Streets Art Talking gets political about art and housing in Boston
If you’ve ever taken a quick walk around Boston, you’ve seen the amazing splashes of color brightening up the sides of old-school bodegas and newly developed high-rises alike. Street art and graffiti have always been a part of the cultural landscape. As artist Moses Mitchell put it during the Streets Art Talking panel this past Thursday: Since humanity’s emergence, “we’ve always written on walls to communicate our stories.” Only recently have major artistic institutions recognized the heavy cultural significance of the art that graces our cityscapes.
Patronicity, Street Theory, and the Underground Mural Project teamed up to bring this political conversation about street art and graffiti to the South End last week as part of a larger initiative to “transform over 100,000 sq. ft. of walls at the Underground Ink park from a previously underutilized space between Boston’s South End and South Boston neighborhoods into a unique urban park and visual playground.”
“We thought it was very important to reflect the diversity of the city in form of graffiti art and street art,” Liza Quinonez, one of the organizers of the event, told the Dig. With a panel of renowned creatives, Streets Art Talking delved deeper than the spray paint and wall murals.
“In the ’70s there really was no name for street art,” New York art legend Cey Adams told the audience. “Now it seems that street art is a way of identifying murals… graffiti, on the other hand, has been overseen as an art form.”
Other artists on the panel included Boston-based legends Rob “Problak” Gibbs and Victor “Marka27” Quinonez, LA-based Moses Mitchell and Vyal, Nepali artist Imagine, and Karin Goodfellow from the City of Boston.
All of the artists gave us their unique takes on graf. Imagine, who fuses her native Nepali alphabet with American graffiti in her work, told us her story of moving from Nepal to Boston and learning about graffiti and hip-hop under the tutelage of fellow panel member Problak. For Problak, graffiti has always been a part of the city of Boston, and he cites Boston’s city walls as some of his first exposures to art.
“The art that I do is for our people, it’s our voice. I use it through the lens of hip-hop—I’m speaking a language that’s in our barbershops, in our community centers.”
The inevitable issue of gentrification was raised by an audience member. Boston is one of the most rapidly gentrifying cities in the USA, but that hasn’t seemed to dampen the revival of street art. Panel member Moses Mitchell gave a somewhat controversial opinion on the topic.
“I don’t see anything wrong with people moving in. Renters should make it a priority to buy in their neighborhoods.” This drew criticism from some audience members and panelists, but despite the back-and-forth, Cey Adams pointed out one concrete fact: “The reality is developers are getting smarter… they’re creating the model of gentrification in every city… we are the ones who create culture, and they want to participate.”
Street and graffiti artists are the tastemakers, and now, with more canvases available in the form of new developments and high-rises, these artists have a chance to capitalize and dictate where they want the culture to go.
Despite the controversy surrounding street art and graffiti—gentrification and lack of institutional recognition included—all of the participants concluded that the future, especially around the murals going up in this city and others, is bright.
“Keeping an open mind is one of the most progressive things Boston can do as far as cultivating an arts culture… We’re just getting started,” Marka27 said. “We’ve been doing this for over 20 years and we’re not stopping.”