Thursday, March 29, 2012 8:35 AM
In Arizona, an African American doctor creates street art to heal the Navajo Nation. In São Paulo, a graffiti artist documents the lives of the homeless and working-class. In New Orleans and Chicago, an artist creates a space for people to share dreams. There’s plenty of cool street art out there, but these three artists use walls, thought, and skill to change lives.
Jetsonorama began wheatpasting large-scale photo-collages in 2009, reports Sarah Gilman for High Country News, after experimenting with photography and small-scale wheatpasting for the two-plus decades he’d served as a physician on a Navajo reservation. His work evolved and last September, as part of 350.org’s EARTH initiative to bring awareness to climate change, the artist wheatpasted giant images of a baby’s face looking up at a cloud-like lump of coal. Writes the artist on his blog:
“everyone i talked with was raised on the reservation. they all identified coal as a cheap source of fuel, especially for the elders. [...] everyone in my small sample identified respiratory problems associated with burning coal in the home. everyone acknowledged that the coal mined on the reservation is used to generate energy off the reservation for surrounding megalopolises such as denver, phoenix, albuquerque, las vegas and l.a. they found this arrangement to be problematic.”
Jetsonorama’s work seeks to heal beyond coal and its effects on individual bodies. Each of his pieces functions as a conversation-starter, creating both dialogue and a source of local pride.
Amidst the rubble of São Paulo Brazil, Bruno Dias celebrates everyday locals, be they homeless, prostitutes, or street vendors. For art nouveau’s Kendrick Daye, Dias’ art “expresses the relationship between physical space and the people of the country.” When the audience begins to recognize a spray-painted image as the homeless man nearby or a face on the wall as a street vendor, we can’t help but wonder what became of those who are not in the photographs near their portraits. In this sense, Dias has discovered a way to document the everyday fates of the oft-overlooked. The artist does not pretend that his portraits begin to solve social quandaries such as homelessness and prostitution, but he does commemorate those most affected by poverty and social struggle.
In post-Katrina New Orleans, artist Candy Chang brought focus back to goals and desires by turning one wall of a decrepit building into a chalkboard. The upper left corner reads “Before I die…” and below it are nearly one hundred places for passers-by to fill in the blank. “Before I die I want to ______________.” Answers range from the daunting, “SEE EQUALITY” to the playful, “Swim w/out holding my nose!” For a city burdened with the task of rebuilding as the rest of the nation scrutinizes, what better to focus on than hopes and dreams for individuals, community, and society?
“Before I die…” is not relevant only to New Orleans, however. Because the work re-centers viewers and creates a forum for local conversation ‒ two things sorely lacking in our plugged-in global network ‒ it seems it would be relevant almost anywhere. Earlier this month, the piece was installed in Chicago. The space (pictured above) was quickly filled beyond the sanctioned blank lines, reports Christopher Jobson of Colossal. And since Chang created a toolkit allowing installation anywhere, “Before I die…” has popped up in countries such as Mexico, Kazakhstan, and Portugal.
Monday, October 24, 2011 11:43 AM
Racial segregation literally breaks a city into separate, isolated chunks. In the worst cases, neighborhoods are wholly delimited by the descent of its denizens, rather than its topography or history. This is how a metro area comes to resemble an archipelago—a series of homogeneous islands connected by proximity and late-night bus routes. Even still, it’s often hard to imagine the extent of segregation in a city when you weave between its neighborhoods on a day-to-day basis. Though they may be in the heart of the hustle and bustle, smaller inner city communities can be staggeringly isolated from each other.
Sensing the urgency of this lingering social issue, software developer Jim Vallandingham programmed a data visualization that shows many of the top 10 most segregated cities breaking apart along racial lines. Take, for example, St. Louis, Missouri (pictured above). In Vallandingham’s animation, the mostly black core of St. Louis is abandoned by the first-ring suburbs, leaving a vast cultural moat between neighborhoods. Exurbia, for all of its sprawl, remains a tightly knit (or at least similarly skin-colored) community. (Pro Tip: The program runs much better on the Google Chrome web browser.) On his website, Vallandingham explains the math behind his data visualization:
[I]f a ‘mostly white’ tract is connected to another ‘mostly white’ tract, then the connection is short. If a city had uniform proportions of races in each tract, the map would not move much. However, longer connections occur where there is a sharp change in the proportions of white and black populations between neighboring tracts. These longer connections create rifts in the map and force areas apart, in some ways mimicking the real-world effects of these racial lines.
To some extent, Vallandingham’s program rehashes some foregone conclusions about race, demographics, and urban life, but it does so in a more visceral way than your average infographic. Not that static images can’t be powerful—for evidence, check out the segregation maps by Eric Fischer, Remapping Debate, and the University of Michigan Social Science Data Analysis Network.
Images courtesy of Jim Vallandingham.
Monday, November 10, 2008 4:33 PM
On Nov. 4, news outlets from around the world beamed images from Chicago’s Grant Park to captivated audiences awaiting the U.S. election results. Thousands of excited Chicagoans packed the park to hear Barack Obama deliver his first speech as president-elect. Afterward, they spilled out into the streets to celebrate.
In this episode of the UtneCast, we recapture some of the voices and sounds from downtown Chicago the night Barack Obama won the presidency.
You can listen to the interview below, or to subscribe to the UtneCast for free through iTunes, click here.
Election Night from Grant Park: Play Now
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Friday, June 13, 2008 4:20 PM
Every aesthetic movement has its rivalries, its schisms, its heated battles over who’s keeping it real and who’s already sold out. Hip-hop is, famously, no exception: East Coast vs. West Coast, Tupac vs. Biggie, old school vs. new school—we’re all too familiar with these contentions. But now some of the old-school contingent are hating on a new segment of their new-school progeny: hipster rappers (hipster-hop?).
Hipster rap, as loosely defined by the Chicago Reader, consists of the most recent crop of MCs and DJs who flout conventional hip-hop fashions, eschewing baggy clothes and gold chains for tight jeans, big sunglasses, the occasional keffiyeh, and other trappings of the hipster lifestyle. Mainstream rappers like Kanye West and Lupe Fiasco, along with smaller up-and-coming acts like Kid Sister and the Cool Kids, come under fire from the old-school hip-hop website Unkut, and Jersey City rapper Mazzi has recorded diss tracks criticizing, by name, the rappers he sees as poseurs.
The Reader argues that such criticisms don’t hold much water in a genre that has always reinvented itself, borrowing and remixing until the question of authenticity is at best a slippery one. It’s also superficial: much of the derision directed toward hipster rap barely extends beyond clothes and other accoutrements, while the actual substance of the music never really enters the discussion. Furthermore, hip-hop’s notorious homophobia still lingers; much of the backlash takes the form of overt gay panic as rappers call each other fags for copping the metrosexual appearances of hipster fashion.
Race also complicates matters: the latest crop of hipster rap—or new rap, or independent hip-hop, or whatever we’re calling it—is just as likely to be heard at a party full of white kids slamming back Sparks on the Lower East Side as it is in the black community. The Reader notes, however, that the listener base is increasingly diverse, citing multiple firsthand accounts of shows and parties around Chicago where the audience defies racial and socioeconomic categorization—a compelling rebuttal to those still hung up on racial, social, or artistic distinctions.
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Thursday, March 27, 2008 8:29 AM
Shortly after I moved to Chicago’s far north side, I came home to a sign warning me of gangs of African American kids in white T-shirts and black do-rags who had recently been throwing rocks and bricks at random passersby. This apparently was happening in broad daylight and in busy areas of the half square mile or so around my building. I was skeptical, but I was also scared.
“Gangs are real,” says Eula Biss in the Believer, “but they are also conceptual. The word gang is frequently used to avoid using the word black in a way that might be offensive. For instance, by pairing it with a suggestion of fear.”
Biss describes her own experience living in my old neighborhood, an extremely diverse and densely populated spot as tense as it is vibrant. She writes eloquently about the thought patterns involved with trying to resist our assumptions about people:
One evening not long after we moved to Rogers Park, my husband and I met a group of black boys riding their bikes on the sidewalk across the street from our apartment building. The boys were weaving down the sidewalk, yelling for the sake of hearing their own voices, and drinking from forty-ounce bottles of beer. As we stepped off the sidewalk and began crossing the street toward our apartment, one boy yelled, “Don’t be afraid of us!” I looked back over my shoulder as I stepped into the street and the boy passed on his bike so that I saw him looking back at me also, and then he yelled again, directly at me, “Don’t be afraid of us!”
I wanted to yell back, “Don’t worry, we aren’t!” but I was, in fact, afraid to engage the boys, afraid to draw attention to my husband and myself, afraid of how my claim not to be afraid might be misunderstood as bravado begging a challenge, so I simply let my eyes meet the boy’s eyes before I turned, disturbed, toward the tall iron gate in front of my apartment building, a gate that gives the appearance of being locked but is in fact always open.
It’s a thoughtful essay, one that asks tough questions about a difficult subject without condemning anyone. It’s also noteworthy for its framing device: a provocative reading of Little House on the Prairie as a deeply ambivalent take on American pioneerism—an ambivalence echoed by Biss and by many who share her position as a privileged settler in a troubled urban frontier.
that kat chick
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Thursday, January 17, 2008 9:55 AM
Five cents a bottle doesn’t seem like much, but the bottled water tax that hit Chicago at the beginning of the new year has left the bottled water industry feeling all wet, reports Sustainablog’s Jason Phillip.
Bottled water is an environmentalist’s worst nightmare, ballooning landfills with plastic—less than 20 percent of plastic bottles are ever recycled—and encouraging waste, all for a product that we can easily get by picking up a glass and walking to the nearest sink. Bottled water could even be the first barrage in the unsettling privatization of public water supplies, Leif Utne has suggested in Utne Reader.
But we’re not in clear water yet. The Chicago tax, the first such levy in the nation, is being challenged in court by industry trade groups that argue it’s unfair because it doesn’t apply to other noncarbonated beverages such as sports drinks, coffee, or chocolate milk. Of course, Chicago does not provide inexpensive chocolate milk from the taps, otherwise I would move there, so taxing bottled water seems reasonable. But in the end it’s up for the courts to decide.
The poor bottled water manufacturers have a point, though: One bottled beverage has the same grim environmental footprint as any other. So why should water be singled out for shaming? Maybe because bottled water has become a symbol of Americans’ wanton wastefulness. We are paying for something we can get for free and destroying the earth in the process. Taken liken that, a five-cent tax doesn’t seem too hefty.
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