Contemporary art has developed unpredictably. Its innovation often surprises us. Look at some works of art performed on the streets. Some pieces—-which are accessible freely in the public space—-offer a lot of new insights on what art is. Not only do these works belong to younger generation of artists, they also represent the real life of ‘down to earth’ urban life.

Just take the poster by Shepard Fairey entitled “Hope” which depicts Barrack Obama’s face, as an example. The magic of this work, it seems, will always charm people. As I walked on some streets around The White House, in Washington DC, I saw some people still admire this work. Some tourists bought this picture for their souvenir. I also visited the China Town of Washington, where Obama’s face also decorated many stuff. (Note that T-shirt with Obama’s face is so common seen around the world).

Since January 2009, the U.S. National Portrait Gallery has displayed the “Hope” portrait as a part of its permanent collection. This, of course, attracts some visitors. I saw some people coming from various countries taking pictures in front of that portrait.

The poster of Obama by Fairey is a phenomen. Perhaps becouse of it’s controversies. Fairey has come under criticism for appropriating others’ artwork into his own while failing to provide attribution for the work used.

He created a similar but new image of Barack Obama for Time Magazine’s cover in 2008. The “Hope” image was based on a copyrighted photograph taken in April 2006 by Mannie Garcia while on assignment for the Associated Press (AP).

Fairey feels his use of it falls within the legal definition of “fair use.” (Fair use is a doctrine in United States copyright law that allows limited use of copyrighted material without requiring permission from the rights holders, such as use for scholarship or review). Maybe, we can argue more about this matter from several different perspectives.

From the visual perspective, what is the interesting of the poster?
In this piece, Obama is pictured with wearing a tuxedo and tie. Obama is depicted clearly with colorful surrounding. Red is on the right side of his face, whereas yellow and blue is on the left side. The stroke and composition of the poster is simple and straight-forward. This simplicity is aimed to reflect a Obama’s strong personal character. These colors also reflect the dynamic and change, which Obama has always promised. All elements fit the blue word “Hope” put at the bottom of the poster.

The work played a very critical role in building Obama’s image in the last American presidential election. These work is successful in delivering the message of ‘change.’ With the poster, Fairey successfully influenced the public that Obama can give a ‘hope’ and ‘change’. The slogan has been adopted by people beyond the US. It is true that the Americans and the people in the rest of the world have chosen that hope and that change.

Keep in mind that this poster symbolizes change and hope was produced by more or less ‘street artists.’ In short, street artists have shown the influence of their works beyond ‘art’; work of street art became an important element of change and hope.
Actually, poster just a part of street art’s works. Street art is art that developed in the public spasce, particullary in the street. This term can include street poster art, traditional graffiti artwork, stencil graffiti, sticker art, wheatpasting and, art intervention, video projection, guerrilla art, flash mobbing, or street installations.

Street art began in the United States in the 1970s. To mention a few young artists—such as Shepard Fairey (Los Angeles) Swoon (New York City), Gaia (Brooklyn), Imminent Disaster (Brooklyn), and Oliver Vernon (Brooklyn)—have axhibited some of their works in The Irvine Contemporary, in Washington DC , June 17-20.

Street art has also gained its moment outside of The United States. In Europe street art also grows rapidly, so does it in Australia and in many countries in Asia . This art has filled the public space. It is accessible and not expensive to all people. It is on the streets. Many works—from posters, graffiti, stencil graffiti, sticker, wheatpasting, video projection, guerrilla art, to street installations—have been presented on the streets.

Many street artists—such as Banksy, Ces53, Above, Swoon, Twist, Tod Hanson 108, Neck face, D*Face, Ellis Gallagher, Os Gemeos, and Jef aerosol—have earned international reputation. Their works have been displayed in the famous museums and galleries. Of course, we still find many works that aslo seems to be a vandalism.

In Indonesia
Since the 1990s, street art has grown rapidly in Indonesia. Some art groups, e.g. “Apotik Comics” and “Taring Padi” (Rice Fangs), are found in Yogyakarta, central Java. After the fall of President Soeharto in 1998, in the reform era, street art gained its momentum, due to the new freedom of expression. In the 2000s, for example, “Ruang Rupa” was founded in Jakarta, and the “Common Room” in Bandung. These groups have made some murals and grafitties in the city.

Currently, more groups have been founded. The current democratic and freedom of expression enable Indonesian artists to develop their own concepts of art. They enjoyed the freedom to choose some burning themes, controversial materials, and the way of presentations as they wish. Indonesian artists have challenged the mainstream. Their influence has penetrated in many areas, from music, film, fashion, to sports. New art after the reform era reflects the new lifestyle, which is more in accordance with the spirit of the new wave of democracy in the country.

The “Taring Padi” group, for an example, produced many posters during the parliamental and the presidential elections in Indonesia in 2009. Those posters were distributed during the legislative election campaigns. The posters voice criticism to the election and promote a fair general election, and also educated the people about the freedom of choice.

Indonesian artists have explored new themes with new narratives surrounding them and depicting what is going on in the reform era. They expressed out of formal paintings in the canvas or sculptures. All works are presented in the public space. Some of them are posted in the Internet. They are also reproduced in a huge number.

I bore witness to an exhibition of street art in Jakarta Biennale 2009, from February to March. In that exhibition, many artists tried to find an alternative way to express their opinions on public issues on the public. For example, in one of the graffiti crowded roads of Jakarta are portrayed to remind people to be careful on the roads.

These works can be valuable advice for Jakartaneses. In this city, a healthy life is luxurious, if not unaffordable at all. Jakarta offers no healthy environment, with its traffic jams, pollutions, crimes, urbanizations, poverty, and a huge number of unemployment. The street art remind us to return to the human side of Jakarta. Life is hard, but it is possible to live healthy.

In the current global art, street art–-such as in the US, Indonesia, or in the other countries–many inject a fresh blood both for the art itself and for the public entertainment. Why?

Street art offers an alternative art. Instead of visiting galleries, museums, universities, or art market, we can come to the streets to see art. Street art has also paved a new way of art. It expands art. And it enriches culture. The creativity of street artists may has broken the stagnation of art.

Street art also opens new way of art. I also saw that some street artists invited common people to participate in the making of their works. These artists also ushered different direction to new public space, escaping from the hegemony of commercial ads and the political propaganda. These street artists are much more honest in filling the public space with something more beneficial and honest for people.

Street art also helps people to identify their own problems. Important values, such as tolerance, healthy life, and environmental issues have been promoted through street art. In short, we can rest our ‘hope’ in the street art.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

By Ilham Khoiri