I met up with a few Mexican artists over on Dekalb and Spencer Court on a Sunday afternoon. They have a show up at Dorian Grey Gallery in the East Village. “12 Mexican Street Artists”, but I keep wanting to call it ’12 Mexican Muralists.’ But calling them muralists may be shorting the artists. The exhibition is of their works, mostly ink on paper, some acrylics, and small intergalactic sculptures in traditional Mexican dress. On view until June 15th, the works show the careful consideration of what stays and what goes. Some of the artists are Street Artists like anywhere else in the world, some are Muralists. I think they all straddle the two.
When I asked one of the artists, Bebo, with his beautiful smile, who told me that yes they were planning on painting some walls while they were in town for just a few days, but did not surprise me that the location would be out in Brooklyn. The location, Bed-Stuy near the Bedford-Nostrand G Train stop, my next thoughts immediately went to the significance. They‘re gonna get a good taste of the epic changes going down right now. I knew these foreign artists, particularly Mexican, would draw a spectrum of reaction.
As I walked over from the tonier section of Bed-Stuy (we’re calling it ‘Stuy-Heights’ just ask Halstead what their plans are), down Dekalb past Marcy Ave, just up from Hart Street where I lived for a short while, and where every morning I was greeted by a woman ravaged by the era of the crack epidemic I assumed. Keep walking down Dekalb ’til you see the Home Depot, and the Job Corp training center behind it. I remembered this trek from when I moved to Williamsburg a decade ago, Social Services is down this way.
Just about at my destination I more than laughed, asking myself where did all of the white people come from? Aside from the Hasidim, this neighborhood was a mecca of black people, and various Latino(a). This is one of those places where culture actually spawns from—good, bad, or indifferent. I hope we appreciated it, while we had it.
The first mural I came upon on Dekalb was Fusca’s, the only female in the show, and to the right a piece by Bebo. At that moment it was only Kazy working, he’s French. He told me that he and Fusca are working together on this piece, preparing for future joint work that they will be making over the summer in France. Fusca’s is more traditional muralist, cubist influences, a woman with golden eyes at ease resting against a loving dog—her arms folded behind her head. The sidewalk becomes the studio, and I was mostly silent just watching and taking photographs, careful not to disturb the artist at work. Kazy then told me to check out one of the other artists working in a garden of sorts, I went down took the left, and another left, ‘about 20 metres past and you will see them’. Sego had just finished spraying the purple skeleton of his garden creature, Kapta was there documenting everything with his lens.
On my way in support of a group of artists, I tangled with this idea of all kinds of creative activity happening at a time of turbulent change. Like water destroying a beaver dam, one thing leads to another and the landscape looks and feels entirely different. A once working class neighborhood now has a fully occupied high-rise condo building jutting out and above the neighborhood’s rooftop horizon. Carefree newcomers walk around easy-breezy, with that kind of swagger that one carries when you are Home. Home, 70% of Bedford-Stuyvesant’s population is represented by black people—it is their cultural center, a nucleus that has served as they had served for Italian, Irish, and Jewish immigrants among many others. Neighborhoods that are definitive promulgators of cultural values, and self-worth. Through a vast network of associations, they provide social and welfare stability. What segregation (across the globe) undid, these neighborhoods attempt to repair.
White people aren’t the only new thing in the community, the aesthetics of art and design is changing as well. It is the objects of change which people readily unleash their inner feelings about. Like all new things, some of it comes from outside, and some from the inside. It came as no surprise when Bebo told me that indeed the reactions to their presence, projected onto their murals, reflected the many perspectives of the shifting demographics—some people liked the work, while other’s expressed reaction to an invasion ‘why are you bringing your art into our neighborhoods?, What’s wrong with our art?’. And there were those who left written notes of appreciation, and still others who walked by without a care.
I met Sego and Kapta (a photographer who has documented Sego’s work for several years) in the garden on Kosciusko, as well as Ras Levi—Jamaican born, long-time local creative and one-time traveling spiritual guide to The Walers. Sego grew up in the jungles of Oaxaca, and now lives in Mexico City. He recognizes that the need for social justice is a global movement. His work believes in protest, yet his forms are organic choosing to participate in the dialogue dating back to Diego Rivera through the auto-suggestion of interconnectedness and cyclical paths of cultural evolution. Often he does this by including fungi in his work, an element needing specific conditions to continue to grow and thrive. At all times there are organic forms; various creatures from the trees and water—things that surrounded him in Oaxaca, some in Mexico City but no longer.
Kapta commented to Ras Levi on the obvious period of transition these parts of Brooklyn are experiencing. “Change is good,” was Levi’s only response—spoken like a free spirit. These muralist have a good deal of tradition to both engage and be free from.
I imagine being from a culture that holds tight to tradition, can make it a challenge to free yourself from something as enigmatic as traditional culture. Engaging with the old, and creating what is new. Art for art sake, art for protest, art for visual philosophical explorations. Interior and exterior dialogues. Most challenging, is the ability to do so with grace—for Bebo the fox who does what it wants when it wants; Fusca for her rounded forms full of life and sensuality; Sego and Seno for skeletal remains that give life to new forms; Undo for his shimmering golden eagles. This is the work of grace in the face of change.
Photos of the show and the artists working on the streets of Brooklyn