Hope for immigration, incarceration in new public artworks
From the Italian Market to N. 5th Street, this isn't your average public arts exhibition.
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By now you’ve probably caught glimpses of Open Source, the city’s latest public arts campaign which will run throughout October 2015 (and in some cases beyond). Mural Arts spearheaded the project alongside Boston-based independent curator Pedro Alonzo. What are we looking at here? An outdoor display of artworks that challenge the the standard definition of “public art.”
It consists of 14 different projects in different sites around the city. Each one addresses its own issue, so there’s no cohesive bond here except the people and the city itself. Immigration, recycling, mass incarceration, displacement, economic reinvestment in underserved communities — these are but a handful of the problems that make up Philadelphia’s urban fabric.
AL DIA joined a private tour to get a sneak peak of the exhibition. Some of the Open Sources’ projects haven’t been unveiled as of late last week, but here’s an overview of four selected works. For a full list of the artworks and their backstories, check out Mural Arts’ Open Source website or explore the hashtag #OpenSourcePHL.
“Familias Separadas,” by Michelle Angela Ortiz
Locations: City Hall courtyard; LOVE Park; 9th st. & Washington Ave.; 6th & Tasker St.; 6th and Callowhill.
Ortiz’s stencils, done in collaboration with the JUNTOS youth group, can be found in multiple locations throughout the city. Collectively, they deal with the experiences of immigrants affected by deportation. “Se siente el miedo” (“You/he/she can feel the fear”), pictured above, stretches across the intersection of 9th Street and Washington Ave. in the Italian Market.
“Still Life with Flower,” by Heeseop Yoon
Location: 906 League St. (Italian Market)
This is the first piece Yoon’s that has been created for a large-scale outdoor public work. One reason behind that is her chosen medium — stencilled tape on alumalite panels, which can’t be reproduced on most exterior spaces like a traditional mural can. Pedro Alonzo, Open Source's curator, praised Yoon’s work as “clutter, accumulation and chaos rendered in masking tape.” Yoon chose the Italian Market site for the area’s multicultural vibrancy and fast-paced energy, both of which are reflected in the work.
“Turnover,” by the Dufala Brothers
Location: Bok, 1901 S. 9th St.
The interactive welding space created in the old Bok school is one of the less conventional projects in the exhibition. Only about 4 or 5 of the public artworks are permanent, says Jane Golden, director of the Mural Arts program. “Turnover” may be a case for a positive shift away from permanence.
“I have a different attitude about murals and public art now than I did a long time ago,” Golden told a trolley bus full of reporters. “I used to think ‘it’s here forever,’ and that’s just an unrealistic attitude. Because a city evolves and changes. A city is fluid and dynamic.”
Inside the repurposed Bok school — a recent source of heated controversy for other reasons — the brothers Steven and Billy Dufala have created their own repurposing space. They have already begun buying their way towards 500 pounds of recycled aluminum from local scrappers. Throughout the month they will be engaging the community to help them recycle the metal into everything from functional address plates for nearby rowhomes to more abstract art peices.
While not traditional in its definition of “public art,” Golden hopes that this space will engage the city in a similar way murals do: “When it goes away, the memory of it should be so powerful that, as a city, it makes us yearn for more.”
“The Stamp of Incarceration: James Anderson,” by Shepard Fairey
Location: 1131 Callowhill Street
This isn’t the first or even the second public commission that international superartist Shepard Fairey has gotten in Philly. You may know of the now-altered Rocket Cat Cafe imagery on Frankford Ave., or further down the road, his massive 2014 mural in Fishtown. For Open Source, the issue at hand is prison reform.
Fairey, who has a criminal record of his own, interviewed folks involved in Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice Program. Two new murals — designed as celebratory stamps for formerly incarcerated — are only one part of the piece. Then there are mass-produced stickers that Fairey will distribute throughout the city.
Is the permanence of this mural on the wall say something about the foreseeably permanent problem of mass incarceration in the U.S.?
“I’d love it if this mural were obsolete tomorrow, and they were like, ‘Let’s paint a flower over it or something.’ But I don’t think that’s going to be the case,” Fairey said.