It was once the godfather of public art himself, Banksy, who wrote, “If graffiti changed anything, it would be illegal.” In one of his most iconic tags in central London, keeping true to his trademark satirical wit. Public art has its ups and downs; once upon a time, aka the graffiti/urban art boom of the 1980s, the nameless and oftentimes faceless works of artists were repeatedly shooed off as simple-minded products of vandalism and mischief. Later, front-lined by Basquiat, Haring, and Fairey, public art redeemed much of its social and political weight. And with such a charge of activism, coupled with incredible aesthetic execution, public artists have been the messengers of some of the most provocative thoughts. So, we celebrate 7 unsanctioned artworks from around the world that have boldly gone against the ‘ok’ of authority to make quite the stamp on how we observe and participate in our public world.
BRAZIL. JR. In his world traveling series Women Are Heroes, JR visited and worked in seven countries, including Brazil, seeking women “struggling in their everyday lives.” He pays tribute to what he considers to be the backbones of society, yet the primary victims of war, crime, and rape. He took portraits of the local women in Favela de Jour in Rio and pasted large murals on and around their homes, marking their confrontational presence and solidarity. The women are the centerpieces, more visible than ever, and keeping a watchful eye on their favela below.
FRANCE. Issac Codral. (via Kinsey Lane Sullivan). Miniature, sympathetic, absurd, and grim, Codral’s hauntingly apocalyptical sculptures are scattered thoughtfully in the unlikely nooks of the city. His small, yet incredibly powerful works of a rather ‘sinking society’ highlight “our devalued relation with nature as human beings.” Almost in hiding, his works are a tribute to issues ignored: climate change, human co-existence, and survival.
EAST BERLIN. Dimitri Vrubel, My God, Help Me to Survive This Deadly Love. A 1990 painting of former U.S. president Ronald Regan and former leader of the Soviet Union Mikhail Gorbachev embracing with a tight and everlasting kiss. Although the photograph was taken of Leonid Brezhnev and Erich Honecker, this image is notoriously mistaken for the two more renowned leaders. It points to their unusually close and “unique” relationship, especially with their working together to end the Cold War.
Middelkerke, BELGIUM. Shark. Once again, Cerny reproduces a life-size Saddam Hussein in his underpants with his hands tied behind his back and a noose around his neck floating in a large glass tank of formaldehyde. This piece takes from the iconic Damien Hirst’s The Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living, where the British artist displays an actual Shark in the same composition. Ironically, the artist chooses to immortalize Hussein, but counteracts his memorial with a dark humored title Shark.
PRAGUE. David Cerny. This is the same artist who painted a Soviet tank–that served as a war memorial–pink and got arrested. This time, Czech artist and national “hooligan” Cerny floats a 10-foot purple hand, extending an elongated middle finger near the Charles Bridge in Prague. It was only a few days before the parliamentary elections that the anti-communist Cerny extended this colossal middle finger towards the Prague Castle, where the presidency is seated.
WEST BANK. Banksy. Possibly one of his riskiest pursuits yet, Banksy headed to the Israel-Palestine wall divide and put up ‘windows’ of utopian images as would be seen through the barricade. It was reported rifle-armed guards stood and watched this daredevil in his progress. With this work (although satirical and prankster as ever) he opens up a divide, although arbitrary, to make a link-way to the other side. A spiraling conflict lasting over several decades and the most intractable and horrific war of our generation, Banksy ‘reconciles’ in a matter of minutes.
NEW YORK. SABER. During autumn of 2012, artist SABER hired skywriting planes to tag the phrase “Defend the Arts” in response to Mitt Romney’s 2012 interview where the former presidential candidate spoke on shrinking “the subsidy for the National Endowment for the Arts.” His dot-style message lasted seconds and was arched across the Brooklyn Bridge visible from a 20- mile radius. SABER once again defended the critical building blocks of society (artist) against Right wing conservatives in possibly the quickest Graffiti stunt in recent memory.