MURALS, ACTIVISM and CENSORSHIP

By Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo aka Brooklyn Street Art

After examining and discussing this years’ Nuart 2014 theme of murals and activism we realized the underlying matter that strikes at the core for us must include a discussion about censorship, our varying degrees of comfort and discomfort with it, and how it impacts art in the streets.

Mural art is almost unanimously censored art and cannot be righty considered strictly as Street Art. Whether the content of the composition has been influenced by a wall owner, a real estate developer, a sportswear brand, a business improvement district, or by Father Paddy O’Reilly who lives in the rectory just up the street, once a mural has been discussed and voted on and approved, however tacitly, by an entity other than the artist, the mural takes one large step in the direction of public art and a fast run away from the D.I.Y. approach that we think of as Street Art.

Censorship is anathema to the entire activist spirit of Street Art that drew us to it to begin with.  No permission is sought for commission, and no critique is necessarily desired either. By its very nature it’s all about politics – personal, geo, social, anthropological, philosophical, sexual, identity-based. Rabble rousers and challengers of the status quo, the choice to avert the established Art World path of university-gallery-fairs-museums-collectors and the multiple layers of gate-keeping is itself a sort of middle finger activism toward the self-appointed doyennes of art, design and basically any aesthetic endeavor. The only peer-review journal they are interested in are the thick dripping markers nearby or overtop their work - and in the various Internet hubs they participate in. Street Art, a corollary to and evolution of the graffiti practice never necessarily had in mind that it was answerable to any person or institution but rather it has been primarily a direct communication to the everyday passerby.

With the growing fascination, acceptance, and even romance with Street Art on illegal walls, real estate developers and moribund city centers are courting the very artists who once surreptitiously hit the walls, with some restrictions naturally.  Only ten years earlier many of these same entities were alerting authorities to the vandalism occurring on walls in their neighborhoods. Now artists are being tracked again – but with a different request: please hit up my wall with beautification in mind and with something vaguely edgy.

“But please, no boobs. Also, no politics. And could you keep it family-friendly? If you can include a Ninja Turtle my son would be so totally stoked.”

Eager for the “exposure” and relieved to not have to look over their shoulder for the police, a mass of Street Artists are happy to create happy walls.  Not exactly the public art murals of yesteryear that spoke to social ills and local pride, the new crop of murals is pleasant and sometimes aesthetically astounding, but the genteel censorship brings the final result closer to public art than Street Art.

Conversely, commercial mural walls are openly anti-activist and non-apologetic  vehicles for the delivery of a sponsored message. For purists, if there are any, this is the essence of the Street Art creative approach now perverted by the integration of branded content, radically altering its essential spirit. We won’t say “co-opt” lest you think us hippies, but even hippies are sedate these days and this evolutionary phase of Street Art is simply the adopting of the language of a subculture to sell something to the dominant culture. In a time when TV is giving wars their own names and themed motion-graphics, Street Art as a product delivery vehicle is probably expected. From Elvis to punk to hipsters we have learned over decades that organically grown youth movements are first resisted then fully subsumed, synthesized, and re-employed.

Thankfully, not everyone in the next gen of Millennial #activists got the text. These digital natives whose initial cell division took place in an amniotic fluid floating in logos and slogans are hypersensitive to the commercial or political re-purposing of their anger and have taken the means of digital meme production into their hands and swiping fingers.  With virtual location unmoored from the physical location, freelance and organized Street Artists create works on walls and fences and bus stops across cities specifically to be shot and re-Grammed en route to addressing topical events and issues. Unsanctioned takeovers of public and private space are quickly recorded and dispersed through the ether before being buffed – or even discovered.

No clouding or spinning of the message has a chance to take place before the campaign begins, only in reaction to it. With these and other means activists on the street are reaching their target audiences like never before. Whether it is the ever flaring Israeli-Palestinian disaster, the blossoming Arab Spring, the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, the verbal harassment of women in a Brooklyn neighborhood, factory-raised meat and GMOs at your local grocery, or simply the rapidly growing canyon between rich and poor worldwide, Street Art activism is way outside the censorious instincts of most mural programs and urban art festivals.

Ultimately the rise in large scale murals and mural programs and festivals are excellent for world-wide public art production but may have a silencing effect on the more traditionally rebellious Street Artist, with the resulting work a de-fanged and pleasantly neutered version of its original conception. If this is censorship imposed from outside or within, we may be seeing a more palatable art in the streets for the next few years, but it won’t signal the end of Street Art. You can securely predict that the discontented youth who prefer a more activist approach will be out there as well.

NUART PLUS 2014

This year’s Nuart Plus program will tackle the two ends of the street art-continuum, namely “safe murals” on the one hand and street art and activism on the other.

THE TORN OFF HEAD ...

By Carlo McCormick. The Torn-Off Head Stuck in the Hatch of a Sewer Drain, or the Occupation and Negation of Public Space

STREET ART 3.0

By Evan Pricco. Who will try and control it's future.

SITE OF EXPLORATION

By Peter Bengtsen. Street art, murals and public space as a site of exploration

MURALS, ACTIVISM and CENSORSHIP

By Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo. MURALS, ACTIVISM and CENSORSHIP

ART IGNITES CHANGE

By RJ Rushmore. Art Ignites Change: Infiltrating the system to promote social change

TILT INTERVIEWED

French Graffiti Writer Tilt discussing this years themes.

FRA BIANCOSHOCK INTERVIEW

Italian Urban Interventionist discussing his practice and this years themes

±MAISMENOS± INTERVIEW

Portuguese artist Miguel Januário under his ±MAISMENOS± guise

MATHIEU TREMBLIN INTERVIEW

French Urban Interventionist discussing his Situationist art practice, graffiti and more.

FIGHT CLUB

The legendary fight club returns with a lively Activism V's Muralism debate going on down the local pub.

THURS 04.09: FIGHT CLUB

Muralism or Activism: Academics meet pop cultural critics and the public in an environment of heated debate lubricated by alcohol.

FRI 05.09: BEAUTY IS IN THE STREETS. MURALISM

First day of our international Street Art symposium focuses on the rise and rise of Muralism.

FRI 05.09: CIDADE CINZA

Marcelo Mesquita and Guilherme Valiengo meet Os Gemeos and other Sao Paulo graffiti artists who are celebrated everywhere except in their home town.

FRI 05.09: BSA FILM FRIDAY LIVE

Brooklyn Street Art's Steve and Jaime introduce us to a "live" version of their renowned Film Friday series.

SAT 06.09: STREET ART AND ACTIVISM

Day 2 takes a more revolutionary twist and looks at protest and activism's place in Street Arts future.

SAT 06.09: WORKSHOP WITH ICY & SOT

Join Icy and Sot in this in-depth and practical look at creating Stencil Art.

SAT 06.09: CIDADE CINZA

Marcelo Mesquita and Guilherme Valiengo meet Os Gemeos and other Sao Paulo graffiti artists who are celebrated everywhere except in their home town.

SUN 07.09: STREETART TOUR

Join Nuart's first annual street art tour and be amongst the first to experience this years fresh street works.

PETER BENGTSEN (SE)

Author, Art Historian and Sociologist

RJ RUSHMORE (US)

Blogger, Author and Curator

EVAN PRICCO (US)

Managing editor of Juxtapoz Managazine

CARLO MCCORMICK (US)

World renowned pop cultural critic and author

JAIME AND STEVE FROM BSA (US)

Authors, Bloggers and Founders of Brooklyn Street Art

EIRIK SJÅHOLM KNUDSEN (NO)

Respected scholar and champion of Street Art

MARTYN REED

Martyn Reed, Nuart founder, curator and man about town.

EXHIBITION & STREET ART TOURS - BUY TICKETS HERE

Ticket info for Nuart's 'Space is the Place' exhibition and Street Art tours

STREET ART TOURS

Private & company street art tours tailored to support your specific needs and interests.

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NUART GALLERY

Nuart Gallery aims to nurture emerging regional and national talent whilst at the same time hosting and producing exhibitions and projects from some of the world’s leading street and contemporary artists.

THE UTOPIA BOX-SET

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NUART PATRONS CIRCLE

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ELOQUENT VANDALS DOCUMENTARY

Shot on location at Nuart Festival features work and candid interviews from some of the worlds leading players in the scene.
Running time : 25.17. Directed by Martin Hawkes

ELOQUENT VANDALS BOOK

Eloquent Vandals The History of Nuart, is out now. Spanning over 5 years, 304 pages of exclusive images with essays from Tristan Manco and more...

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