I’ve long been interested in how artists use their work towards social justice and social change. “Artists are in a unique position to critique institutional power as they are both the victims of oppression… as well as its enablers” Ilana Novick recently wrote for Hyperallergic.
In the wake of the 2016 US presidential election we’ve seen artists, curators, and art institutions respond to what is happening. MoMA, for example, in response to Trump’s Muslim Ban, replaced several works in its permanent collection galleries with works by artists from Muslim-majority nations, affected by the ban. Nasty Women Exhibition demonstrated solidarity among artists in support of women’s rights and access to reproductive healthcare.
Recently, I met with someone who is “on the ground” working every day to support artists and collectives creating work that enacts social change. Joelle Te Paske is Programs and Communications Manager at A Blade of Grass, a NYC-based arts nonprofit dedicated to socially engaged art. I asked Joelle about using art as a tool for social change, artists’ role in local communities, and some of Joelle’s current favorite projects.
Sara Radin is a writer and curator living in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. Full time, she is the Youth Culture Editor for WGSN. Outside of work, Sara is the co-founder of It’s Not Personal and she has previously curated 20+ events including workshops, pop-up exhibits and more in New York, Los Angeles, Montreal and London.
Recently, Sara and I met to discuss her work in today’s political climate, and about her current project, a growing anthology and collective that creates opportunities for women to share their dating experiences in a positive environment.
Tony “Rubin” Sjöman grew up in Bergsjön, Sweden, and began doing graffiti when he was 9 years old.Painting under the name Rubin415, he splits his time between large scale murals, and studio paintings, specializing in a unique geometric style, and a clean aesthetic, reminiscent of Scandinavian design. He uses fine line, and abstract shapes, meticulously painted with a very specific palette and many shades of grey.
Rubin’s style is an elaborate evolution of his longtime work with graffiti. The precise curves, lines, and shapes originate from his adopted graffiti name “Rubin” and along with shapes inspired by the surrounding urban landscape, appear in an abstracted form throughout both his studio and street art work. The 415 in his name is a homage to his hometown Bergsjön in Sweden. The thin copper lines accenting some of the pieces are a tribute to Rubin’s father who was a welder.
We met in his studio in East Williamsburg to talk about his current projects, the influence of his Scandinavian roots, and the effects street art has on neighborhoods.
A common thread in Pixote’s work is its massive size, matched by ambitious height. His tags are hard to miss. I’ve seen his unique graffiti everywhere—from billboards to high walls all over Brooklyn and NYC—so often that it seems ubiquitous.
A piece that always comes to mind is the tag on the pale yellow wall on the popular corner of Bedford and Nassau north of McCarren park. The giant writing, juxtaposed by the Aaron Swartz memorial mural (by BAMN) seems so iconic that I associate the entire intersection of Williamsburg and Greenpoint with the sight.
My curiosity grew stronger as I learned more about the artist behind the famous tags, the influence of his Brazilian roots, and the mysterious Pixação. We met in a coffeeshop in Greenpoint, and our conversation went far beyond graffiti, as we talked about spirituality, music, and social consciousness.