Yesterday, I attended a showing done exclusively by street artists. One of the artists and I had met at the installation of another exhibit put on by multiple artists, and I had been interested in seeing specifically that artist. Only the amount of personal belongings placed to the sides of the exhibit revealed anything about the reality of being street artists. There were varying degrees of homelessness, which is not surprising given the constant rise in the cost of living, and I heard one of the artists experience a panic attack as he sat waiting for patrons. As I walked around the different parts of the exhibit, all of the artists were as much on display as their art. Through their paintings, one could see the depth and character of having almost no support but feeling the uncontrollable need to express feelings on canvas.
Throughout the exhibit, there were placards with names, some of which were visible though some were not. I expected this because with street artists, some of them would be experiencing homelessness or insecure housing, so it would make sense that their artistic names might be different. What I did not expect was the inability to procure a list of the artists. From my experience with art exhibits, I expected there to be a list of artists–with or without contact information–so that even if the artist was experiencing difficulty, I could at least pass along their existence in the world. When I asked for a list, I was barraged with a series of questions demanding that I justify why I wanted a list of artists that were on display. My mentioning a blog and doing a write-up of the event was someone irrelevant.
Very rarely do people consider how often the poor climb barriers for self expression, that they are at the mercy of the upper echelons. Because these are street artists, there is no guarantee that they can store any of their pieces, so no one knows how much work has been lost. Even though many street artists market their wares on the street, they are at the mercy of the public, which may respond to their talents favorably or possibly destroy their work for fun. Therefore, an exhibition is a rare opportunity for them to show their labors in full glory. Most importantly, these artists must follow the parameters of a world that mainly excludes them without remorse, not even offering a slim chance for an admirer to seek them and offer an opportunity. The artist I came to see spoke about unending gratitude for the chance to display the art, and I could not help but wonder if the proximity of a volunteer had something to do with that.
The situation of these street artists is not unlike that of those who deal with homelessness, which makes sense because some artists do. They exist at the pleasure of the comfortable, out of sight and out of might. For the few opportunities that exist to showcase their talents, many of them are blocked in the name of exclusivity. If society wants to actually navigate creativity with a lens towards justice, the work begins with uncloaking the anonymous. No one should have to hope a nonprofit finds them in order to make a living from art.
Note: There were some helpful volunteers who at least let me take a picture of the exhibit map, which is where I pulled as many names as possible. At the tables, it was unclear which work belonged to which artists, and I did not want to get the work wrong. These are street artists around Austin, Texas.
Edward “Zebra” Weaver
Marus Joaquin Benny Nayo
Jack H. Uro
Mary Phillips Angelique