Navani Knows Graffiti: SSB and TATS CRU Collaborate on Tribute to Christopher “Shadow” Lee

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I don’t make it up to the Bronx very often, even to see my own family (sorry Titi!). But when two legendary graffiti crews collaborate on a project you don’t want to miss it. Saturday, September 6th the Brooklyn-based SSB (Soul Stoned Brothers) crew and Bronx-based TATS CRU joined forces to pay tribute to Shadow AKA Christopher Lee (Spike Lee’s brother). The late SSB crew legend was a respected artist for  over 40 years. Kicking off at The Point CDC this was the first of many murals all over the country to pay homage to the artist. But to see it you have to be fast! It lasted a whole of two days then it was transformed into another project. That is the exciting thing about graffiti, one day it’s here and the next it is gone. It is a constantly changing and moving art form. Luckily, some press were invited to document the event. While there I caught up with graffiti pioneer and SSB founder AIM, AKA George Colon to get some back story. Check out some pics of the mural and hear George reflect on his friendship with Shadow below.

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Navani Knows Shoreditch Street Art

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I recently went on a spur of the moment trip to London courtesy of an awesome friend who travels all over the world for work and has lots of miles to spare. Thanks again, awesome friend! I loved just about everything in London – the architecture, the accents, the history and did I mention accents? Those doorman with tuxedos and top hats on weren’t bad either –  way to make a gal feel like royalty.  And, it was sunny the entire time I was there which like never happens. So, all in all, it was a pretty magical time. But when people ask me what my favorite part of my trip was I have to say it was taking a walking tour of Shoreditch, the mecca of London’s street art culture.

Being an avid Hip Hop and graffiti enthusiast stateside, when scoping out things to do across the pond I immediately thought: Banksy. I figured there must be something graffiti-related to see there so I took to Google and found there are numerous street art tours. By way of TripAdvisor testimonials and my wonky schedule, I ended up booking a tour with Dave from Shoreditch Street Art Tours. What a good thing too, because he ended up being quite an authority about the artists and the scene in London having covered it in his blog for the past 10 years. If you don’t believe me, just ask Complex.com, who enlisted his help for this piece on Shoreditch’s top 25 street artists.

I left with a new understanding of what street art is vs graffiti (different audiences, different techniques, different messages) and a slew of new European artists to follow online. After the outing, I caught up with Dave who besides being principal tour guide of Shoreditch Street Art Tours is a photographer and writer to learn how he got his start. Check out what he has to say about Banksy, the newcomers he is excited about, and see some of my amateur pics below.

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Navani Knows Voodo Fe’ Mathelier: The Art of Freedom

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This piece was originally published on www.livedancelove.com

When my homegirl Selene first told me she was filming a video piece about the artist Voodo Fe’ and asked if I’d be interested in interviewing him I was intrigued by the way she described his work. I am always up for meeting creative folk. But what really captured me about him was this overarching theme in his work to take items and materials deemed trash and make them something beautiful. It’s this idea of being reborn, reinvented and making something from nothing, that really resonated deeply with me. It’s what initially drew me to other art forms like Hip-Hop. On the heels of his latest exhibit opening I had the opportunity to speak to Voodo Fe’ Mathelier and get the story behind his many triumphant ventures in street art, music and fashion leading him to work with brands from Calvin Klein to the NFL. To my surprise, the most outstanding tidbits he taught me were not even about art, but rather how to live life. Here the Brooklyn-bred artist shares why he believes he has been able to make a living as an artist, what his greatest gift is, and what everyone’s number one job is.

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Navani Knows Art: STRAIGHT SHOOTIN’ MAMAS 2013

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It’s a rare occasion when I travel to the Bronx, despite the fact that I have family there. Maybe the occasional birthday party or holiday but that is usually it. My most recent visit came under the pretense of a much overdue visit with my titi. She lured me up north with a bribe of a home cooked meal to accompany her to an art show nearby. I like food and art so I made the exception. She lead me to El Fogon, a cultural center in the Bronx for an awesome photo exhibit celebrating women photographers in honor of National Women’s History Month. I was really impressed with the event itself as well as the work of the photographers featured in it so I wanted to take a minute to find out how STRAIGHT SHOOTIN’ MAMAS 2013 came to be. I caught up with Mia Roman, the curator of the exhibit to learn what went into putting together a strong exhibit centered on women artists:

How did you get involved as the curator of the STRAIGHT SHOOTIN’ MAMAS 2013 photo exhibit?

I was approached by a photographer friend of mine by the name of Elena “Mamarazzi” Marrero. She is more of a journalist documenting cultural events within the local boroughs of New York. She wanted to showcase the work of female photographers and had never curated or organized an exhibit before. Having worked with her in the past she thought i would be the perfect fit to bring her vision to life. So over dinner one evening in El Barrio of East Harlem the event was born.

How many artists submitted? How many were chosen?

Over 50 Artists submitted work and only 12 were chosen to exhibit. The decision was not an easy one. All the work was out of this world. Telling amazing stories through photographs, documenting lives and freezing memories to be shared for generations to come. We were working with a small venue so we were limited as to space and the amount of submissions we could exhibit. My vision was to create a story from around the world… taking Her-Story and creating History one image, one snap, one shoot at a time. We had photographs from Peru, Cuba, Columbia, Puerto Rico, New York, Buenos Aires, Morocco, Africa Dominican Republic and more. Celebrating the beautiful eye of the photographer and the lives of the women used as subjects.

Were all the artists Latina?

No, the Artists were from different backgrounds and from all over. My mission was to have women from different backgrounds unite as one, sharing their craft and passion for photography and celebrating their success together as a sisterhood. We have much to learn from one another. A true inspiration to see a fellow sister from another culture shares the same vision, purpose and passion for life and art.

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What was the inspiration for having a women centered exhibit?

The inspiration was all the amazing female photographers within our community that have gone under-represented as artists. Many of these women document the happenings of not only their communities but movements from around the world. Most of the time we never get to see or share these historical images and as part of my life’s purpose is to provide a platform for women to share their voices through a creative channel. March which is also recognized as Women’s History Month was the perfect time to showcase such an event.
Proceeds from the door fee went to a charity; can you talk more about the organization and its significance?

The STRAIGHT SHOOTIN’ MAMAS 2013 Photo exhibit was a huge success. Just days before the event as we were putting the final touches on the plans a tragic accident happened. Rachel Marie Price a young and talented pro soccer hopeful from the Florida area was killed by a drunk driver. Upon hearing about this terrible tragedy we decided to donate the proceeds to The Rachel Marie Price Scholarship and Education Fund through the Wells Fargo Bank in Florida. The proceeds of the event will go to scholarships that will benefit underprivileged soccer athletes and Educational programs for Drunk Driving and Bullying.

What is the significance of the name of the exhibit? Were there specific themes you were looking for from the photos?

The name although a catchy phrase does not have any specific significance. It’s a play on words suggested by Bobby Gonzalez. We plan on doing more playing with the title and phrases to tease a 2014 show of the same. The specific theme was “Women at Work” we wanted to showcase the many roles women play around the world. The many contributions she makes in order for this Universe to evolve. For centuries women have played important roles in making things happen, supporting roles, leadership roles etc. but in many instances they go un-recognized and merely expected. So we wanted to honor her and her work. Whether it is an artist, judge, cook, mother, politician, there is no position more important than the other. Our goal was to have a show created by women for women showcasing women and it was a great success.

How long is the exhibit up?

The exhibit closes on March 23, 2013 at El Fogon Center for the Arts in the Bronx, NY

Where can people get more info?

They can get more info on the show and future shows on my website…. www.artsbymia.com. They can also email me at artbymamamia@yahoo.com. As a curator and artist I am always looking for artist to join me in my mission in bridging the gap between artists from other countries…

Navani Knows Graffiti: Interview with Artist James Top

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I first met graffiti veteran James Top via The Halftime Show, when he would come on to promote the huge annual Graffiti Show in NYC that pays homage to the culture. He has always been an advocate for the art form and keeping its integrity in mainstream society. It’s always great to come across someone who is passionate about their art and spreading its message to the community. It has not always been easy to gain the respect he deserves as an artist. It has been a long fight to be viewed not just as a common vandal when he started in the ’70s, but a respectable artist. However, you would never know it by his positive disposition. With his work currently in the Schomburg Center as part of the exhibit Cover to Cover: 20 Years of African Voices it seems like he is finally victorious in this fight. I caught up with James at the opening reception to find out what his inspiration was for his piece; how the Internet has affected graffiti art and why he thinks it is the art form of the future:

Why has there been so much resistance on graffiti being accepted as part of African-American culture?

African-Americans have such little knowledge about this [graffiti] art form, not knowing that this art form is our art form. It’s the only art form besides Jazz created by us. It was created in our community and now it is worldwide and a lot of these artists are showing all over the world. We created it and everybody emulated us. It was started and created in our community and then the media connected it with vandalism and criminality and it’s so far from true.

What was the inspiration for your trademark Afro symbol which is in all your pieces and in the cover piece “You Can’t Shut Us Down” ?

When I was growing up in the projects – I grew up in the Louis H.P. Houses in East New York, Brooklyn – it was a project belt. There were project buildings in every direction. So, I never got a chance to see any art. Across the street from where I lived there was a place called Times Square Stores and I would go in there and see these head shops. I would always see these Afro posters of this Black guy with a big Afro with either a leopard or with his girl who also had a big Afro. Those were the only pictures or closest thing to art I would see of Black people. So, I started emulating that. I would go into the train yard which was across the street from my house and I would emulate that afro. That would become the way I would express myself and my trademark. That was my style, my unique thing to stand out amongst other graff artists.

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How important was graffiti art in your development as a man?

My whole thing was to get self-esteem because I grew up in these projects and I always thought, “how do I become different when we are all clumped up in here the same way?” So, I found a way to give myself self-esteem and give myself an opportunity to be somebody – somebody different. I never smoked back then and all my friends started smoking and doing other things. But instead, I started doing graffiti art and today I am here with a lot of other great Black artists and I am very humbled and I am very blessed to be in this circle. For all my life I have been trying to express myself and be someone that represents my community in a positive way.

How did you get involved with African Voices Magazine to do their back cover in 2006?

I had a show at the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration and I met Caroline Butts [Executive Director at African Voices Communications] there. She was saying that the magazine [African Voices] was interested in me. I knew very little about the magazine at the time – that it was one of the leading magazines for African American artists- because my whole thing was to try to get into the Source or VIBE or one of the Hip-Hop magazines. That was where they usually put graffiti art, in Hip Hop and not with Black Culture. But ironically, it was African Voices that gave me my first cover, not any of the Hip-Hop publications. So, Caroline came up to Harlem and did a story on me and my wall called “The People’s Wall.” The wall is no longer up but it featured portraits of Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. That was something I wanted to do with my art – to do greater things and spread a bigger message. For a Black person what better place is there to do art than Harlem? That is our Mecca. That is where Black Culture was born. So, when I came here I didn’t want to be known as that same guy that used to write on the trains and in the streets. I wanted to help beautify my community. I wanted to be a part of the fabric of the community.

Besides being an artist you have also spent time being an educator in the community. Can you tell me about that?

I wanted to teach the youth about this art form. I was the director of art at the Harlem YMCA for about eight years. I also taught at Hostos Community college. I am a very strong advocate of graffiti art and getting it into the fabric of our academic systems here. I’m trying to help tear down the stereotypes associated with this art form. My television show called Graffiti NYC has been on the air for 15 years and that’s where I get a chance to do that. So, over the last 15 years I have been to just about every major graffiti event in NYC. I also got an opportunity to travel to Europe this year as well as Baton Rouge, Louisiana. I was involved in a project with the Museum of Public Art and we did a mural in Baton Rouge as part of the 14th Street mural project.

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Do you think the Internet has helped or hindered the art form?

I think the Internet has helped. It has given us an opportunity to get information out there easily and people can see art work much faster. I don’t get much work from the Internet (laughs). I get my work still by word of mouth. But we can only hope to grow with the Internet like everybody else. Now you can see graffiti shows online, you don’t actually have to be there so I think that’s a good thing because people can see something they might like and purchase it.

What is the future of graffiti art in your opinion?

I see bigger and better things in the future. Spray paint is the medium of the future; painting with paint brushes is out. Of course, it’s always hard for artists, especially artists of color and graffiti artists on top of that. So there’s label on top of label. But you know what, there is no burden you can’t carry. So I always go into all these projects with a certain amount of enthusiasm and just good vibes and energy.

What’s next for you?

I’m currently working with the Schomburg staff to present a James Top & The Odd Partners exhibition in the near future, The Stay High 149 short documentary by me will be showing at The People’s Film Festival in Harlem at the Maysles Theater from May 30th to June 1, 2013 and in The 2013 NYC Graffiti Film Festival at Gallery 69 in NYC in April 2013. The Best of Graffiti NYC is now available, for more info email us: graffitinyctv@gmail.com. I will be doing some more painting in January and I am just looking forward to life.

Where can people find you online and learn more about what you are doing?

People can see more of my work at www.jamestopproductions.com. You can also email me at graffitinyctv@gmail.com. Check out the show Graffiti NYC on every Sunday at 1:30 am on channel 67 on MNN network (Manhattan only) or live steam on the net at www.mnn.org.

You can see James Top’s work featured in the exhibit Cover to Cover: 20 Years of African Voices at the Schomburg Center through January 19th, 2013.

Navani Knows Dia De Los Muertos, BK

While many people are gearing up for Halloween – an excuse to play a role, dress up, party and eat insane amounts of candy (oh wait maybe that is just me, Reeses’s anyone?) some of us are focusing on what happens after Halloween – on el Dia De Los Muertos. This traditional Latino holiday gives us a chance to pay respects and homage to the friends and family who have passed. One great way to celebrate this year in the tri-state area would be to check the the amazing installation project and event being headed by two dope artists: Adrian “Viajero” Roman and Ben Rojas aka “Borish.” The second annual Dia De Los Muertos Brooklyn event not only boasts amazing art work including an 8-feet by 8-feet altar AND a performance by Ase, but also the chance for you to participate in the ceremony that celebrates the presence of our ancestors in our lives.

Check out the deets below and some sneak peek photos after the jump.

Date: November 2, 2012
Time: 7pm – 11pm
Where: 411 46th street (btwn 4th and 5th ave)
Sunset Park Brooklyn, NY 11220

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Navani Knows French Street Art

 

I always like to keep up on many graf/street artists here in the U.S. but recently I was put on to someone across the pond which is always dope. My colleague sent me this video of French street artist Adam Sender on one of his recent overnight V.H.C. Colors projects. It’s cool to see the difference in style and work VS. what we have been accustomed to here in the U.S.

When I asked Adam if he minded me posting it or wanted to stay anonymous, he replied:

“It’s fine, the cops all know me.” lol

Learn more about the 20-year-old artist on facebook. Check out the video below:

Photo via www.victormalecotphotos.fr