Behold the sacred arithmetic of Art + Activism + Commerce.
Dutchman Peter Claesson gathered 40 painters and sculptors from 22 countries to create Europe's largest outdoor exhibition in the Polígono de San Pablo neighborhood of Sevilla in the South of Spain. Claesson asked each artist to contribute a large scale piece that speaks to a different aspect of the United Nation's Millenium Development Goals. The themes of the work range from women's rights, peace, education, clean water for all and disarmament to consumerism and globalization. Besides having pumped some money into San Pablo through partnerships with local caterers, bus companies, construction companies for equipment, and art supply stores, Claesson plans to work with Seville's Tourism Office to train guides for the exhibition. "Not only have the artists brought their point of view to this neighborhood from their own corners of the world, but we'll have stimulated tourism in the neighborhood, and given tourists a reason to come here. I think it will be easier to do this project in other places once people see the good it's doing," said Claesson. Indeed, he's made a life's work of weaving art and travel in a tapestry of progress, most notably in Honduras in '04 with both Art for All Honduras and Honduras 24, an exhibit of about 30 grand photos taken all over the country, none of which depicted a murder (for which Honduras is known). Thus many of the artists in Sevilla had already met one another in Honduras. Needless to say, there's also a party going on in San Pablo.
And so it's been a glorious time. I've accompanied the artists on private tours and cocktail parties through the Parliament Building, and the Royal Palacio. I've enjoyed the finest of 5-course Spanish fare, complete with unlimited bottles of red and white wines. But the greatest has been the time spent talking to this global mish mosh of artists. I've shared cañas and great conversations with great young artists including, Ash, out of Portugal, Ise and Finok, the graffiti wunderkinds behind murals both in Coney Island and Bowery in NYC, and Eric Okdeh, who's just completed a mural inside Philadelphia's City Hall. When it comes to street art, and I would venture to say, socially integrated art, this group is comprised of the best of the best. Seriously, some travel the world charging several thousand a week for their pieces. Here's a look at what I've seen thus far....
|Eva, day one.|
|Eva, day 2|
What's been most interesting is to watch San Pablo participate. Working on the ground, Eva (pictured above) is constantly besieged by folks with... concerns. She's worried that Catholic Seville is not ready for her HIV/AIDS prevention, safe sex message, complete with big colorful condoms. I think other artists may rub the conservative south the wrong way as well, but because unlike Eva, they're not Spanish, so they have no idea. Sometimes ignorance really is bliss.
|Vicky Camacho at work|
One of the highlights for me was welding in a skirt and lace top with the great Vicky Camacho out of Ecuador. Working with fire and iron made me feel even more feminine, somehow. Perhaps by contrast to the environment: a big industrial plant just outside of the city where the only other woman was a tiny blonde administrator. Camacho, renowned for the movement, flow, and softness of her iron sculptures, taught me how to use angles and body weight to bend the iron with minimal force. The plan was to interview her and bounce, but when an indigenous woman says, 'Hold this. Close your eyes. I won't burn you', you do it.
|Ash, day 2|
|AEC & Waone, Ukraine|
There's a crazy story involving the Ukranians and the Seville police force, but I'm saving that for the article. Along with Victor Ash (a Portuguese with a French accent), and Finok, they've got a highly visible wall facing a main road. As a writer blank pages terrify me. Can't imagine having to face a huge blank wall. Speaking of faces....
|Stephan & Tseluyko, Russia|
Regardless of origin, street artists almost always have common roots in graffiti. Paris '85, where Ash remembers attending an Africa Bambata show. South America in the late 80's, where street art as subversive practice preceded the fall of one dictatorship after another. This was neither so different, nor disconnected from Eastern Europe, early 90's, as walls were falling and unions dissolving. These days they're all traveling the world, painting, sculpting, and trying not to let freedom pilfer the edge that made them interesting in the first place.
I'm headed back to do interviews with latecomers I missed, as well as to get feedback from the residents.