From Atlanta to Peru: a Mural Project
January 7th, 2012 by Lenny Correa
Here’s what I found interesting about this project; it’s shaping up to be almost completely altruistic. A very refreshing thought, specially after massive coverage of some redundant Art Basel projects which boiled down to, at best,”we did it because we could” or, at worst, “we did it because you have to do it every year”.
Here are the artists, Kyle Nielsen and Nathan Tavel, explaining what the project is about:
My name’s Nathan Tavel. I’m 23 years old and was born and raised in Atlanta. I spent the past four years in Baltimore going to school. Now I’m back in the South sign painting with Kyle.
My name is Kyle Nielsen. I am a self taught artist and sign painter from Atlanta, Georgia. I make commissioned and uncommissioned art using a few different mediums.
The project we are working on, Inderrumbable, is an interactive/service based mural project taking place in a town called El Carmen, just three hours outside of Lima, Peru. That should fit inside a nutshell.
Love and pma.
Yea, I asked them to explain the project to me in a nutshell but there’s obviously much more to it. Kyle again with the rest of the story:
Nate and I were contacted by Jules Bay, one of the owners of Morbo Galeria in Lima Peru asking if we wanted to have a show. I had just come off of having a solo show so I wasn’t really that psyched to plan another one right off the bat, so we asked her if we could come up with a project that could work into an exhibition. Our immediate idea was to paint signage for every business on a single street in Lima. Although all of these signs/murals would be given to the owners at no cost, the idea had a bit of ego involved. We wanted to give but we also wanted to crush a whole street, so it was a little self serving. Morbo liked the idea but wasn’t quite sure about convincing a whole street to let us repaint their buildings. Jules told us about a town 3 hours outside of Lima called El Carmen. Its the epicenter of Afro-Peruvian culture and also the victim of multiple devastating earthquakes.
Now all we had to do was remove the ego.
Jules took a visit, talked to some of the locals in El Carmen, and sent us some pictures of the town and the walls a few weeks later and we knew this would be where the project would take place.
This is Nate, henceforth known as Nater:
As Kyle said we were contacted by Morbo Galeria to have a show in Lima but we wanted to do more with our time in Peru. Once Jules told us about El Carmen Kyle and I started to think about what type of mural or sign work would mean the most there. I thought about the mural/sign work we’ve done and what aspects of it could be carried over for this project and what aspects should change. The majority of our sign work in Atlanta has involved businesses names or logos painted on an exterior wall, and while yes it is now part of that environment it doesn’t as much speak to the people and history of that particular area. For El Carmen we wanted these murals to speak more towards all the people there and of the town’s history. We want the phrases and imagery to come from the locals as well. And while yes we aren’t re-building the whole town, I feel the murals will bring color and positive energy to the town to assist in the growth of El Carmen.
Tell us a bit more about what aspects of the project are interactive and service based. Looking at what you guys make I think of Steve Power’s Urban Love Letters project In Philadelphia and specially the work he did in Brazil, are you looking at his work at all and do you see an overlap between what you guys are doing?
Kyle – After seeing the photos the project took on a more serious tone and transitioned from “How can we paint a whole street?” to “How is it possible to help this town using art?” The answer is to establish a connection, to capture their lives on the walls. Yes, it is a bit similar to Love Letter and a couple other projects we had seen but a bit different.
We want to meet these people and pick their brain. We want to know what their desires are, be told local fables, see portraits of local legends, hear words of wisdom that are passed down from grandmothers, and most importantly figure out what has kept everyone here together in El Carmen. People are living in tents and struggling to rebuild. We aren’t builders, we are painters so the most we can do is try and give them images that are so personal they will be remind of their past but also positively influence their future.
We didn’t want to be two gringos coming down from the states to just paint things out of our sketchbooks.
Nater – With Steve Power‘s project in Brazil I feel there is a close similarity to ours in the sense that the community feels involved. He connected the people in the surrounding area with the names and imagery used. The ability to build these connections with the locals in El Carmen and then create murals based off of their stories creates a more level playing field and a better understanding of the reasoning behind the murals. (It isn’t just two artist coming in painting what they want to paint and leaving.)
We are the interpreters hearing their stories and finding a way to bring them to the walls.
What do you think it’s the role of an artist is in a situation like this and what type of power or influence does he/she really have to impact society? If we start talking about communities impacted by their environments and “Broken Window theory“, ( the social theory introduced by James Q. Wilson and George L. Kelling in the 80’s that some argue saved New York City from it’s state of crime and decay by setting a no tolerance policy for vandalism and consequently getting rid of all graffiti on subway trains. ) shouldn’t there be an “art on the walls” counter theory when it comes to your type of work?
Nater – I feel that there is a huge amount of power and the ability to influence people through our art during this project. Bringing art to the streets enables you to create a public message or image that becomes part of many peoples daily life. These murals can bring color and energy to a place that may have not had it before. In El Carmen right now there are a number of old political campaigns that date back anywhere from a year to ten years ago. While these murals are a signs of the past they don’t represent the people or the town. With the murals we are going to paint we are aiming for more of a timeless feel that the people of El Carmen will always be able to relate to and not see them as just another dated mural.
1) shitty living environment leads to
2) fear to go outside leads to
3) opportunity to commit crime (vandalism, drugs, art, prostitution, graffiti) leads to
4) fear to go outside leads to
5) lack of pride in community leads back to 1)That’s a pretty basic condensed version of the theory, which is actually quite logical.However policing “quality of life” issues, one of the main tactics employed as a result of that theory, could be the wrong way to go about it. Not all litterers murder but maybe most murderers litter. I have participated in uncommissioned art, but I am not a thief, a drug user/dealer, or murderer. The policing as a result of this theory only leads the poor and underdeveloped communities to fear law enforcement, not encourage a general change in attitude from the community. The key thing to remember about this cycle is that only one piece of it has to change in order to break it.
The theory itself to me is a construct of American cities, mainly to not have to deal with issues of poverty and race. I walked around Berlin, a city covered in graffiti that I knew nothing about, for 10 days and felt safer (from cops and criminals) than in Atlanta.
Nater – We felt this word was fitting due to the perseverance of the locals in El Carmen through these natural disasters. Our murals are going to deal with this perseverance and the reasoning behind what makes the people of El Carmen so optimistic.
I see that positively impacting a community with art is very important for you guys, and it seems that this is based upon communication and interaction with said community. But now you are going to work in South America so how will you bridge the gap between the culture you are entering and the one you represent in El Carmen? Do you guys speak Spanish? I guess Im wondering how you envision this working logistically with the language / culture barrier…
Kyle – I took AP Spanish in high school and it was always one of my strongest subjects. I understand Spanish and can read pretty well but I lack a lot of confidence when speaking it. I haven’t used Spanish much since then but since the project was formed we realized that there is a language barrier and we have to be the ones to break it down. That being said I have been doing lessons online for free at www.spanishdict.comas a refresher and practicing my speech with friends and other artists like Doodles and Ever over the phone and skype.
Nater – During this project there will be a huge amount of absorbing the culture and everyday life in El Carmen. It will really be a combination of walking around, talking to the people, seeing what type of signage / murals already exist, and seeing the walls in person. Both Kyle and I are brushing up on our Spanish skills and one of the gallery owners will be with us as well. So hearing the locals stories and gathering a sense of what El Carmen is to them will get us moving in the right direction.
… and you are crowd sourcing this project via the internet. Why did you decide to work this way and do you think this is the new normal for artists projects?
Kyle – Quite simply, it is a big project that we cant take on alone. We are trying to paint 15 walls. That’s paint, supplies, rollers, ladders, then transporting all of that 3 hours away. Finding a place to stay, all of it. We have been working hard outside of this project to cover as much as we can by buying our plane tickets and spray paint out of pocket. We were seeking corporate sponsorship but none of it really worked out. From witnessing living walls first two years, one being a volunteer and the next being a participating artist, what I could gather is that for something to take off you really need the support that only a community can give. You need people that believe in what you are doing.
Crowd sourcing is a way to make the project available to whomever wants to help. We’ve received a bunch of support from around the world, donations from Korea, Australia, the UK, from Close family and friends to strangers to other artists around the world. And the best part of it is that they get stuff in return.
We will be sending postcards from Peru, making a print, giving shout outs, and other little goodies and surprises for people who donate. We plan to donate excess money back to the rebuilding of El Carmen. I also plan to donate my money from the gallery show back to rebuilding.
Shout out to my family, Targ, Steve, Blief, Doodles, Ever, yopablo, Megs, Sam Flax Atlanta, Louie Armstrong, good sandwiches, Gnome Bags, David, and ADV, Mari at Art Primo.com and everyone who has donated, shared, and supported this project. Without you this project wouldn’t be possible.
Tags: activism, altruistic, art, Art Basel projects, artists, Atlanta, Brazil, Broken Window Theory, El Carmen, Georgia, Illadelphia, Inderrumbable, Interesting, Kyle Nielsen, Love Letters, massive coverage, murals, Nathan Tavel, Peru, redundant, South America, Steve Powers