Street artivism is where street art and activism intersect. In a world where protest marches have become more like parades and being inundated on social media with petitions, memes, news and opinions can have a numbing effect, outrage fatigue can leave us feeling anesthetized and apathy can arise from the sheer enormity of issues confronting us. Street artivism can disrupt a person’s day and it is the element of surprise that catches them with their guards down. This moment is an opportunity to bypass rigid political ideas and remap cognitive patterns. This is a potential juncture of disarmament, where the emotional impact of a message can rewire and perhaps begin to change a person’s perspective, if not at the very least; to plant a seed.
Street artivism places something uncommon in a common space. The commons are the public spheres we all share, the common ground we all navigate on the daily. By intervening in the normalcy, by culture jamming everyday reality, we can sneak in a message and communicate something out of the ordinary. The tattered appearance of an aging wheatpaste has the potential to draw the eye more than the more refined and slick advertisements we are more accustomed to seeing. It plays on people’s primal programming; the hyper vigilance to the negative that makes someone look at a wheatpaste on a random door. Having an irregular shape and appearance catches attention because rough sketches seem more intimate and vulnerable. It’s the fear people have of their own vulnerability that beckons the eye to something that looks unfinished, not perfect, slightly ripped or containing paint drips.
There is a practice in certain cultures to intentionally add a mistake to a weaving or beaded pattern. It’s known as the spirit stitch or the spirit bead and its purpose is to show the human hand as well as provide an opening for the spirit to enter. In some ways, the practice of street artivism is the spirit bead of the commons, a place where inspiration can enter and disrupt the banality of routines both in the physical sense and the intellectual. If we can get in those cognitive pathways and trip those practiced belief systems up, that’s where we might begin to dismantle racism or xenophobia or chip away at the denial that there is, in fact, a serious climate crisis.
I believe that the emotional impact of seeing intense eyes staring out of a painting increases the emotional impact on the viewer. Eyes demand eyes to look. Staring into the eyes of our original caregiver provided a powerful imprint which remains as a sort of portal for entry into one’s psyche.
I think of myself as a landscape painter navigating the terrain of human emotion. Elements of topographical maps highlight the interconnectedness of the human body with the planet. The elevation lines used in cartography echo the mark making used to describe the human body in two dimensional form. One could percieve maps as mankind’s attempt to subjugate the land and as such it provides a curious juxtaposition with activists breaking free from the confines of borders and colonization.