As an observer, it’s impossible not to feel the weight of memories from September 11th, standing eye level with One World Trade Center (Freedom Tower). Yet amidst the feeling of immense grief and sadness for those we lost, Freedom Tower is a stark reflection of how New York City rose up together to put the pieces of the city back together.
The 60-some street artists who contributed to the ART4WTC exhibit mirrored this notion of unity and strength in their own unique way, truly honouring the plurality of voices that is, New York City.
Hailing from all parts of the world, each street artist contributed their own beat to create the greater story of the exhibit itself.
Joe Iurato and Chris Stain paid homage to those who helped rebuild after 9/11 in a very literal way through their mural of a construction worker at ground zero, illustrating the physical and emotional components of the 9/11 clean up. Joe, who was born and raised in New Jersey, briefly worked at a restaurant at the top of the World Trade Center and hadn’t been back since 2001. Chris, who grew up in Baltimore, Maryland, focuses a lot of his work in tribute to the working class, making their mural a natural collaboration.
Chinon Maria dedicated her mural to the history of New York City, from the city’s foundation to the future generation of citizens. Working directly with middle school kids, Chinon asked each one of them what they loved about their city and she created a mural based on their responses. The result was a colourful and bold mural that encapsulated the idea of a melting pot. The face in the middle represents the offspring of future generations with an expression of defiance, passion and intrigue that forces the observer to reflect on the severity of the future and the importance of empowering all youth to lead with empathy.
Cern, a native of New York City currently based in Brooklyn, also celebrated the voice of New York with his mural, “We Trust More than We Hate,” that depicts the inside of a subway car filled with a set of surreal characters. Cern’s sub-terrain perspective of New York City illuminates the unspoken trust amongst the city’s occupants and their ability to coexist, albeit plugged-in and tuned out to their neighbour on the subway.
Brolga, who is originally from Australia and now based in Brooklyn, is known for his bright, pop-styled wheat pastes that shined through in his “Forbidden Fruit” painted cut outs. Brolga said he knew this was never going to be an ordinary exhibition, with a 360-degree view of New York City as a backdrop. Brolga also said he was very cognisant of the curators’ ability to go out of their way to gather prolific up-and-coming street artists and exhibit them alongside the heavyweights, making for an accurate snapshot of the current street scene in New York today.
Chris RWK grew up in New York and remembers 9/11 all too well, watching as the New York City skyline he knew change drastically. For him, contributing to the ART4WTC exhibit meant paying respect to New York and honouring the strength of the city to rebuild post 9/11. Chris’s famous robot characters can be found along the elevator bank, interacting with the elevators as if they were human and right there with you.
David Hollier, originally from the UK, has always been fascinated by U.S history and used the text from the Hamilton play script to create a mural of the $10 bill. This unique method of creating large-scale images from the detail of small text is David’s speciality, letting the words inspire the colours and images for each mural. It is not ironic that David chose this image for this space given the history of how Wall Street was founded to what it stands for today. For David, the exhibit represented the growing acceptance of street art into the mainstream art world.
Lolo, a Bay Area artist, was intrigued by the idea of paying tribute to the streets and the twin towers that give heart to the city in a space that was so important to the collective identity and healing. Lauren let the atmosphere of the space influence the way she made the marks on the wall and created a stunning mural of a female heroine, who unmistakably resembles Lady Liberty, riding a red and white striped tiger. For Lauren, an artist whose purpose is built on the coexistence between the public and art, this exhibit was a “love letter to the city of New York.”
Irish street artist, David Uda (Duda) created a memorial mural with 2,606 flowers, in memory of each individual who died in 9/11. David’s mural is titled “In Bloom” representing the changing nature of the area with colours and shapes indicative of regeneration.
Dominic Pattinson created a colourful mural of zebras aptly titled “Stand Out Stand Proud,” to empower everyone to stand up for who they are and what they represent. For Dom, this exhibit pushes the notion of street art as a recognised form of real art.
The exhibit also bridged a connection between the private and public sector as Robert Marcucci, the Executive Producer reflects, “What I find so entertaining is this contradiction of terms on all levels. And the fact that it is nestled in this very corporate structure gives it the attention I think it deserves – a proper look at a contemporary art movement born out of an extremely stressed fabric of modern society, that is evolving more and more each day, blending various styles of art and sending a message out to larger audiences.”
It’s also worth noting the rarity of up-and-coming street artists working side by side with some of the more well-known, influential artists in such an open-ended space. For Caitlin Crews, one of the main curators, this was an important aspect along with the chance to get street art featured in a gallery setting. For Caitlin, it was a “conscious effort to acknowledge the city through a contemporary lens of street art,” lending more credo to the street art movement. For Josh Geyer, one of the other main curators, the project appeared to be the perfect way to connect artists to new opportunities while creating a larger than life exhibition inspired by the city it overlooks.
The exhibit comes at a unique time of rebirth for the lower part of Manhattan, specifically the Financial District, as well as for the street art movement that is quickly gaining traction in the mainstream arts. By taking street artists – the previously stereotyped vandals of our cities – and bringing them together to create a shared experience on a massive scale, placed street art in a new light – making the exhibit an ode to New York City and also to the power of street art.
Written by Tawny Saez