Heartbeat in the Barrio: Caribbean and Central American Street Art

Jaime Rojo and Steven Harrington, founders of BrooklynStreetArt.com write about street art in the Caribbean and Central America in this article for the Huffington Post. Here are the island excerpts . . . for the Central American examples and the full gallery of photos follow the link below.

Newsflash: Global Street Art is not homogeneous. If you were beginning to think that international Street Art superstars like Banksy and Shepard Fairey had the whole scene on lockdown, Jim Avignon can assure you that will never happen. Each local scene is as individual as the culture it grows from, subject to the opinions and perceptions of the people, politicians, and police in each city. When the Berlin/Brooklyn – based artist traveled to seven countries this spring to organize walls with local artists, Avignon found that scarcity of art supplies or water can just as easily derail a mural as feelings of competition and the fear of the Devil Himself. Working with about 50 artists over six weeks in a cross-cultural Street Art program sponsored by the Goethe Institute, he learned that local is not necessarily global, and all manner of comedy will crop up on the road to a dope wall.

“The main intention was not to have just a wall with ten paintings next to each but to find ways for people to work together,” explains Avignon about the program he brought with Brazilian DJ Holger Beier and curator Alicia Zamora from Nicaragua. “We did an open call via the Internet and Facebook and we asked people to send in designs,” he explains while talking about the mix of Street Artists, graffiti artists, graphic designers, and illustrators who were ultimately selected. The plan included a week of painting and wheat-pasting, followed by a community party to celebrate the new work. Admittedly, they could have been a bit better prepared, but Avignon and team found a variety of working styles, weather conditions, and perceptions about the nature of the art and it’s proper place that they didn’t realize would face them. While the tour was a success in terms of building cultural relationships via Street Art, Avignon says getting people to work together, “Worked in some countries – in others, not so much.”

In English speaking countries the project was called “Urban Heartbeat” and in Spanish speaking countries “De Mi Barrio A Tu Barrio”. Here are images of the various walls and Jim Avignon’s personal observations and experiences, which are illuminating and sometimes very entertaining.

. . .

Kingston, Jamaica (Duration: 3 days)
Our official wall next to the national stadium was postponed because we couldn’t show a sketch of it in advance. We were moved to a wall that was next to an empty lawn in the middle of nowhere. There were a lot of local kids who came to help but most of the locals were rather skeptical.

Most of these artists had never done a wall before, and they needed some help on how to work large. There was a tendency to start late, with some people only showing up in the morning of the last day. This was our first country and we had no idea how to organize everything – like where to buy paint and get water and provisions, etcetera. In the end there was a nice mood with everybody working at their own place. Some local people thought we were doing the Devils work, unfortunately. The paste-ups that we put up next to the wall all got destroyed in the night. At another time while artists were painting a policeman arrived and told us it would be better if remove certain images which were considered devilish — like one portrait that showed a third eye. It was clear that if we didn’t repaint, the walls would be repainted for us, and that actually happened in the night after the opening party. It seemed like it would be a difficult country for young artists.

For our celebration party the sound system was giant and very impressive — too bad nobody knew about our party and only a few people came, the foreign minister among them — which didn’t impress the local artists.

Port of Spain, Trinidad (Duration: 4 days)
We had a nicely prepared wall next to the Savanna – a big arena where the Carnival happens every year.

The situation was a bit like the one we had in Jamaica. Music is the much bigger business there and there is not a big tradition for painting in the streets. There is only one famous Street Artist, who had painted birds in black and white all over the city, but he now has moved to Mexico.

None of our artists had worked on walls before and they came from a graphic design background. It was a well mixed group but also I had a feeling that many of the artists were sort of introverted and they just focused on their individual work without interacting with the other artists. I didn’t do a piece of my own but helped everybody with the backgrounds and the graduations. This was the first time we were done with the wall a day earlier than planned. Our celebration party in Trinidad was the biggest one of the tour with over 500 people, free food and drinks, a bunch of DJs, and a big capoeira dance group performing.

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic (Duration: 7 days)
Because all of the central part of Santo Domingo is a historical landmark it was impossible for us to get a wall there. The organizers considered the suburbs to be too dangerous so instead they found us an abandoned tower next to the harbor with a large semi-indoors space. Here they covered the walls with four giant canvasses. In front of the canvasses was a big scaffolding, making it pretty much impossible to get a view of the wall while we working on it.

There is not much of a big Street Art culture in Santo Domingo and during a tour through the suburbs we saw some nicely painted shags and delis — but that was it.

Naturally it was no surprise almost all our painters came from at least a semi-academic background and when you combine that background with the fact that everybody had to paint on canvas, it pushed the entire project in a different direction. Paint was difficult to get and only came in pre-mixed colors that were not very bright. We were disappointed by some of these things but on the other hand the organizers brought food every two hours. It was no surprise that everybody worked rather slowly and thoughtfully. We decided pair up two artists for each canvas, and the nice results told us that it was a good decision.

Sadly, after one week of sunshine there was a heavy thunderstorm on the night of the opening party and it destroyed any party feelings that we had.

The list of participating artists in the program are as follows:
Brianna McCarthy, Richard Taylor (para Richard Williams), Danielle Boodoo-Fortune, Luis Vasquez La Roche, Dean Arlen, Jennifer Perez, Kriston Banfield, Alicia Milne, Raquel Vasquez y Maria Elena Joseph
Dorian Serpa, Caroline Broisin, Moises Garcia, Jose Luis Zapata, Rafael Antonio Rivas, Danilo Espinoza, Roger Roke Romero, Guimel, Angel Soto, Jean Philip Meio, Christian
Fla.Ko, ES Bird, Alebara, Cheks, Petunia, Lily Acevedo, Zapato Verde, Luis Fer Izquierdo, FUENTES, WAKA, ZOAD1, Sexi Zombie, Rodrigo Aguilar, Hans Uno, ARIZ y Mr.KrazyMan
Dominican Republic:
Angel Urelly, Luis Geraldino, Luis Hidalgo, Ana de León, Coller Art, Citlally Miranda, Jose Ramia, Carlos Estrada, Patricia Grassals
Fabrica de Malvaviscos, Purple King Crew, Nel One, Alexandr Jaramillo Ievleva, Rolodesedas, Manuel Choy, Thomson Moore, Jaqueline Brandwaym Fallenbaum, Veco La Tienda de Remedios, Gladys Turner Bosso
Costa Rica:
Mush, Piloy, Piem Quesada Cedeno, Alfredo Flores, Ghoke, Zisco, Gussa, Yiyo, Nava Remix Bang, Jairo Miranda, Chesr, Diego Fournier y Freddy Masis
Naecia Dixon, David DaCosta, Amanda Choo Quan, TAJ, Dahcia Hong, Ikem Smith, Naita Chamberlain and Jonoi Messam

For the original report go to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jaime-rojo-steven-harrington/heartbeat-in-the-barrio_b_1501646.html

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