots, and that gives a lot of room for small changes, corrections or additions that happen on the spot.

What’s ahead? 

Right now, I would like to develop my personal work further. I want to take on bigger walls and more ambitious projects. I’d like to connect with galleries and with more artists for collaborations outside of Madrid. I am getting ready to head to the US — to  NYC, San Francisco, LA and New Orleans. I will be in NYC from the 5th to the 16th,

That sounds great! Good luck with it all!

Photo credits: 1-4 Courtesy of the artist; 5 Lois Stavsky; interview Lois Stavsky

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I’ve been mesmerized by Vanessa Rosa‘s distinctly beautiful and engaging aesthetic since I first came upon the Brazilian artist’s mural painting several years ago — as part of the Faces on the Blue Wall project — outside Lisbon’s Julio de Matos Psychiatric Hospital. We initially met up as she was beginning her residency at Red Hook’s Pioneer Works in 2017 and reconnected last week.

You are quite nomadic! Can you tell us a bit about your recent travels and adventures? Where have you been in the past year?

Yes! I visited Thailand for the Dinacon, the Digital Naturalism Conference, an experimental conference about exploring new ways of interacting with nature. I then traveled to China, where I visited the Shanghai K11 Art Mall, the first art mall in Mainland China. While in China, I also visited fiber optics fabric factories in Shenzhen, because I am interested in creating crazy patterns with this material. Following a brief visit to NYC and Boston, I spent time in a music producer’s space in Sao Paulo, where I painted and got to know rappers — especially Nego Bala — from the favelas. I spent the month of September in the Amazon beginning an artistic partnerhsip with the extraordinary shaman and artisan, Same Putumi.

In October, I traveled to Frankfurt to represent my family’s publishing company, Viajante do Tempo, at the Frankfurt Book Fair. From Frankfurt I went to Berlin and then London. Finally back in Brazil, I produced a show at the Museum of Image and Sound in São Paulo, and also worked with Same Putumi and with my friend, the architect Veronica Natividade.

Wow! You are amazing! What brought you back to the US?

I’d been invited to participate in next year’s Smithsonian Folklife Festival, an annual exposition of living cultural heritage on the National Mall in Washington, DC. It  is DC’s largest cultural event. In 2020, the festival will explore how diverse domains of cultural knowledge—from religion to design to science—shape the ways we understand, experience and respond to ever-changing natural, social and built environments.

And why New York City? Why did you choose to work in New York City?

I want to make things happen. And for someone who wants to have access and impact, no other city is as important as this one. I am, in fact, in the process of applying for an artist’s visa.

Your studio space here at the NYC Resistor in Downtown Brooklyn is extraordinary in terms of its equipment and resources.

Yes. My residency here at the NYC Resistor is ideal. We meet regularly to share knowledge, hack on projects together and build community. It is the perfect match as it is so rich in technology. And interacting with its other members advances my research and the projects that I’d started earlier with Same Putumi.

Can  you tell us something more about your mission — particularly regarding your collaborative work with Same Putumi?

My mission is to save the Amazon through the recognition of knowledge systems possesssed by indigenous groups. The Amazon’s genetic diversity is more important than gold. We must recognize and strengthen indigenous people’s knowledge systems. It is a knowledge they have attained from a high level of observation that no scientist can reach.

And what about your new drawings?

I’m combining 16th century drawings — by the Italian artist Serlio — on how to use linear perspective with Islamic patterns and 17th century crazy character drawings by Braccelli. And I’m doing this with a drawing machine!

What about public art? Mural Art? Will you be doing anything here in NYC? Can we expect to see anything soon?

Yes! I will keep you posted!

That sounds great! I’m looking forward!

Note: On Saturday, July 13, 1-4pm, Vanessa will be presenting a workshop on watercolor at the NYC Resistor, 87  3rd Avenue, 4th Floor in Brooklyn. Information and tickets are available here.

Photo credits: 1, 4 & 5 Lois Stavsky; all others courtesy of the artist; interview conducted 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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Underhill Walls — a  model grassroots project in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Prospect Heights —  has once again morphed. This time it is a canvas for 17 diversely enchanting murals reflecting the theme Urban Jungle. While visiting it last week, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions about Underhill Walls— its origins and more — to its indefatigable curator, Jeff Beler.

Underhill Walls continues to bring so much intrigue and beauty to this neighborhood. When did this project first begin?

The first set of murals surfaced here — at St. Johns Pl. and Underhill Avenue — back in the fall of 2015.

How were you able to access these walls? The concept is brilliant. It reminds me of the Centre-fuge Public Art Project that for years transformed an East Village eyesore — a neglected DOT trailer — into a rotating open-air street art gallery.

I live nearby, and I had been eyeing those walls for 10 years. They’d been ravaged by a fire, and they’d been neglected. I eventually contacted the owner of the three-floor abandoned building who was open to the concept of beautifying the property.

And then what? How did the actual transformation take place?

I started to put a team together. The first step was to build panels. And the first artists to participate in the project back in 2015 were: UR New York, Fumero, Badder Israel, Raquel Echanique, Col Wallnuts and Sienide.

Did you collaborate with any organizations at the time?

For our first project, we coordinated with the non-profit Love Heals. Titled “What’s Your Sign? Mural Project,” our first project’s mission was to raise public awareness for the HIV/AIDS crisis among  Black and Latino youth.

What are some of the challenges you’ve faced in seeing this project through these past few years?

Selecting artists with the right chemistry to work together. When that happens, everything flows smoothly and beautifully. And this is exasctly how “Urban Jungle” played out.

How often do the murals change?

Twice a year. Every May and October. Since 2015, we’ve had nine rotations.

What’s ahead?

So long as the panels are here, we will be here! And each project will continue to reflect a distinct theme.

Fabulous!

Images

1  Oscar Lett

2  Justin Winslow

Ralph Serrano (L) and Giannina Gutierrez (R) 

4  Jaima and Marco Santini collaboration

5  Nassart

6  Jeff Beler

7  Android and Miishab collaboration

8  Majo

Interview with Jeff conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos by Lois Stavsky

Keep posted to StreetArtNYC Instagram for more recent images from Underhill Walls.

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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Based in Bari in the South of Italy, Nico Skolp is a masterful designer, graffiti writer and muralist with a particular passion for working in public spaces. As he readies to visit and share his talents with us in New York City, I had the opportunity to pose a few questions to him:

You began painting on the streets as a graffiti writer while still a teenager. How has your style evolved since?

I still paint graffiti, but I am always searching for new inspiration. I’m interested in the possibility of communicating with a larger audience — one outside of the graffiti community. My murals blend shapes and colors into elaborate site-specific abstractions. Although graffiti is composed of  letters, it is more difficult to understand and more abstract than some other types of art. It is an interesting paradox!

You’ve been increasingly collaborating with other artists. What is that experience like? Is there any artist — in particular — with whom you’d like to collaborate?

I like collaborations. I like sharing visions and methods. It helps sharpen skills. If I could choose anyone with whom to collaborate, I would definitely say MOMO. His works are so interesting!  I admire his research and his experimentation.

Have you a formal art education? 

I graduated  with a degree in Industrial and Communication Design. In fact, I feel more like a designer than an artist. In 2006, I set up a visual arts and design agency, Ff3300.

Do any particular graffiti/street art memories stand out?

There is no one memory — in particular — that stands out. But I feel that my crew — Sorry Guys — contributed to the growth of a new generation of writers. Younger writers often enthusiastically tell me how much we have influenced them, as they grew up following us. It is an honor to think that I have inspired other writers, as  others — who came before me — inspired me.

When you paint in public spaces, do you work with a sketch-in-hand or just let it flow?

It depends. If the work is a commission, frequently I must first produce a sketch. Otherwise, I don’t, but I do seek inspiration beforehand. I used to work spontaneously, but recently, I’ve been using a method based on the rules that represent my style. It was from my style that the software open-source — based on shapes that are controlled by certain variables — was conceived. With these, you can make infinite compositions. You can download the software here. I designed it with Piero Molino, a close friend — an engineer who works for UBER in San Francisco.

Are you generally satisfied with your finished piece?

In general, yes! I’m satisfied, but I’m always striving to improve. Technically, I think I’m at a good level, The skills I have acquired have boosted my self-confidence. I’m happy with my life choices.

Have you exhibited your work in gallery settings? 

I’ve never had a solo exhibition. I’ve just contributed canvases to some graffiti exhibitions such as the one held at the 2010 Meeting of Styles in Tessalonica, Greece.  I’ve been thinking recently about showing in a solo exhibition and hopefully start with one in Bari. I love this city and it is where it all started for me. It has recently become a hub for tourism, and I love the idea of making a cultural contribution to it. 

What’s ahead?

I just finished my latest work in Matera, the 2019 Capital of Culture in Europe, and I’m heading now to  New York City, where I’d like to explore its urban art culture and make a contribution — why not a wall? — to the city! I will make myself available for any opportunities.

Yes! That would be wonderful!

Note: Nico Skolp can be contacted via his Instagram or his email nicoff3300@gmail.com.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; all images courtesy of the artist

Featured images:

  1. Matera, Italy
  2. Bari, Italy
  3. Bari, Italy
  4. Corato, Italy
  5. Matera, Italy

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Comprised of interviews with 17 American and European artists who use the stencil technique as their principal means of expression, STENCILISTS POCHOIRISTES, by art and culture enthusiast Serge Louis, has arrived in New York City! Featuring 444 pages and 273 illustrations, along with an introduction by stencil art connoisseur Samantha Longhi, it is Serge Louis’s second book devoted exclusively to stencil art. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Serge:

What spurred your interest in stencil art?

I’ve always been passionate about alternative forms of expression and how and why they surface. Why do folks create stencils? And how do they go about sharing them with others? And stencil art particularly appeals to me because it’s an ideal way to translate and share a message.

Yes. Stencils are quite an accessible means of communication. When did you begin working on this book?

I’ve been interested in stencil art for over a decade, and I had already published one book on the theme. Pochoirs et Pochoiristes à Bruxelles specifically focuses on Brussels’ rich stencil art scene. Three years ago, I began this book of interviews and images produced by artists in both America and in Europe.

Have you any early memories related to stencil art? Or any that stand out?

My earliest memory is of a very simple black and white one. Every stencil stands out in some way. Each one is something new. Each one is a surprise. Since I started paying attention to stencils, the way I view my environment has changed. Each city is distinct. And when I visit someplace new, I feel as though I’m on a “hunt.”

I can certainly relate to that! What were some of the challenges you encountered in producing this book?

The main challenge was convincing the artists to give me the time I needed to interview them in depth. Their time is precious, and they had to feel that taking the time to share their experiences was worthwhile and would interest others.

How can folks get a copy of STENCILISTS POCHOIRISTES?

Along with several of the artists, I will be at 212 Arts — 523 East 12th Street — on Saturday afternoon, June 1, and I will be signing copies of the book. You can also order the book through the publisher.

What’s ahead?

I’ve begun sorting through photos for my next book, and I have already interviewed six artists.

Good luck with it all! And Saturday’s book signing at 212 Arts is certainly a cause for celebration!

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; photos courtesy of Serge Louis

  1. Cover of book featuring stencil art by those artists interviewed for STENCILISTS POCHOIRISTES:  Ben Spizz, Billi Kid, Crisp, Dave Lowell, Dipo, Docteur Bergman, ENX, Jaune, Jinks Kunst, Logan Hicks, Nice Art, Niz, Praxis, Raf Urban, Spencer, Stew and Tripel
  2. Austin, Texas-based Peruvian native Niz
  3. Brooklyn-based Colombian native Praxis
  4. New York-based Colombian native Billi Kid
  5. Austin, Texas-based Dave Lowell
  6. Brooklyn-based, Baltimore-raised Logan Hicks

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I recently had the opportunity to catch up with Jason Mamarella, as he readies for today’s print release and his upcoming exhibition at the Living Gallery Outpost.

When I first started exploring NYC’s streets in pursuit of street art —  well over a decade ago — I saw your now-iconic character, dint wooer krsna, everywhere! He was one of the most prolific images around town. He has since been featured in over two dozen books and has made his way onto a range of media including the opening scene of Exit Through the Gift Shop. You’d once told me that dint wooer krsna was conceived as your online identity at about the same time that MySpace was born.

Yes! It was online before it was on the streets. I did not want to reveal who I was. It was critical that my identity remain hidden at that time.  Someone had threatened to shoot me over a woman, and I had reason to believe he was quite serious.

What about the name krsna?  I’ve always wondered about it.

It’s a reference to Hare Krishna. I used to hang out in Hare Krishna temples. The Hindu God Krishna was a vegetarian — as I am. He was a friend of the cow.

What motivated you to hit the streets with dint wooer krsna

I was newly divorced, and I needed to get out of the house. I’d been tagging for years — since I was a teen — but I wanted my character to stand out. krsna was my first wheatpaste.

Have you ever been arrested?

I’ve been arrested three times for vandalism. The first was in 1993 at an after-party at Ferry Point Park. Together with Aones WTO, Kech & James “V.E.” Conte, R.I.P,  I was caught tagging the Bronx Whitestone Bridge. The penalty was  community service and five years ACD. Then in 2008, I was caught and identified online for getting stencils up in Hoboken. After nine summonses, a judge yelled at me for 20 minutes. Nothing more. But I had to pay $3,000 to have a lawyer stand next to me in court. And in 2010, an undercover grabbed me on 2nd Avenue in the East Village for two stickers I’d put up. The cop told me that I was responsible for bringing kids into this “degenerate lifestyle,” and he called the Vandal Squad.

Had you any particular influences? 

James “V.E.” Conte, R.I.P. He got up everywhere. He was obsessive compulsive. I modeled myself on him — trying to get up as much and as often as I possibly could.

For several years you were largely absent from the streets.

Yes, in 2013, I began focusing, almost exclusively, on my studio work.

So what brought you back?

I guess it was always in me. It was just dormant for awhile.

How has the street art scene changed since you first hit the streets with dint wooer krsna?

Just about everything after 2010 is irrelevant; it’s all about legal permission spots. Much of it is devoid of any originality or intellectual merit.

What — do you suppose — is responsible for this change?

Projects like The Bowery Wall and the film Exit Through the Gift Shop have pushed street art so much into the mainstream that it has become trendy. People just want to hop onto the bandwagon.

Yes. It’s certainly lost its subversive appeal to those of us who were initially drawn to that aspect of it. How has your art evolved over time?

I’m leaning more towards abstraction.

You have a new hand-embellished print, Jibb Wibbles, about to be released. I know that your first three prints sold out quickly. How can folks get hold of this new one?

It’s available from House of Roulx at this link. All proceeds will go to benefit Little Wanderers, a non-profit that rescues needy cats.

And can you tell us something about your upcoming exhibit at the Living Gallery Outpost?

I will be showing my new paintings from noon to 9pm on the weekend of June 15th and 16th. They’re dark.

That should be interesting! I’m looking forward to seeing them all!

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky

Photo credits: 1 Katherine Zavartkay; 2 Lois Stavsky, 2011, East Village; 3-5 courtesy of the artist

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Presented at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018 and continuing though March 30 is Red Crown Green Parrot, a public art project by Kashi Gallery — conceived and fashioned by Jerusalem-based artist Meydad Eliyahu, a descendant of Malabar Jews, in collaboration with Dubai-based Thoufeek Zakriya, a Muslim who was born and raised in Kochi. I recently had the opportunity to speak to Meydad about this impressive project.

First, can you tell us something about the project’s title — Red Crown Green Parrot? What is its significance?

The title is inspired by the themes of the crown and the parrot which frequently appear in the  cultural expressions  of Malabar’s Jews — such as women’s folksongs, illuminated Jewish marriage contracts and synagogue decorations.The parrot is also a symbol of the storytelling in ancient local literature and culture.

What is the project’s principal mission? 

The presence of the Malabar Jews has almost completely disappeared — not only from Mattancherry’s physical space, but also from its collective memory. The project’s primary missions are to preserve the memory of Malabar Jews and to shed light on the loss of the unique multicultural dialogue that characterized Mattancherry in the past.

How did you go about trying to accomplish this?

Through a public intervention of a series of paintings and calligraphic wall works in Malayalam, English and Hebrew. The project is a walking route through the neighborhood that the Jews once lived in,  It includes a demolished cemetery with only one tomb left in an abandoned synagogue from the 14th century, along with several other hidden sites.

What were some of the challenges you encountered in seeing the project through?

We were uncertain as to how local residents would react to our reawakening a memory of a chapter that had ended 70 years ago. We did not know if and how they would accept it and whether they would want it to play such a prominent role in their present-day visual lives. That was one challenge.  Another challenge was  securing permission to work on the walls that we wished to use. That was something we couldn’t do until we arrived. But Thoufeek and I were determined to overcome any obstacles that came our way.

How have the city’s residents and visitors responded to the project?

Our most generous partners were the local residents. They welcomed us with great warmth and enthusiasm. When we were hesitant to put the first brush stroke on the first wall, they prodded us to start painting. Some helped us choose the right motifs and helped us secure walls; others helped with ladders and assisted with the clean-up. And we feel that we accomplished our mission.

“I’ve been living in Kochi for over 40 years, and this is the first time I’m seeing and learning about the Malabari Jewish sites,” commented one of the local residents.

Note: Created and performed in ‘Jew Town’, the historical Jewish urban area of Mattancherry, Kochi, India, Red Crown Green Parrot was supported by the Memorial Foundation for Jewish Culture and curated by Tanya Abraham.

Interview conducted and edited by Lois Stavsky; all photos courtesy Meydad Eliyahu

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