*Note: below is a sample of your Public Art assignment which is due on Thursday, December 2nd, on your blog. Start looking around your neighborhood for ideas and taking notes. Proofread your work before posting*
This painting of Bob Marley is on the grate outside what was the Vox Pop cafe until a few months ago, about a ten minute walk from my apartment in the Kensington neighborhood of Brooklyn. It's on Cortelyou Street, where there is a strip of cafes, food markets, restaurants and wine bars. There's also a public library, a farmer's market in the summer, and some new semi-luxury apartments for sale. This street is most often described as Ditmas Park. Sometimes I refer sarcastically to it as the 'prefab gentrification strip' because of its similarity to other blocks in other neighborhoods, down to the locavore restaurant menus. Vox Pop was different - it was always on the edge of closing. The tables were unbalanced; the shelves were following down. It apparently closed because of tax issues. Of course, now that it's closed, Marley and the other grate paintings are more visible. Store grates are a quintessentially urban canvas. You see more of the slotted ones; the full ones like this offer a great example of New Yorkers finding any space to fill with images.
I would include this painted grate in my New York (2010) exhibit because the coffee shop is a key part of New York life for many people. The film in the Nueva York exhibit talked about bodegas as community centers; coffee shops often play a similar role. People post flyers, pass out free newspapers, advertise for services, have free or cheap musical performances.
Students and freelancers use them as their offices. They play a role in our perception of neighborhoods and how we think about gentrification. The people who used to hang out at Vox Pop can now be found down the street at a more upscale cafe.
The Marley we see here is mostly apolitical: his presentation and the "be happy" written across the top is the Marley of "One Love," which was used in a Jamaican tourism commerical, rather than the Marley of "Redemption Song" (How long will they kill our martyrs/while we stand aside and wait?) or "War" (Until the philsophy which hold one race superior/And another/Inferior/Is Finally/And Permanently/Discredited/And abandoned/Everywhere is war). It even brings to mind the 1988 hit "Don't Worry, Be Happy," which Public Enemy took a shot at in "Fight the Power." Interestingly, there are two other figures above Marley and next to the instructions to "Be Happy" I can't identify the one on the left; the one on the right is Martin Luther King. "Be happy" seems an odd label for his philosophy. Similarly to Marley, an interpretive choice is being made: this would be the King of "I have a Dream" rather than the one who said "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual doom." In both cases, I might say that the images makes a political statement through its seeminly apolitical nature: in taking away the challenging pieces of the message, musical, spiritual and political icons gain a presence in our everyday lives but lose some of their power to confront us, to shape our day instead of smiling at us as we go about it.