Brooklyn Street Art recently kicked off the 7th part of Urban Nation’s Project M series. We caught up with BSA directors Steven P. Harrington and Jaime Rojo to get the lowdown on their part of the project.
VNA: So, why did you guys put this together?
Steve: We had a couple of goals when putting ‘Persons of Interest’ together – one was to counter the cultural imperialism that can happen in these large street art/mural festivals around the globe right now. It is sort of in response to a critique we have heard in the last few years as an international circuit of recurring Street Art “names” go into a host city and leave work that people can’t relate to personally. We wanted to leave work that people in Berlin could feel connected to.
Jaime: We also asked each of the 12 artists to do research and produce a portrait of someone who lived in Germany or who lives in Brooklyn and is from Germany – a cultural exchange that highlights the real connection that Brooklyn and Berlin artists communities have had for decades, something we’re both personally familiar with as artists. The results have been nothing short of amazing (and gratifying) to us, because each of the artists chose people who they also relate to – realist and Dadaist artists, social and political activists, a writer and poet, an icon of the silver screen, Turkish immigrants, even a German photographer who lives next door to one of the artists in Brooklyn.
VNA: How did you choose the artists for this show?
Steve: Since it is a portraiture show, that narrowed the pool – yet we still had to select carefully because there are many talented people doing figurative work at this moment. We decided to get a cross section of disciplines and practices – people who approach the street from different angles.
Jaime: So we have stencillists, a paper cutter, muralists, a conceptual artist, folk aerosolist, a few former graff writers, wheat pasters, – art school people and self-taught; It’s a really diverse collection who all brought someone to life with their art.
VNA: What was it like working in Berlin?
Jaime: Truthfully, it was a blast! – maybe because we plan so much or because we have a level of familiarity and trust with the artists who we invited – so even though the environment and the language and the art supplies were different from what people were used to, we were so impressed with how collaborative the atmosphere was.
Steve: I think the fact that the city itself is slaughtered with graff and Street Art in large swaths across buildings and walls – that totally energized the environment for these artists and the whole proceedings took on an air of celebration. It also helped that Yasha Young and the women of the UN are so professional and positive and organized and ready to help us problem-solve. Also we made a music video where we all broke into the museum space at night! What’s not to like?
VNA: Did you get a positive reaction from the locals/artists?
Steve: Yes! Jaime and I have been artists and creatives in Brooklyn for years and our artist collective in Williamsburg in the early 2000s actually did a gallery show exchange with a collective in Wedding, a district of Berlin, so we knew the atmosphere was similar in many ways. We had been on the ground for about 2 hours and Jaime was already on a bicycle with Various and Gould, who were generously giving him a tour of some walls. Most impressive locals? Two of our honored “Persons of Interest” actually came to the opening – Katharina Oguntoye, the feminist and Afro-German activist came with her wife and met NohJColey, who had painted her portrait. Also Berlin had reversed a ban on Muslim headscarves a day before the opening, and the woman at the center of that story who had challenged the courts for that right, Fereshta Ludin, also attended the opening and met GAIA, who had painted her.
Jaime: We were really thrilled by the turnout all week – to have a great interaction with UN folks (including board members) and new artists we never met and friends we’ve only known through email as well – who we met or who stopped by to say hi or to come to the opening – David Walker, Strøk, REKA, Herakut, Case MACCLAIM , Vermibus, Mark Rigney, Aida Bragstarr, Onur Dinc, NeverCrew, DotDotDot, Schwarzmaler, Andreas Englund, Alex Diamond, Above, Dave the Chimp, Various and Gould, James Bullough, Tom Auto64. Is it okay to say smorgasburg? We really thank everyone from the UN and the other Street Art press who gave us support.
For more information on Brooklyn Street Art, Urban Nation, Project M and the artists, check the links below: