As written in the third issue, Ready Set Go!
Ebony Anderson-Brown, Editor in Chief
Alex Joseph, Photographer
I’d hate to make this into a class lesson, but a lot of people have forgotten the meaning of art. As cliche as that may sound, it is in fact the truth. In regards to the dispute happening in Bushwick, this is an argument I have heard over and over again. What is art? According to Merriam-Webster, art is “something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings.” The key point from this definition that should resonate in your brains is that it expresses important ideas or feelings. That is what the local graffiti artists of Bushwick are doing.
For years, graffiti was always looked down upon. Based on the Tony Silver documentary, Style Wars (1983), anyone can attest that graffiti and it’s participants were an “eyesore” during the late 20th century. In fact, a lot of those kids in the film were doing it because they really just wanted to make a mark on the city. Everyday, kids would meet at the 149th Street train station in the Bronx to talk about what train they were going to “bomb” next. They would exchange ideas and show each other’s work. They called it the writer’s bench. The majority of those kids didn’t see graffiti any more than just having their names ride on the side of subway car from one part of the city to the other. At the time Hip Hop was becoming popular, alongside break dancing. It was the prime expression of its time, and graffiti was the language.
Today, there isn’t much of a difference when it comes to graffiti artists, especially the residents (or former residents) of Bushwick. Many of you may or may not realize where Bushwick stands within the art community, let alone its standing against gentrification. Early of last year, it was brought the attention of the public that Bushwick was under attack. In some people’s eyes, the gentrifiers were the antagonist, while to many others it was the residents and graffiti artists.
We should all understand the concept of gentrification. If not, here’s the definition. Gentrification is the process of renewal and rebuilding accompanying the influx of middle class or affluent people into deteriorating areas that often displaces residents. Going back to the issue in Bushwick, commissioned artists are painting murals to bring in people from other states and countries to live there. With the understanding of gentrification, you might see how bad of an issue this is. According to NYC.gov, the total housing units in Bushwick from 1990 to 2010 alone has increased tremendously. Unfortunately the number of Blacks and Hispanics that were originally living in Bushwick has decreased, while the White Non-hispanic population has increased.
Bushwick was known to house several Blacks and Hispanic residents. Now it’s becoming an industrial site where people can go and drink coffee and shop at Trader Joe’s. Individuals like those of the Bushwick Collective have no issue with helping gentrifiers beautify the area so that foreign individuals can move into the neighborhood.
Joe Ficalora, curator and founder of the Bushwick Collective hires artists to paint the facades of buildings to diminish “graffiti,” which he considers to be an eyesore. Sounds familiar? It wouldn’t be so much of an issue if he allowed local artists and other graffiti writers space to paint as well. Of course, this is not the case. Ficalora is against letters or murals that look too much like graffiti. Yet, some people like Carlos Reyes, think that some of the work produced by the Bushwick Collective is “unoriginal” and “played out.”
Artists are furious with Ficalora, and the Bushwick Collective as a whole. Graffiti artist and writer, Zexor has been defacing and tagging the art created by the Bushwick Collective. In fact, he is the reason this frenzy stirred up last year.
Local artist, Flash Ketchum, believes that “they have been beautifying Bushwick to the gentrified squatters liking.” People from other countries do come to New York to see the work displayed by many, but it is preferred by residents of New York City and local artists if the work was done by artists that live here. Ficalora hired artists from Mexico and Austria to collaborate on a piece which is now on display in Bushwick.
While visiting the site of the Bushwick Collective, we asked the businesses there how they felt about the Bushwick Collective, and in a separate question, we asked about the local graffiti artists. Although we did not get any response about the graffiti artists, majority of them praised the Bushwick Collective. Why? Well, because at the end of the day they’re getting business from all the tourists coming in to see the murals commissioned by Bushwick Collective.
We asked pedestrians around the area where they were from and 6 out of 10 said they were from a country in Europe. 3 out of 10 were from another borough, and 1 out of 10 said they were from another state.
Going back to my first point stated previously in the beginning, graffiti is art, no matter what the next person says. Even if it’s Nadine Whitted, Bushwick’s Community Board district manager who said to Metro, “Art is art. Graffiti is graffiti…There’s a distinct difference.”
Art is a way of expressing one’s self, and in this case, these graffiti artists have no problem with expressing themselves on this issue. Local artists have every reason to disagree with all that the Bushwick Collective is doing, and what is happening overall in the Bushwick community. People are taking a stand to this issue, and regardless of what people want to call it; The Bushwick Civil War or The Bushwick Graffiti War, they all refer to the same dispute. Is Bushwick and all of its natives, including the local artists, falling under the control of gentrifiers? Only you can be the answer to that.