To paraphrase Brecht’s Book of Changes, the nation that would draw from its own written histories has much to gain. That same advantage falls upon those who would record their own personal histories.
Self Portrait is a groundbreaking new exhibition that puts the artists behind the graffiti movement on display, challenging stereotypes about both the form and its practitioners.
This collective self-portrait, which includes the work of twelve contemporary graffiti writers, exposes a history that the institutional art world, and politicians, ignore and even censor. But the real legend of New York graffiti is a three-decade’s old story that never is truly and honestly told, one that reminds us, as critic Charles Merewether says, the past is not finished.
SELF-PORTRAIT consists of the work of CASE 2, COCO 144, GIZ, JA, KEZ 5, LES, NATO, NOXER, RATE, SKUF, TRACY 168 AND VFR displayed within the confines of a theatrical forum, and instead of delivering the predictable punchline of graffiti as received in popular culture, these artists produce a wildly varied, unexpected and nakedly honest portrayal of themselves and their form.
Their appearance in this unexpected venue aims at what is perhaps the most unique, central and misunderstood, element of graffiti: authorship. A strange breed of narcissism, authorship adopts, replaces, substitutes and obscures the name itself, a game played with destiny through illegal means. Although the graffiti writer does not reveal his “real identity” in his clandestine works, what he has done, what he does and what he will do to establish a different, equally real, real identity. And that identity is jealous; it consumes the artist, devours him, removing him from both his old life and the official lists of “power art,” making of him a delinquent in more ways than one.
In this show, graffiti looks at itself through photography, video, drawing, installation and performance, exploring its very real, if seldom seen, body, context, action and lasting mark. Artists spanning 36 years of the history of a form born in New York and adopted by the entire world, despite endless repression, gather to make themselves evident.