In the summer of 2015, I debuted "The Democratic Art Form," my own graffiti project in New York City. I drafted two designs that were significant to my experience in the city and stenciled them in various locations in Manhattan. Under the guidance of Professors Anne-Maria Makhulu and Jeff Storer, I spent a summer researching the history and intersectional nuances of American street art in the very place where it all started, New York City. Along with my stenciled artwork, I submitted a written analysis. The title of the project, "The Democratic Art Form," refers to street art itself, which I believe merits such a description because of its accessibility for creators and viewers. In fact, the only concrete barrier that is imposed upon street art derives from our judicial system and its intersection with privatization of property.
HEART OF THE CITY
I found inspiration for this design from my daily commute on the New York subway system. During my four weeks here in the city, the subway was an essential lifeline, and the subway map my trusty guide. More often than not, I had to scrutinize the map and its web of colorful lines. I was, of course, not the only one in the city who considered the subway system indispensable. On a macro level, the metro is in some way, the heart of the city, connecting the different corners of Manhattan and providing inhabitants a relatively reliable method of travel that is generally accessible to anyone regardless of race, gender, and class (when it come to accessibility, MTA still has some work to do). The subway is not perfect, but one cannot deny that it is an integral part of the city. I wanted to create a piece of artwork as a tribute to the metro, so I placed the subway map over a medically accurate outline of a human heart. With that, “Heart of the City” was born.
IN THE PUBLIC EYE
My second design drew inspiration from Jane Jacob’s book, “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” The book’s second chapter, “The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety,” addressed the significance of sidewalks in contributing to the overall safety of a neighborhood. As Jacobs states, a successful city neighborhood must have “eyes upon the street, eyes belonging to those we might call the natural proprietors of the street”. This sentiment sounds beneficial at face value, until you start thinking about it in the contexts of areas that are gentrifying. The stories we’ve heard in the news of white folks calling the police to report black people who were simply living their lives speak to the potential danger of Jane Jacob’s assertions. I tagged areas in Manhattan that have been predominantly gentrified (Chelsea, West Village) with “In the Public Eye” as a tongue-in-cheek, ironic reminder that everybody is always watched.